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Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans are jealous, and understandably so.
They’ve watched teams like the Cleveland Browns and Washington Redskins spend millions of dollars to acquire several big-name free agents since the free-agent signing period started on March 11.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay has been rather quiet on the free agent front. Any money the Bucs have had to spend has been used to re-sign their own players, including fullback Mike Alstott, kicker Matt Bryant, cornerback Juran Bolden, defensive tackle Chris Hovan and quarterback Chris Simms.
While it was wise for Tampa Bay to re-sign some of the key contributors from last season’s 11-5 and NFC South division championship team, the Bucs haven’t made the splash in free agency that many fans hoped they would this offseason.
The Bucs are currently looking to upgrade some positions in free agency. Tackles Brad Hopkins (Tennessee), Tom Ashworth (New England), Jason Fabini (New York Jets) and Mike Pearson (Jacksonville) have all visited One Buc Place, and the Bucs likely will sign at least one of them in hopes of upgrading their offensive line in 2006.
While improved offensive line play will go a long way for Tampa Bay in 2006, Bucs head coach and playcaller Jon Gruden certainly could use more weapons on the offensive side of the ball.
NFL Rookie of the Year Carnell “Cadillac” Williams was a nice start, but defenses will be aiming to stop him and daring Simms to throw more next season.
That could be a problem for the Bucs offense as wide receiver Joey Galloway, who turns 35 in November, has earned a reputation for being injury prone throughout his 11-year career. To his credit, Galloway started all 16 regular season games for the Bucs last season, catching a team-high 83 passes for 1,287 yards and 10 touchdowns. However, the question that remains unanswered is was last season the exception or the norm for Galloway?
Another question mark hovers over third-year WR Michael Clayton, who had a brilliant rookie year but struggled mightily in 2005. Clayton is coming off offseason surgery for the second straight year.
Last year, that surgery had lingering effects and hindered Clayton’s ability to turn in the type of season he had during his rookie campaign. While he’s said to be doing well in the training and weight rooms, Clayton must once again prove himself on the football field in what has been deemed by some to be a make-or-break year for former first-round draft pick.
The Bucs’ options behind Clayton and Galloway don’t appear to be great. Ike Hilliard, who was a serviceable number three receiver last year, is an unrestricted free agent, and Edell Shepherd, Larry Brackins, J.R. Russell and Paris Warren appear to be fighting for roster spots, not the No. 3 receiver job, in 2006.
That said, Simms could use more weapons, particularly in the passing game.
The Bucs’ potential predicament at the receiver position might help to better explain why an ESPN report in January had Tampa Bay interested in acquiring Philadelphia Eagles WR Terrell Owens.
With the Eagles releasing Owens on Tuesday, many are wondering if the Bucs will make an attempt to sign controversial receiver.
Well, Tampa Bay is in the market for a free agent wide receiver, but Owens’ chances of landing with the Bucs are slim to none. The Bucs would have a difficult time creating the salary cap space for him, but more importantly, it doesn’t seem like the team’s current players are crazy about the idea of bringing him aboard the Bucs’ ship.
That leaves Tampa Bay in an interesting situation seeing as this year’s class of free agent wide receivers has about as many prospects as the city of New Orleans has tourists right now.
The NFL Draft doesn’t appear to have many receivers that could step in immediately and play on offense during their rookie seasons.
With the 23rd pick in the first round, Tampa Bay might have the opportunity to draft Florida’s Chad Jackson, but the other pressing needs could prompt the Bucs to pass on him and draft a player at another position instead.
Players like Arizona State WR Derek Hagan or Notre Dame WR Maurice Stovall could be a great value pick in the second round, but would they be able to give the Bucs the weapon they need on offense right away? Probably not.
It looks like Tampa Bay’s options in terms of acquiring a wide receiver that can make an immediate impact on offense and serve as an insurance policy for Galloway and/or Clayton are not very good.
But after further review, Tampa Bay might have options, or at least one, and no, the Bucs didn’t just come up with the salary cap room to sign Owens.
Tampa Bay has the opportunity to acquire a player with Owens-like credentials, but without the baggage.
Reports out of Buffalo recently suggested that WR Eric Moulds’ days as a Bill were numbered, which could be a good thing for the Buccaneers.
Moulds, a three-time Pro Bowler, has a salary cap value of $10.85 million in 2006. The Bills have asked Moulds to take a pay cut twice, but to no avail.
Instead, Moulds’ personal advisor, Greg Johnson, told The Buffalo News earlier this week that the Bills needed to release Moulds from his contract or trade him.
“We were hoping [the Bills] would open their eyes and say they would give this guy what he deserves and move on,” Johnson told The Buffalo News. “But they didn’t, so we don’t have time to keep hoping. There is no more time to hope.
“It’s just not going to happen. We’re too far apart. If you’re not going to pay him, cut him now or trade him now and allow him to find out what his market value is with someone else.”
Now, if this were the Madden Football video game, acquiring Moulds would be quite realistic, but since this is real life in the National Football League, which mandates a real salary cap, Tampa Bay could have several obstacles standing its way of acquiring Moulds.
If Buffalo refuses to release Moulds, what could Tampa Bay offer the Bills in the form of compensation to obtain his rights and services?
At 32, Moulds probably can be had for a third- and fifth-round draft pick, just as San Diego gave Tampa Bay in 2004 in exchange for WR Keenan McCardell.
Bucs general manager Bruce Allen could get away with offering just a third- or fourth-round draft pick for Moulds, citing the fact that the Bucs could simply wait for the Bills to release him if they do not want to accept that form of compensation.
But if Moulds hit the free agent market, the Bucs would be forced to compete with other teams for his services, which could drive up his asking price.
The biggest hurdle standing in Tampa Bay’s way of making this type of blockbuster trade is Moulds’ $10.85 million cap value. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound receiver would have to renegotiate a new contract with the Bucs before a trade for Moulds could be executed.
Of course, this is nothing new to Allen, who did the same thing when the Bucs traded WR Keyshawn Johnson to Dallas in exchange for Galloway during the 2004 offseason.
Although they’ve reworked several players’ contracts in order to free up millions in salary cap room this offseason, the Bucs still have the opportunity to free up more cap space by going to players like defensive end Greg Spires ($3.467 million cap value) and middle linebacker Shelton Quarles ($5.075 million cap value), both of whom were approached regarding the possibility of reworking their deals earlier in the offseason.
Reworking these players’ deals, and/or rewarding cornerback Ronde Barber ($5.264 million cap value) with a well-deserved contract extension, would free up some much-needed cap room for the Bucs to pull off the trade for Moulds.
The fact that Tampa Bay and Buffalo are in separate conferences may make the Bills more willing to deal Moulds to the Bucs. And if Moulds is simply released, that could be even better for the Bucs, who could then hold on to all of their draft picks.
Moulds is a player that the Bucs need to take a hard look at. He’s hauled in 675 passes for 9,096 yards (13.5 avg.) and 48 touchdowns during his 11-year career. He’s started 133 of the 154 games he’s played in as a Bill.
Tampa Bay’s offense could use a player with Moulds’ ability to create yards after the catch. In fact, 117 of Moulds’ career catches have gone for 20-plus yards, and 34 of his receptions have gone 40 or more yards.
Sure, Moulds will turn 33 in July, but age shouldn’t serve as a deterrent for the Bucs, who still are interested in re-signing Hilliard, 30, and recently expressed interest in signing WR Isaac Bruce, 33, before he signed a three-year, $15 million deal to return to the Rams.
He’s not getting any younger, but Moulds hasn’t shown many signs of slowing down with age. Despite having sub-par play at the quarterback position in 2005, Moulds hauled in 81 passes for 816 yards and four touchdowns.
They haven’t made one yet, but the Buccaneers still have a chance to make a splash of their own this offseason by either executing a deal with Buffalo that would bring Moulds to Tampa Bay or simply waiting for the veteran receiver to be released.
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