As every NFL season ends, teams know the same 53 players won’t ever be in the locker room together again. Turnover is inevitable.
In the Buccaneers case, it’s expected that there will be a significant amount of roster changes, particularly on defense, and more specifically, in the secondary, where Tampa Bay’s search for the right combination continued throughout the season.
Alterraun Verner is one player whose future remains unclear. While the seventh-year pro is committed and wants to return, he understands the business and is keeping everything in perspective.
“I mean that’s up to them,” Verner said at his locker on Monday. “Like I said, I’m obligated for two more years. That’s what I signed up for but we’ll see. Hopefully I am back. We’re building something special here. The guys with Kwon (Alexander), Lavonte (David) and Gerald (McCoy) and all of us. Something is brewing around here and I hope I’m a part of that.
“But we all know at the end of the day the NFL is a business and there won’t be any hard feelings. They want to get their roster the best they can to try to compete and get to a Super Bowl.”
The 27-year old corner, signed away from Tennessee in 2014, will be entering the third year of his four-year, $25 million deal in 2016. Verner is set to earn $6.7 million next year, the highest amount yet in the bottom-heavy contract that includes no dead money in the final two years.
Given his production over the first two seasons combined with the structure of the contract – no cap hit if released – the Bucs may be compelled to move on and save money in 2016.
Since signing as a prized free agent in 2014 after a Pro Bowl season with the Titans, Verner didn’t quite play up to expectations in his first year. And while he’s come along since shifting to the nickel spot – 56 tackles in more physical role – there’s question of whether he showed enough to keep the job at such a high price.
Speaking honestly about his first two years in Tampa Bay, Verner admitted the numbers weren’t quite there but was still proud of the hard work and dedication to get better along with his commitment to his teammates.
“I come in to work, I work hard and the result didn’t happen,” Verner said. “I blame myself, but it’s not anything I regret because I know I worked as hard as I could, giving it all I had and it didn’t work out. It’s a life lesson, life learned. It’s not going to get me down. It’s just something that you build off of and have motivation for next year.”
It was a down-year for the secondary as a whole. While their stats would suggest mediocrity – ranked 16th pass-defense, giving up an average of 240 yards – the interception total in a defense predicated on takeaways tells it all. Of the Bucs 11 interceptions, the secondary accounted for just six and had zero in the final six games.
“It was very tough,” Verner said. “Obviously none of us were able to make enough plays. Last year was still a down-year, but JB (Johnthan Banks) still had four interceptions and we were able to make plays on the ball. This year it just seemed like we weren’t able to do that. It’s very disappointing as the secondary. You want to keep people out of the end zone and make plays, and those are two areas we didn’t do well as a secondary. It’s definitely disappointment in that area.”
Through it all, however, Verner believes the arrow is pointed up for this team. The youth is undeniable (Verner mentioned that he’s the fifth youngest player on defense) and there were certainly signs of growth throughout the season. Now, Verner said, it’s about learning how to win consistently, which he’s confident the Bucs will do. And that’s something he wants to be a part of.
“Were very young, and when you have a young team you’re going to go through growing pains,” Verner said. “The offensive side is the same way. But it’s still not an excuse for not performing. I’m not using it as an excuse, but you can just tell the maturity of a lot of guys, such as Jude (Adjei-Barimah), or Kwon (Alexander) – you saw his play elevate… I mean Jameis (Winston), you can think of all theses young guys, like Mike (Evans) or even Lavonte (David) or Gerald (McCoy) or me, we’re all still young.
“It’s still a lot of development and things to work on, but that’s why you saw the camaraderie between Lavonte and Kwon starting to build. And as a young group, that’s something you have to start building and maintaining. It’s a process, and where this team is at, we’re very close. You saw the improvements, you saw we were 6-6 and in the playoff hunt. We just couldn’t finish; we didn’t finish this year. But we’re very close and I have a feeling it’s going to happen here. The city of Tampa is going to be very proud of this team.”
Zach is entering his 3rd year covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a writer for PewterReport.com. Since 2014, he's handled a large part of the beat reporting responsibilities at PR, attending all media gatherings and publishing and promoting content daily. Zach is a native of Sarasota, FL, and a graduate of the University of Tampa. He has also covered high school football for the Tampa Tribune and the NFL for Pro Player Insiders.
Contact him at: email@example.com