Here are some random thoughts and tidbits as Pewter Report prepares for what should be a very busy and productive week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
Pewter Report's Senior Bowl coverage will begin Monday.
SEVERAL BUCS MISS INCENTIVES
Tampa Bay likely will be about $30 million under the 2008 NFL-mandated salary cap when free agency starts on Feb. 29.
That cap number would have been reduced a bit had several Bucs players been able to trigger incentives in their respective contracts during the 2007 regular season.
Bucs weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks made 10 consecutive Pro Bowls before that streak ended after the 2007 season, where Brooks was beat out by NFC linebackers Julian Peterson (Seattle), DeMarcus Ware (Dallas) and Lance Briggs (Chicago).
Brooks shouldn't feel too bad, right? After all, no Bucs players were voted to the Pro Bowl for the first time since 1995, and 10 straight Pro Bowls is one heck of a feat.
But by not making the Pro Bowl, Brooks, who finished the 2007 season with 162 tackles, failed to trigger a $100,000 bonus in his contract. He still is scheduled to earn more than $3 million in base salary in 2008, but missing out on that $100,000 bonus likely adds a little salt to Brooks' wound.
The player that really missed out money-wise was four-time Bucs Pro Bowler Ronde Barber, who could have triggered a $600,000 roster bonus had the Bucs made the playoffs and Barber made it to his fifth Pro Bowl.
Unfortunately for Barber, he did not accomplish the latter after finishing the season with 87 tackles, one sack, two interceptions and a team-high 16 passes defensed. He also scored two touchdowns off of turnovers, but those splash plays weren't enough to get him voted to the Pro Bowl.
Bucs kicker Matt Bryant has never made a Pro Bowl, but he certainly received some consideration in 2007 after drilling a career-high 84.8 percent (28-of-33) of his field goals. If it weren't for Dallas kicker Nicholas Folk's impressive season, Bryant might have made his first Pro Bowl, which would have triggered a $100,000 not-likely-to-be earned incentive in his contract.
One player that was fortunate enough to trigger a not-likely-to-be-earned incentive in his deal was wide receiver Ike Hilliard, whose 62-reception season earned him a $750,000 bonus.
WAS GRAHAM NEARLY NOT A BUC?
Tampa Bay has parted ways with running back Earnest Graham before, and that might have happened again last year had things played out a little differently in the 2007 NFL Draft.
When the Buccaneers were on the clock in the third round, their pick, which was the 68th overall selection in the draft, came down to two players – linebacker Quincy Black or running back Lorenzo Booker.
It wasn't an easy decision to make, but the Buccaneers ultimately decided to select Black, who was a standout linebacker at New Mexico.
Booker wound up being drafted three picks later (No. 71 overall) by the Miami Dolphins. Had the Buccaneers invested a third-round pick in Booker instead of Black, there's a good chance Graham, a 2003 undrafted free agent, would have been the odd man out with Cadillac Williams and Michael Pittman already on Tampa Bay's roster.
Instead, the Bucs took Black and invested a seventh-round pick in RB Kenneth Darby, who spent time on Tampa Bay's active roster and practice squad during his rookie campaign.
Tampa Bay certainly isn't regretting that decision as it feels Black will eventually become a dominant linebacker and also believes Graham, who rushed for 898 yards (4.0 avg.) and 10 touchdowns and caught 49 passes for 324 yards in 2007, is capable of carrying the load if and when asked to do so.
For inquiring minds that want to know, Booker carried the ball just 28 times for 125 yards (4.5 avg.) and hauled in 28 passes for 237 yards (8.5 avg.) in seven games with the 1-15 Dolphins last season.
RUNNING BACK A PRIORITY FOR BUCS
It was nearly one year ago that Pewter Report came by information that suggested the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would target not only one, but two veteran quarterbacks during the 2007 offseason.
Pewter Report relayed that information to its subscribers from the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., and it came to fruition in March when the Bucs signed free agent QB Jeff Garcia and traded for Denver QB Jake Plummer on the same day.
One of Tampa Bay's top priorities this offseason will be addressing its running back position, where Michael Bennett and Michael Pittman are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents and Cadillac Williams is attempting to rehab from a potentially career-ending patellar tendon injury he suffered vs. Carolina in Week 4.
That leaves the Bucs with running backs Earnest Graham and Kenneth Darby under contract. Graham rushed for 898 yards (4.0 avg.) and 10 touchdowns in place of Williams and Pittman, which could earn him a contract extension this offseason, but don't expect the Bucs to stop there.
The free agent market could be littered with quality running backs, including Michael Turner (San Diego), Mewelde Moore (Minnesota) and Julius Jones (Dallas), among others. There's even some talk in league circles that suggest several running backs, including Fred Taylor (Jacksonville), Deuce McAllister (New Orleans) and Clinton Portis (Washington), could be released or traded during the offseason.
With Tampa Bay sitting $30 million under the salary cap and in need of running backs, don't be surprised if the Buccaneers target two veteran running backs in free agency.
Not only do they want to add running backs to their roster, the Bucs will make it a priority to upgrade this position along with the tight end spot from a blocking and speed standpoint, which is why Graham is not necessarily considered the team's full-time starter and long-term solution.
There's always the possibility that the Bucs will sign one veteran running back and use a first-day draft pick to select one in April, but Tampa Bay has a top five draft pick invested in Williams. Plus, players like Turner, Moore and Jones still are in their prime and could come cheaper than one might expect since none of them are considered established starters.
Pewter Report will attempt to get a better feel for which running backs the Buccaneers might target in free agency while we're covering the Senior Bowl practices next week in Mobile. Stay tuned. This position will definitely be one to keep an eye on in Tampa Bay.
WHEN WILL EXTENSION FOR GRUDEN, ALLEN COME?
Everyone wants to know what the future holds Bucs head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen. They both have one year remaining on their contracts.
Some would like Gruden, who has a 48-48 regular season record as Tampa Bay's head coach, fired. However, that seems unlikely since the Bucs have already signed offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Bill Muir, special teams coordinator Richard Bisaccia and wide receivers Richard Mann to contract extensions.
Others hope Gruden and Allen receive contract extensions sometime this offseason. The Bucs have won two NFC South division titles over the past three seasons, and Gruden has accounted for three division championships and a Super Bowl title in his six seasons as head coach of the Bucs.
But don't be surprised if the contract extensions for Allen and Gruden don't come until much later in the offseason, or even as late as the start of the 2008 regular season.
That's what happened to Tennessee Titans head coach Jeff Fisher, who entered the 2007 offseason as a lame duck coach until receiving a four-year contract extension reportedly worth an average of $5.5 million per year on Sept. 16.
When he signed his contract extension, Fisher's Titans had compiled an 18-32 record since the team had last made the playoffs in 2003. Tennessee had started the 2006 season 0-6, but rallied to finish the season with an 8-8 record and nearly made the playoffs.
Gruden's Bucs went 4-12 in 2006, but produced a 9-7 regular season record and won the NFC South division title in 2007, which likely will have his agent, Bob LaMonte, looking for a multi-year contact extension that is in the same neighborhood as the one Fisher signed with Tennessee in September.
There certainly is room for debate in terms of whether Gruden or Fisher is the better head coach, but their career accomplishments are very similar, which is why Fisher's deal might be used in the negotiations for Allen and Gruden.
In addition to winning three division titles in Tampa Bay since 2002, Gruden has won five division championships in his 10 seasons as an NFL head coach. Fisher has won two division titles and taken the Titans to the playoffs five times and one Super Bowl in 14 seasons.
Gruden, who has an 86-74 career regular season record since 1998, owns a 5-4 playoff record while Fisher's teams have gone 5-5 in post-season play.
Fisher owns a 115-99 regular season record since becoming the Titans (formerly the Houston Oilers) head coach in 1994. Despite the fact that Tennessee produced a 10-6 record and made the post-season as a Wild Card team in 2007, Fisher (.537) and Gruden (.538) own nearly identical career winning percentages.
The Bucs are the only NFC South team to have ever won the division title more than one time since it was formed in 2002. However, they have also failed to defend the division title each time, producing a 7-9 and 4-12 record in 2003 and 2006, respectively.
Some fear the Bucs will fall flat in their attempt to defend the NFC South title again in 2007, which is why they're not in favor of an extension for Allen and Gruden, or would only be in favor a one-year extension for each of them so that the Glazers can still make changes and decisions that are not based on the length on those contracts.
However, neither Allen nor Gruden is likely to accept a one-year contract extension. Given the similarities between Gruden and Fisher's résumés , and Fisher's recent contract extension, don't be surprised if Allen and Gruden receive multi-year contract extensions, although those deals might not be executed anytime soon since both men are under contract through the end of the 2008 season.
JACKSON WAS A STEAL, PLUMMER COULD STILL PLAY
Here are a few tidbits along with some random thoughts on the Buccaneers.
Tampa Bay has had some very suspect draft picks over the past several years, linebacker Marquis Cooper, tackle Chris Colmer and wide receiver Marquise Walker, to name a few.
It's still early, but Tampa Bay's 2007 NFL Draft class is looking like a pretty good one. Rookie defensive end Gaines Adams overcame a slow start from a pass-rushing standpoint to finish the season with six sacks in the regular season and one quarterback takedown in the playoffs. Adams led all rookies in the sack column.
Rookie guard Arron Sears, a second-round draft pick, was one of the main reasons why the Bucs' ground game ranked 11th overall, which was the highest it ever finished a season ranked under head coach Jon Gruden.
Perhaps one of the steals of the draft proved to be cornerback turned safety Tanard Jackson, whom the Bucs landed in the fourth round last April.
Can you believe the Bucs actually traded down with the Vikings from the third to the seventh pick in the fourth round and still were able to select Jackson, who started all 17 games at free safety and notched 78 tackles, two interceptions and 12 passes defensed? Jackson also helped Tampa Bay's defense rank No. 2 overall and No. 1 against the pass.
Bucs rookie strong safety Sabby Piscitelli led the team in interceptions in training camp and even picked off a pass in preseason before landing on injured reserve with a broken foot in Week 3. Fifth-round pick, defensive tackle Greg Peterson, recorded 19 tackles and 1.5 sacks in a limited amount of playing time as a rookie and could be the team's future three technique.
Linebackers Quincy Black and Adam Hayward each made significant contributions on special teams with 17 and 11 tackles, respectively. They also saw a brief amount of playing time in Tampa Bay's final two regular season games when the Bucs elected to rest their starters. Black notched nine tackles while Hayward recorded six.
The 2007 NFL Draft class might have been Tampa Bay's best under head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen. However, the Bucs will need each of these players to perform much better in 2008 if they are going to repeat as NFC South division champs.
The Bucs certainly can't afford to have Adams suffer through a sophomore slump like former first-round picks wide receiver Michael Clayton and running back Cadillac Williams did following their impressive rookie campaigns.
One final note, look for the Jake Plummer saga to continue throughout the 2008 offseason. The Bucs still are attempting to lure the veterean quarterback out of retirement or lure money out of his bank account.
Tampa Bay and Denver have filed three joint grievances against Plummer in the Bucs' attempt to get Plummer either play or pay back as much as $7 million worth of bonuses he received while playing in Denver.
There still is a chance that Plummer will play for the Buccaneers in 2008.
In fact, the chances seem to have improved compared to last year. When Pewter Report asked team sources what the chances were of Plummer playing for the Bucs last season, most said "10 percent."
When Pewter Report recently asked the same question regarding Plummer's chances of playing in 2008, the same team sources said "50 percent."
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