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Despite being quite thin at the safety position, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers opted not to use one of their 10 draft picks on a safety last month.
At first glace, the Bucs appear to be set at the starting strong and free safety positions.
Jermaine Phillips has 30 career starts under his belt and is coming off a decent season where he recorded a career-high 85 tackles at strong safety.
With Dexter Jackson signing with the Cincinnati Bengals during the offseason, third-year S Will Allen is penciled in as Tampa Bay’s starting free safety heading into training camp.
Jackson was the only starter from Tampa Bay’s 2005 team to leave via free agency, but his loss hasn’t been deemed a significant one seeing as Allen started eight games in place of Jackson, who battled a severe hamstring injury last season.
Sitting behind Phillips and Allen are backups Kalvin Pearson, Donte Nicholson, rookie Jahmile Addae and first-year S Steve Cargile, and this is where there is some cause for concern.
Pearson and Nicholson are capable special teams contributors, but only Pearson has a career start (one to be exact) under his belt, and both players lack playing experience on defense.
Tampa Bay’s secondary probably will be fine if Phillips and Allen avoid major injury this season. However, after looking at their track records, that is not a safe assumption to make.
Phillips has struggled with injuries over the past two seasons. In fact, he’s missed nine starts over the past two years due to injuries.
Even if Phillips stays healthy, the Bucs are looking for him to become more of a playmaker on defense. In 30 career starts with the Bucs, Phillips has recorded just two career interceptions.
To put that number in perspective, Allen recorded three interceptions alone last year. Philips’ $1.887 million cap value in 2006 could be considered quite expensive for a player with that type of health and production, or lack thereof.
Tampa Bay’s safety positions are interchangeable, which has allowed players like Allen, Phillips and Jackson to rotate as needed. Allen provided some valuable depth last year by filling in for the injured Jackson.
But like Jackson and Phillips, Allen also missed playing time (three games) due to injury last season.
Given the injury track record of Phillips and Allen, it’s no wonder why the Bucs expressed some serious interest in signing Oakland Raiders free agent Charles Woodson earlier this offseason.
Woodson has the versatility to play both cornerback and safety. Had he signed with Tampa Bay instead of Green Bay, Woodson likely would have competed with Allen for the starting free safety spot, and Allen could have once again provided relief when needed.
The Bucs are just two unfortunate injuries away from having Pearson and Nicholson as their starting safety duo, which certainly wouldn’t be ideal. But even though they were outbid for Woodson’s services, the Bucs still might be in position to secure an insurance policy at safety.
Just before the 2006 NFL Draft took place, ProFootballTalk.com reported New Orleans’ interest in trading S Dwight Smith, who spent the first four years (2001-04) of his career with the Buccaneers before signing with the Saints.
Smith, 27, signed a five-year, $15 million deal with the Saints during the 2005 offseason. He had a decent debut with the Saints, recording 86 tackles, two picks, seven passes defensed, two forced fumbles and one sack.
But New Orleans is deep at the safety positions and apparently is willing to part ways with Smith and his $1.2 million base salary.
The Bucs have been mentioned as one of several teams interested in trading for Smith, but when asked about the team’s interest in trading for him, Bucs general manager Bruce Allen reminded Pewter Report that Smith was under contract with the Saints, which would not allow him to comment any further.
With June 1 approaching, the chances of Smith, who has notched 14 interceptions in his five-year career and broke an NFL record in Super Bowl XXXVII by returning two interceptions for touchdowns, getting traded are decreasing by the day. However, the Saints still could release Smith anywhere from June 1 to late-July in an effort to push some of his prorated signing bonus into 2007.
Considering how much interest Tampa Bay showed in Woodson, it’s safe to assume that the Bucs are intrigued by the possibility of bringing back Smith, who like Woodson, is a versatile, playmaking defensive back that can play cornerback or safety.
Smith, who spent the first two years of his career at cornerback before moving to safety, also would come much cheaper than Woodson, who signed a seven-year, $52 million deal with the Packers. And even if the Saints wait to release him until late July, Smith would be able sign with Tampa Bay and quickly settle into same Tampa 2 defensive scheme he thrived in during his four-year stint with the Bucs.
It was two years ago that Allen and Smith’s former agent, Gene Burrough, started talking about the possibility of extending Smith’s contract with the Bucs. Those talks broke off shortly after Tampa Bay reported to training camp that summer and never proved to be fruitful enough for the two sides to agree to terms on a new deal.
If given the opportunity to re-acquire Smith, the Bucs shouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger on a deal that would bring back the versatile defensive back, ballhawk and special teams demon.
Such a move would give the Bucs a capable starter and much-needed insurance policy at the safety position this season.
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