Why did the Buccaneers suddenly release starting free safety Tanard Jackson? Was it more than just a failed physical? What happens now at the safety position for Tampa Bay? Pewter Report's Scott Reynolds examines the situation in this article.
The Buccaneers’ already weak safety position just got weaker on Tuesday with the release of veteran Tanard Jackson, who was clearly the best safety on the team. The move was predicated because Jackson missed the first week of the team’s offseason program last week and was not diligently rehabbing his shoulder, which required surgery in January. He is expected to be ready to go by June.
With this action, Bucs general manager Mark Dominik is fully supporting new head coach Greg Schiano’s accountability as part of the “Buccaneer Way” of doing things, and clearly sending a message to the rest of the team that a new standard of professionalism is now in place at One Buccaneer Place. The general consensus was that the Bucs did not run a tight ship under former head coach Raheem Morris over the past three years, the last of which ended in 10 straight losses to close a disappointing 4-12 record on the 2011 season.
It used to be that if a Buccaneers player made the team coming out of training camp that he was essentially guaranteed a job for the rest of the year under the former regime. It’s evident that complacency had set in over the past three years as Tampa Bay rarely cut a player during the season unless it was a backup player. Jackson’s release is significant because he is a starter.
Reading between the lines, Jackson was not as professional as he needed to be this offseason, evidenced by the fact that he didn’t show up for the first week of offseason work, especially with the fact that he needed to continue to rehab his shoulder. Morris might have tolerated this type of behavior, but it won’t fly under Schiano.
Expect this move to send shockwaves in the Bucs locker room for a number of reasons. First, Jackson was a beloved player. His issues with drugs were self-destructive, but he was not viewed as a locker room cancer or a bad influence on teammates. Jackson was largely viewed as a great teammate that always had a team-first attitude.
Second, Jackson was the best safety on the team. He had 10 career interceptions and five forced fumbles in his Tampa Bay career and was a big-time playmaker when healthy. The message this sends the team is that if the Bucs can cut him, they can cut anybody.
And finally, the safety position was not considered a team strength before Jackson’s release and the talent and experience level just fell dramatically with his release. It’s clear that Schiano and Dominik aren’t afraid to take a step back in order to take a step forward at a later time with a player that buys into the “Buccaneer Way” of doing things.
The problem with Jackson’s release is that the Bucs were awfully thin at safety to begin with. Third-year player Cody Grimm has the most experience, but even he has only played in 14 games with 12 starts and has seen his last two seasons end on the injured reserve list. Grimm broke his leg during his rookie campaign in 2011 and then tore knee ligaments in Week 3.
Larry Asante, Ahmad Black, the team’s fifth-round pick last year, and Devin Holland, who spent most of his rookie season last year on injured reserve, are the only other safeties on the roster. Asante played sparingly as a reserve in 2011 and finished his season with 11 tackles and a forced fumble at the goal line in the season finale at Atlanta.
Black spent most of the year on the practice squad, but played in the season finale, finishing the game with five tackles and a fumble recovery.
Holland is regarded as a special teams demon, but he also led the team in interceptions in the preseason with two.
There is a chance that the Bucs could consider moving recently re-signed cornerback Ronde Barber over to safety for his 16th year in the NFL. Barber has cross-trained at safety before under former defensive coordinators Monte Kiffin and Raheem Morris, and does have some limited playing experience at the position.
Compounding Tampa Bay’s dilemma at safety is the fact that the position was weak in free agency this year and the Bucs did not sign one. The team opted not to re-sign starting strong safety Sean Jones because he failed to make enough plays. Jones, who is still available in free agency, was second on the team with 92 tackles, but only had two pass breakups and failed to record an interception in 16 games.
The draft is also very thin at safety where Alabama’s Mark Barron is the only first-round prospect. Notre Dame’s Harrison Smith figures to be a second-round pick, while LSU’s Brandon Taylor and Boise State’s George Illoka are likely to be third-round picks. Oklahoma State’s Markelle Martin and Michigan State’s Trenton Robinson could be selected in the third or fourth round.
Although the choices are few and far between, the Bucs will certainly have to either add a safety in free agency or in the draft in an attempt to bolster the talent and the depth at that position.
Schiano has gone on record to say that he has given every player a clean slate. However, the release of Jackson is evidence that Schiano is not afraid to wipe the slate clean rather quickly, either.
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