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The Buccaneers have many players that are entering the final year of their contract with Tampa Bay. That includes starters that were vital contributors to last season's NFC South championship. The list includes: quarterback Jeff Garcia, running back Earnest Graham, fullback B.J. Askew, defensive tackle Jovan Haye, cornerback Phillip Buchanon, and safety Jermaine Phillips.
In this Campbell's Cover 2 we will debate which of those players is most important for the Buccaneers to sign to a long-term contract. In order to make an argument for the two most important to re-sign, it makes sense to look at the depth behind them.
With the recent draft picks of Aqib Talib and Sabby Piscitelli, the Bucs already have potential replacements for Buchanon and Phillips, respectively. Behind Graham the Buccaneers have three rushers who've had 1,000-yard seasons in Warrick Dunn, Michael Bennett, and Carnell Williams.
Garcia is backed up by the veteran Brian Griese, and young talented quarterbacks Luke McCown and Josh Johnson. Both Griese and McCown have shown the ability to win games for the Buccaneers, and it is debatable if it is smart to invest a lot of money into a 38-year old quarterback that has had a history of injuries.
The Buccaneers seem to have the least amount of depth behind Askew and Haye. Byron Storer, and rookie free agent Carl Stewart back up the Pro Bowl alternate Askew. Haye is backed up by second-year player Greg Peterson, and rookie fourth-round pick Dre Moore. The backups at fullback and under tackle are young players that have not proven themselves at the NFL level.
Thus, Askew or Haye should be the highest priority players for Tampa Bay to re-sign. Cover 1- Haye Is The Most Important Buccaneer To Re-Sign
In his second season with the Buccaneers defensive tackle Jovan Haye became a vital part of Tampa Bay's defense. Haye, starting at under tackle, was consistent in his production and was a playmaker. Haye delivered one of the best seasons for an under tackle that the Buccaneers have had in some time.
Last season Haye started all 16 games and the playoff game. Haye made 97 tackles with six sacks forcing one fumble and recovering four fumbles. His four fumble recoveries tied Minnesota's Chad Greenway for the most among NFL defensive players. Three passes defensed were also contributed by Haye. He led Buccaneer defensive lineman in tackles and was fifth overall on the team. Gaines Adams and Haye tied for second on the team in sacks behind defensive end Greg White.
Haye also made big plays that helped the Buccaneers win games that did not show up on stat sheets. At Atlanta on Nov. 18, early in the first quarter Haye hit Falcons quarterback Byron Leftwich as he was throwing the ball, and Buc linebacker Barrett Ruud intercepted the pass. That turnover led to a Tampa Bay touchdown.
At New Orleans on Dec. 2 Haye recovered a fumble on an errant pitch from Saints running back Reggie Bush. The Bucs were then able to move down the field to score the winning touchdown in perhaps their biggest win of the season.
The last time the Buccaneers got six sacks or more from their starting under tackle was in 2002 when Warren Sapp recorded 7.5 sacks. Some might say that Haye has room for improvement as a pass rusher, but his sack total last season was the best from a Buc defensive tackle since Sapp's 2002 season.
Haye's run defense, and tackle total, was one of the best seasons from a Tampa Bay defensive lineman in decades. Haye's 97 takedowns were the most by a Bucs defensive lineman since 1984, when David Logan notched 106. His tackle total that put him in the top five of the team, was the first time a Buccaneer defensive lineman had finished in the top five in almost 10 years. In 1998, Brad Culpepper was fifth on the team in tackles with 81.
The Bucs other defensive tackle, Chris Hovan, may have had his best season as a Buccaneer playing next to Haye. Last year, Hovan recorded a career-high 95 tackles. In his previous two seasons for the Bucs he had 78 and 64, in 2005 and 2006 respectively. Hovan is signed long-term, and keeping Haye beyond 2008 could give Tampa Bay one of the better defensive tackle tandems in the NFL for years to come.
Haye was drafted in the sixth round of the 2005 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers. In his rookie season, Haye saw action in two games for Carolina and was inactive for 13 contests. He was in the final round of cuts from the Panthers roster prior to the 2006 season. After being signed and cut by the Cleveland Browns, Haye eventually was signed to the Browns practice squad. After a little more than a month on the Browns practice squad, Haye was signed to the Buccaneers active roster in late October of 2006.
General manager Bruce Allen and the Buccaneers front office deserve a lot of credit for signing Haye from the Browns practice squad. At the same time they were making up for the mistake of not drafting Haye in the first place. The Buccaneers took wide receiver Larry Brackins and safety Donte Nicholson in the fifth round over Haye that year. They then chose Alabama defensive tackle Anthony Bryant 11 picks before the Panthers took Haye.
The 6-foot-2, 285-pound Haye will turn 26 in June and could stabilize the Buccaneers under tackle position for years to come. Last year Haye had comparable numbers to the defensive tackles that made the Pro Bowl for the NFC. Minnesota Vikings' tandem of Kevin and Pat Williams were the starters. The Chicago Bears Tommie Harris was the backup, but could not play. Arizona Cardinals' Darnell Dockett was Harris' replacement in the Pro Bowl.
Player Games Tackles Sacks Forced Fumbles Jovan Haye 16 97 6 1 Kevin Williams 16 38 3 1 Pat Williams 16 62 2 0 Tommie Harris 16 36 8 2 Darnell Docket 16 58 9 2
While Harris and Dockett had more sacks then Haye, the Buccaneers under tackle had far more tackles than any of the NFC Pro Bowlers. Considering Haye is lining up on the line of scrimmage, when he makes a tackle it is more likely to be for a small gain. This is a big factor in putting teams in second- and third-and-long situations.
If the Buccaneers are not comfortable giving Haye a lucrative contract extension before 2008, they will want to see Haye stay at least as productive as he was last season. The Buccaneers will also want to feel confident that Haye can stay healthy, and have an idea as to where Haye's ceiling is, in terms of his production. Many people feel that late-round players have ceilings in their play. Tampa Bay will want to know that Haye has not hit his ceiling if it is going to give him a hefty contract.
Considering his youth, Haye should continue to improve. Last year was Haye's first full season of playing time, and it is not unrealistic to expect Haye to improve on his solid 2007 season. With one season already of Pro Bowl caliber numbers, he may prove to have Pro Bowl talent. He has a quick first step and closes quickly on the quarterback and ball carriers. Haye also has a non-stop motor, he simply doesn't quit on plays.
Behind Haye, the Buccaneers do not have much experience. Haye's backups are young raw players in Peterson and Moore. Last season Peterson was active for 10 games and made 19 tackles with 1.5 sacks and one pass defensed. He was inactive for six games in the second half of the season. Peterson is still developing having come from North Carolina Central college. Moore is a rookie that is raw due to getting a late start in football. His senior collegiate season was impressive, but he may have a longer learning curve as he adjusts to the NFL and gets in game shape.
Last season, and in Haye's game action in 2006 and his career at Vanderbilt, he was a very good run defender. The ability to rush the passer is an aspect that Haye has been working on improving. In 2007, when Haye got a pass rush he seemed to do a good job of finishing the play and bringing the quarterback down. What would be valuable to see would be if Haye could get more consistent pressure, not just sacks, but hurries and pressures that disrupt the timing of a play and force quarterbacks into throwing passes early.
According to sources, Haye and the Buccaneers have been discussing a contract extension since October, but have been far apart on a deal. If the Buccaneers believe that Haye will produce at the same level as 2007 for years to come, then they would be smart to sign him sooner rather than later. The longer they wait the more likely Haye's price will continue to go up.
This offseason Harris turned down a contract that would have made him the highest-paid defensive tackle in league history. Harris and the Chicago Bears have negotiations that are ongoing, and are trying to work out an extension. Any long-term deal that Harris signs will make him one of the highest-paid defensive players in the league.
By signing Haye before Harris signs his extension, the Buccaneers would probably save money. After Harris signs his extension, Haye's agent will get that contract and use that with Haye's comparable numbers to justify a lucrative deal. With Haye's tackle totals and improvement in pass rushing, it is not surprising that he and his agent are seeking a big deal. Considering how difficult it is to find top defensive tackles, and the lack of proven depth behind him, Haye is the most important player for the Buccaneers to sign to an extension. Cover 2- Askew Is The Most Important Buccaneer To Re-Sign
Since Jon Gruden became head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the fullback has been a valuable contributor on every one of the Bucs' three playoff teams. In 2002, Mike Alstott had his sixth Pro Bowl in helping the team to its first-ever world championship. In 2005, Mike Alstott had seven touchdowns and had a great year blocking for Rookie of the Year Carnell Williams. Last season the torch was passed to B.J. Askew, who had a great year for the Buccaneers and was named as the NFC's Pro Bowl alternate at fullback.
With Tampa Bay's offensive line, Askew helped pave the way for the Buccaneers to have one of the better running attacks in the NFL. The Buccaneers finished the season as the 11th-ranked rushing attack. Their average of 4.2 rush yards per attempt was ninth in the NFL and fourth in the NFC. Askew also contributed in the passing game as a receiver and blocker.
The Buccaneers ranked 16th in passing for the 2007 season. This was the first time the team ranked at least 16th in running and passing since the 1992 season, and only the second time the team has done that in franchise history.
For the season Askew appeared in 13 games. Coming out of the backfield Askew was a quality receiver, bringing in 18 passes for 175 yards an average 9.7 yards per reception. While 18 receptions do not seem like a lot, it was the fifth most for fullbacks in the NFL.
With Tampa Bay featuring many different running backs in 2007 (Williams, Michael Pittman, Michael Bennett, and Earnest Graham) Askew's blocking was essential to maintaining a productive running game. Considering that Askew did not get a single carry, and did not score a touchdown on a reception, his statistics were not spectacular, but his blocking and receiving were so impressive that he was chosen as the Pro Bowl alternate at fullback.
Late in the season Askew sprained his ankle and continued to play through the injury as the Bucs were closing in on the division title. Askew gutted out the injury for three weeks playing Washington, New Orleans, and Houston. During the week Askew would not practice with the team but would play in the games on Sunday. With the division all but won, the Buccaneers rested Askew in Week 15 as Tampa Bay clinched the division with a win against Atlanta. With the playoffs coming the Buccaneers held Askew out in the last two games of the season as well.
Holding a player out of practice and playing them in the games is a rarity under Gruden. He wants his players who see action on Sunday to have gotten practice time during the week, but Gruden recognized the importance of having Askew on Sundays and was willing to miss Askew in practice in order for him to be able to play on game day.
Like Haye, the Buccaneers do not have much depth behind Askew. Storer is the front-runner to be Askew's backup next season. Last year Storer spent six weeks on the Buccaneers practice squad before being signed to the active roster. He saw action in nine games, and started the three games that Askew was held out of. In his nine games Storer caught two passes for three yards. He was assignment sound on offense, and contributed nicely on special teams making eight tackles.
Battling Storer for the backup fullback position is undrafted rookie free agent Stewart from Auburn. Stewart is a good athlete that looks good as a receiver coming out of the backfield. While both Storer and Stewart seem to have some potential as NFL fullbacks, neither of them seems to be able to produce at Askew's level at this time.
Having a Pro Bowl-caliber fullback in Askew was a real lift for Tampa Bay's offense last season. There aren't many players that contribute as diversely as Askew. With run blocking, pass blocking, and receiving Askew plays a key role on almost every offensive down.
Sources have indicated to Pewter Report that of the veteran players on the Buccaneers, Askew and the team are the closest on an extension. With that in mind, it seems that Askew is the most important Buccaneer to re-sign.
The Buccaneers may not be in a serious hurry to get those players extended. The team views the deadline for a new contract as late February 2009, just prior to the players becoming unrestricted free agents. The timing of the contract extension is not of vital importance to the front office. Be it in training camp, during the regular season, or after the season is over, the Buccaneers are more focused on agreeing to a contract that is fair to both parties.
Some players may want the contract extension before the season starts. Once they start practicing the players are risking an injury that could severely limit their leverage and value in a new contract. Other players relish the opportunity to be a free agent, and receive the top dollar that can come from the bidding of numerous franchises.
Considering both Covers, if the choice of one player had to be made it would be Haye. The scarcity of quality players at his position, and his upside make Haye the choice as the most important Buccaneer to re-sign. But the bottom line is that both Haye and Askew are worthy of getting contract extensions with Tampa Bay.
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