SR's Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, Pewter Report publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place:FAB 1. TAMPA BAY HAS A DESPERATE NEED FOR LINEBACKERS
With the start of NFL free agency less than a month away, one of the positions that is red flagged as a need for Tampa Bay is linebacker. The Buccaneers only have four linebackers under contract, including starting weakside linebacker Lavonte David and starting middle linebacker Mason Foster.
David had a record-breaking season, recording a career-high 144 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, as well as posting career-highs with sacks (six), interceptions (five), forced fumbles (two) and a fumble recovery. Foster had 90 tackles, six tackles for loss, three interceptions, including two pick-sixes, two sacks and a forced fumble. Foster is entering a contract year in Tampa Bay after being a third-round pick in 2011.
The other two players are Ka’Lial Glaud and Danny Lansanah, and neither is a lock to make the 2014 roster, as Glaud played for former head coach Greg Schiano at Rutgers, and Lansanah played against him at UConn. Both Glaud and Lansanah lost a strong ally when Schiano was fired.
Tampa Bay’s other four linebackers – Jonathan Casillas, Dekoda Watson, Adam Hayward and Jacob Cutrera – are all unrestricted free agents, and the Bucs may not bring all – or any – of them back. Cutrera is primarily a special teamer who covers kicks and punts. Casillas, Watson and Hayward all started at least one game at strongside linebacker for Tampa Bay last year, and the team could have a new starter alongside David and Foster in 2014.
“It’s tough because we have a real tight knit group here,” Foster said. “I feel like all of those guys are my older brothers. It’s going to be tough if they walk away. I don’t even want to think about it because Wood (Hayward), Dekoda and J.C. and I are like brothers. We hang out all the time. Without them it’s going to be different and take me a while to get used to.”
Excluding quarterback and special teams positions, such as kicker, punter and long snapper, only the tight end position has fewer players under contract (three) than the linebacker position has right now in Tampa Bay. New general manager Jason Licht, head coach Lovie Smith, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and linebackers coach Hardy Nickerson, along with input from director of pro scouting Shelton Quarles, who witnessed the 2013 season first-hand, are all diligently doing their film study on the Bucs’ four free agent linebackers to determine which players, if any, should be pursued.
“I don’t even know how to really approach it,” Hayward said. “I’ve been in this boat before with free agency, but I knew I was coming back. I was with [former Bucs head coach] Raheem [Morris] and I knew the situation. I don’t know now. I just don’t know. We’ll see what the market has to offer. I’ll see if I can compete for a starting job. I feel I would be a good starter here – nothing against our guys. Lavonte, Mason and J.C. were the starters here. I would like to go somewhere where maybe that wasn’t the case so I can actually play some defense and contribute.
“The only two that are really here are Lavonte and Mason. They’re younger guys. It’s going to be tough because J.C. and I are the older guys. They like both of us, but we both play on special teams, too. It might be difficult for them to keep both of us. It will probably come down to one of us. I won’t know until February and I hope I land in a good spot.”
Hayward, a two-time special teams captain in Tampa Bay, was valuable to the team due to the fact that he could back up all of the linebacker positions. In limited duty on defense, Hayward had 15 tackles and one pass breakup, while leading the Buccaneers with 11 tackles on special teams.
Casillas is coming off a knee injury that forced him on injured reserve after a Week 13 loss at Carolina. The free agent import from New Orleans recorded 24 tackles and a forced fumble on defense, and also had nine tackles on special teams.
Of the three free agent strongside linebackers, Watson may be the most coveted by the Buccaneers and others. The 6-foot-2, 240-pounder is among the fastest players on the team, and his athleticism could be sought after by a lot of 3-4 teams looking for pass-rushing outside linebackers. Watson, a star performer on Tampa Bay’s special teams over the past three years, emerged as the starting strongside linebacker until a shoulder injury limited his playing time.
Watson had a career-high 42 tackles and also posted career highs in sacks (two) and interceptions (one), in addition to forcing a fumble and recovering a fumble on defense. On special teams, Watson had five tackles, a fumble recovery and blocked a punt – his third block in the last two years.
Of the four free agent linebackers, Watson’s skill set would likely be most welcome in Smith and Frazier’s version of the Tampa 2, which puts a huge emphasis on speed and athleticism. Watson has spent some time at defensive end under both Morris and Schiano, and can continue to help the Bucs there as a situational pass rusher, too.
But can Tampa Bay afford Watson in free agency? And how would Watson making $2 million or more per season as a starter only in base defense – and not nickel defense – sit with Foster and David, who will be playing every snap on defense next year together as the Bucs will be playing nickel instead of the dime defense that Schiano preferred?
Not only does Tampa Bay need to find a starting strongside linebacker, upgrading the depth at weakside and middle linebacker is also paramount as an injury to either Foster or David could deal a critical blow to the Bucs defense in 2014.FAB 2. WILL BUCS SIGN OR DRAFT A CHALLENGER FOR FOSTER?
The Buccaneers have the weakside linebacker position already filled with All-Pro Lavonte David, which is good because that is a vital role in the Tampa 2. Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks set the standard for the Will linebacker spot in Tampa Bay as a coverage linebacker that picked off 25 passes and roamed sideline to sideline as a tackling machine. David’s skill set is cut from the same cloth, and his first two years in the NFL were even more productive than Brooks’ were.
The strongside linebacker role in the Tampa 2 is not nearly as important as that position is on the sidelines when the Bucs go to nickel defense and replace the Sam linebacker with an extra cornerback. With the NFL evolving into even more of a passing league, teams like Tampa Bay will probably play a base defense 50 percent of the time and play nickel the other 50 percent. The Bucs will likely address this position in free agency, as three players that played the Sam linebacker role last year – Dekoda Watson, Jonathan Casillas and Adam Hayward – are all free agents.
While Mason Foster, a three-year starter, is the front-runner for the middle linebacker role in Tampa Bay, it is unknown whether he is an ideal fit for the coverage responsibilities down the deep middle of the field in the Cover 2 zone defense.
In three years with the Bucs, Foster has accumulated 320 tackles, 23 tackles for loss, 14 passes defensed, six sacks, five interceptions, including two pick-sixes, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. While Foster has proven he can defend the pass with 14 break-ups and five picks, he has struggled in Cover 2 down the seam during his time in Tampa Bay, and the Bucs will have to access whether he can be coached up in that area, if he lacks the skills to play the deep middle zone.
Tampa Bay didn’t play Cover 2 with great regularity during Foster’s rookie year under Raheem Morris, and played even less during the last two seasons under Greg Schiano. If the Bucs’ brain trust doesn’t like what it sees on film from Foster, who also could use some work shedding blocks, it could turn to free agency to find a challenger for the starting assignment in the middle.
While Arizona’s Karlos Dansby would be a great short-term answer and a perfect fit in Tampa Bay as the 32-year old had a career-high four interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns, 6.5 sacks and an amazing 21 pass breakups, Dansby has indicated that he wants to remain in Phoenix.
The Cardinals have also expressed a strong desire to keep the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Dansby from hitting free agency and away from former Arizona director of player personnel Jason Licht, who became the new Bucs’ general manager in January, and others.
Another player the Bucs may consider signing in free agency is Minnesota’s Desmond Bishop, although he’s coming off a torn ACL he suffered in October. Bishop, 6-foot-2, 244 pounds, played collegiately at California for new Bucs offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford and spent his first five years in Green Bay where he squared off regularly against new head coach Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, who was Minnesota’s head coach before he signed Bishop as a free agent in 2013. If pursued by the Buccaneers, the 29-year old Bishop would likely be signed to be Foster’s backup and a special teams contributor.
An interesting player Tampa Bay could pursue if it wanted to give Foster a real challenger would be Brandon Spikes, who was drafted in the second round by New England in 2010. The Bucs want speed on defense and Spikes isn’t the fastest middle linebacker, so he may not be an ideal fit, but he is incredibly physical and instinctive. At 6-foot-2, 255 pounds, Spikes may need to shed 10 pounds to become quicker, but he has the strength and ability to shed blockers and be a physical enforcer against the run like Tampa Bay’s linebackers coach, Hardy Nickerson, was playing for the Bucs from 1993-1999.
Spikes picked off six passes during his final two years at Florida, returning four for touchdowns, which shows his coverage ability. Whether Spikes, who is coming off a knee injury in 2013, has the speed to cover the deep middle of the field at the NFL level is a question the Bucs’ scouts and front office would have to determine.
The middle linebacker position is not regarded as deep in the 2014 NFL Draft, and features only one first-round prospect, Alabama’s C.J. Mosley. However, there are three third-round prospects that have some of the traits the Bucs might want in a middle linebacker. The only problem is that Tampa Bay doesn’t have a third-round pick, but could acquire one by trading down in either the first or second round.
At 6-foot-3, 244 pounds, Stanford’s Shane Skov is an interesting mix of athleticism, intellect and anger. Skov plays with an aggressive mentality and recorded 355 tackles, 43.5 tackles for loss, 16 sacks, 12 passes defensed and five forced fumbles at Stanford, including 109 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, four passes defensed and three forced fumbles during his senior year. In 2013, Skov came back even stronger from a torn ACL in 2011 and greatly improved his draft stock.
“Skov is a very instinctive, physical linebacker,” said Stanford defensive end and 2014 NFL Draft prospect Josh Mauro. “With him and a running back in the hole one-on-one, I’m taking him every single time. He put some great tape out there this year. He’s nasty. He’s kind of a little nerdy and geeky off the field, but he puts on that eye paint and he gets on the field and he’s a monster. Skov is the best and most tenacious middle linebacker. He’s got a brilliant future ahead of him.”
Skov is a dynamo against the run, diagnosing plays with his supreme intellect and doing a tremendous job at shedding blocks and making tackles. He is adept at timing the snap and making tackles for loss and sacks, but he will play too aggressive at times and can be fooled on misdirection and play-action fakes. Skov wasn’t asked to drop in coverage regularly at Stanford and does need some work in that aspect of his game. But his demeanor is the closest thing to Nickerson’s in the 2014 NFL Draft class.
Another third round middle linebacker prospect is Wisconsin’s Chris Borland. At 5-foot-11, 245 pounds, Borland is strong and compactly built, and was extremely productive for the Badgers. If he was four inches taller and had longer arms (his arm length, which was just under 29 inches, was the shortest at the Senior Bowl) he would likely be a first rounder. Having short arms hurts linebackers in terms of tackling and shedding blocks.
Borland, a four-year starter, who reminds some of Zach Thomas or London Fletcher, was a tackling machine at Wisconsin, racking up 421 stops, 50 tackles for loss, 17 sacks, 15 passes defensed, a school-record 15 forced fumbles, three interceptions and one interception. His instincts, determination and physicality are that of a more muscle-bound Luke Kuechly. The biggest question is his foot speed, and that will be determined at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis later this month, but he seemed fast enough in coverage at the Senior Bowl.
The other third-round Mike linebacker prospect is Florida State’s Christian Jones. Big and rangy at 6-foot-4, 234 pounds, Jones is the ideal athlete to play middle linebacker in the Tampa 2, and he had a productive career as a two-year starter for the national champion Seminoles. Jones had 95 tackles, eight tackles for loss, three pass breakups, two fumble recoveries, including one for a touchdown, during his junior year. Injuries at defensive end during his senior season forced him to play some edge rusher and contributed to his decline in production towards the end of the season. Jones finished the 2013 campaign with 56 tackles, eight tackles for loss, two sacks, and an interception. He leaves Florida State with 223 tackles, 24 tackles for loss, nine pass breakups, eight sacks, two fumble recoveries and an interception.
Jones has great hips that allow him to backpedal smoothly and cover backs and tight ends downfield with relative ease. Due to his athleticism, Jones is looking to build on his offseason momentum at the Combine and could raise his draft stock to the second round.
If the Bucs don’t address the middle linebacker position in free agency, the eyes of Nickerson, Frazier and Smith, a former linebackers coach, will be fixated on Foster during the team’s April mini-camp before the draft to assess Foster’s ability to drop in coverage. With just four linebackers presently under contract, and no one to provide depth at Mike linebacker or possibly challenge Foster, the Bucs may turn to the draft for help the position.FAB 3. RUNNING BACK POSITION A DEFINITE STRENGTH FOR BUCS
While there are questions at nearly every offensive position – quarterback, wide receiver, tight end and the offensive line – at One Buccaneer Place heading into the 2014 season, the one position that is well stocked for new offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford is running back.
For all of the accolades that Tedford has received for helping to develop six first-round quarterbacks – Trent Dilfer, David Carr, Akili Smith, Joey Harrington, Kyle Boller and Aaron Rodgers – over his collegiate coaching career, Tedford has also produced a slew of quality running backs, headlined by Seattle’s Super Bowl champion, Marshawn Lynch. Lynch became the first and only back to top 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons at Cal under Tedford, but he has always deployed a two-back system and believes in that approach.
“I’ve been very fortunate to be around a lot of great backs,” Tedford said. “Michael Pittman played here, Maurice Morris [I coached] at Oregon. Then through Cal we were very fortunate to always have really two backs, whether it was J.J. Arrington and Marshawn Lynch and then Marshawn and Justin Forsett were together. Then Marshawn and Jahvid Best, and then Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen. We really always had a good one-two punch in the backfield and I think that’s what you need.”
With the exception of the 2009 season, the Golden Bears had a string of 1,000-yard rushers under Tedford from 2002-11.2002 – Joe Igber (5-8, 190) – 1,130 yards
2003 – Adimchinobi Echemandu (5-10, 225) – 1,195 yards
2004 – J.J. Arrington (5-9, 212) – 2,018 yards
2005 – Marshawn Lynch (5-10, 215) – 1,246 yards
2006 – Marshawn Lynch (5-10, 215) – 1,356 yards
2007 – Justin Forsett (5-8, 194) – 1,546 yards
2008 – Jahvid Best (5-10, 199) – 1,580 yards
2010 – Shane Vereen (5-10, 205) – 1,167 yards
2011 – Isi Sofele (5-7, 188) – 1,322 yards
The backs that Tedford had the most success with at Cal were 5-foot-10 or shorter and weighed between 188-215 pounds. The running backs on the current Bucs roster all fit the height-weight criteria Tedford is looking for and all have a well-rounded skill set of being able to run with speed and power, as well as being able to catch the ball out of the backfield.Doug Martin 5-9, 215
Bobby Rainey 5-8, 212
Mike James 5-10, 223
Jeff Demps 5-7, 175
Michael Smith 5-9, 205
Tampa Bay had six halfbacks on its roster, and just released Michael Hill, who was arrested this offseason and would have been a long shot to make the 53-man roster this year. The reason why the Buccaneers have so many running backs on the roster is due to injuries that ravaged the position last year.
Smith was vying for a role as a reserve runner and primary kick returner in training camp before breaking his foot in the preseason, which caused him to go on injured reserve. Demps, a reserve running back fresh from the U.S. Track team in September, tore his groin and had to have season-ending surgery after the Arizona game in Week 4.
Martin, the team’s starting running back, tore his labrum in his shoulder at Atlanta in Week 7 and was placed on injured reserve two weeks later. James, a rookie, replaced Martin as the starter in Week 8, but broke his ankle three weeks later on Monday Night Football against Miami and became the fourth Tampa Bay running back to be placed on IR.
Martin got off to a slower start than some expected with 456 yards and one touchdown on 127 carries (3.6 avg.). Rainey was signed midseason and wound up leading the team in rushing with 532 yards and a team-high five touchdowns on 137 carries (3.9 avg.). James was the third-leading rusher with 295 yards on 60 carries (4.9 avg.) and threw one touchdown pass.
Because of the physical pounding that NFL running backs take, and for the need to keep backs fresh, Tedford is a big believer in splitting carries among the backfield.
“I think for one guy to carry the load the whole time – especially as physical as this level is – I think to have two and probably three backs that are quality backs that can provide different things for you as far as third down backs are concerned, catching the ball out of the backfield, pass protection, all of the things to be able to create some matchups, I think, are really key,” Tedford said. “Which are the things that say a Shane Vereen brought to the table and I think he’s exhibiting that in New England. He’s big with what he’s doing there. Marshawn can do that, but he’s kind of turned into the power guy more than that, but he had the ability to do that. I think it’s important to find guys who are versatile, that can do those type of things. Then great speed – when I say speed in space, to get outflanked and get guys in the open field that can make guys miss and be explosive with big plays.”
Demps, an Olympic sprinter, is likely to get a long look from Tedford as he is the fastest Buccaneer on the team, and may be the fastest player in the NFL. Demps had a 14-yard carry and three catches for 21 yards in limited action last year.
Smith, who had fallen out of favor with the previous regime, has great speed, evidenced by some long kickoff returns over the past two preseasons. If he can showcase that and his receiving ability in the OTAs, mini-camps and training camp, Smith might be a dark horse in the running back stable.
Rainey also flashed some unheralded speed with a 41-yard scoring dash against Atlanta and an 80-yard touchdown jaunt against Buffalo last year, and became the only Buccaneer to have a run over 30 yards last year.
Martin struggled catching the ball last year, posting only 66 yards on 12 catches (5.5 avg.) with several dropped passes. But he has a proven track record after a Pro Bowl rookie season and is more quick than fast. Martin has the skill set to be one of the two runners in Tedford’s one-two punch, and finding the other back to complement him is what the coaching staff will do in the coming months.
One player it won’t be is 30-year old Brian Leonard, a free agent who was signed due to his history with former head coach Greg Schiano at Rutgers. Leonard had 182 yards on 47 carries (3.9 avg.) and was the leading the receiver out of the backfield with 179 yards on 29 catches (6.2 avg.).
With five talented running backs already on the roster, it’s doubtful the Bucs will draft a rusher or sign a premium back in free agent, especially with Rainey and James making such a favorable impression in their first seasons in Tampa Bay. So look for an undrafted free agent to be signed after the draft to round out the roster.FAB 4. WATKINS COULD HELP BUCS’ YARDS AFTER CATCH ABILITY
In PewterReport.com’s most recent 2014 Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Draft, we have Tampa Bay selecting Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins in the first round. But the real question is whether he will last until the seventh pick in the draft? The athletic and speedy Watkins is expected to put on a show at the NFL Scouting Combine, which begins in Indianapolis on February 21. If Watkins runs in the 4.3 range, as expected, he may go in the top 5.Noted NFL expert Greg Cosell believes Watkins is the best receiver in the draft in an interview with 104.5 in Nashville, Tenn.
"There's no debate here," Cosell said. "I think Sammy Watkins, based on what I've seen, is the best wide receiver in this draft."
While the possible selection of a playmaker like Watkins has most Bucs fans excited, there are some that don’t think drafting a wide receiver in the first round makes a lot of sense, especially in a draft that is fairly deep at the position. The game’s current best receivers – Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald and Cincinnati’s A.J. Green – were all first-round picks, as was the talented Atlanta receiver Julio Jones, who has a chance to be great if he can bounce back from a foot injury that cost him most of the 2013 season.
Of the eight Pro Bowl wide receivers this year, five of them were first-round picks – Johnson, Green, Denver’s Demaryius Thomas, Houston’s Andre Johnson and Dallas’ Dez Bryant. Not only is Watkins a definite first-rounder, he’s clearly the best receiver in the 2014 NFL Draft, which could see as many as six receivers go in the first round.
The Bucs desperately need help in yards after catch, as the team ranked last in that category in 2013. Vincent Jackson was the 53rd-ranked receiver when it comes to run after catch yardage. Jackson had just 328 yards after catch, an average of 4.2 yards per catch.
Tiquan Underwood, who was the team’s No. 3 wide receiver last year, had just 105 yards after catch, an average of 4.4 yards per reception. Mike Williams had his season cut short due to a torn hamstring, but only gained 63 yards after catch, a paltry average of 2.9 yards per catch.
By comparison, Thomas led the Broncos and the league with 718 yards after catch, an average of 7.8 yards per catch.
“He’s explosive and fast,” said Clemson alum and Buccaneers defensive end Da'Quan Bowers. “He’s a humble guy and a good player. He would definitely be a great addition to this offense. He’s a guy that is going to work and a guy that is going to get it done. He would really help this football team.”
Forecasting players to a team in a mock draft prior to free agency is always a tough task. But the reason that Watkins was the pick instead of a pass-rushing defensive end is that I believe the Bucs will address that position in free agency, and the team already has three young pass rushers it is developing in Adrian Clayborn, Da’Quan Bowers and William Gholston.
If Watkins isn’t there and the Bucs can’t trade down, and the team opts to draft a receiver in the second round, Tampa Bay could go with an offensive tackle with the seventh overall pick like Auburn’s Greg Robinson or Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews if either player is still available. Or the Bucs could surprise and take Alabama middle linebacker C.J. Mosely.FAB 5.
Here are some things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• New Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith debuted as an NFL assistant in Tampa Bay under Tony Dungy in 1996. One of the new initiatives that he wants to enact at One Buccaneer Place is having the former Bucs players, such as the ones he helped coach in the 1990s, come around more often and address the team.
Former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden, who grew up for several years in the Tampa Bay area, did make an outreach to some Bucs of yesteryear, and was a part of the team’s first alumni reunion. But Smith wants to take that to another level to help motivate his current players.
“One thing I am going to do, I’m reaching out, I’m going to reach out to all our former greats,” Smith said. “Our former Buccaneers will always be welcomed here. We want them around. We want our current players to feel that pressure of how they’re supposed to perform each week. Some places don’t have the tradition that we have, but we’re going to definitely draw on that as much as we can.”
Having the likes of Hall of Famers Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, and Bucs legends Ronde Barber, Donnie Abraham and Mike Alstott come around to visit One Buccaneer Place can only help the current Tampa Bay team. Smith has already asked former Bears Pro Bowl middle linebacker Brian Urlacher to come to One Buccaneer Place to address the team.
• ESPN’s Pat Yasinskas suggests that quarterback Mike Glennon could become a Super Bowl quarterback for Lovie Smith,
and accurately states that Glennon is better than former Chicago quarterback Rex Grossman was during the Bears’ Super Bowl run in 2006. That’s a great point, and points out an interesting statistical comparison between Grossman’s Super Bowl year and Glennon’s rookie season.
Yasinskas also believes that Glennon is better for the Buccaneers’ in the short term than Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Central Florida’s Blake Bortles and Fresno State’s Derek Carr. Former Bucs head coach Greg Schiano agreed with that sentiment and wasn’t going to draft a quarterback at all in 2014, staying the course with Glennon as the team’s starter. I might be inclined to believe Schiano and Yasinskas as I find this quarterback class to be a bit lackluster.
• Count Buccaneers two-time Pro Bowler and team captain Gerald McCoy as a big believer in quarterback Mike Glennon, who appears to be the front-runner to be under center again for Tampa Bay in 2014.
“Mike made a lot of strides,” McCoy said. “He came in green, and his work ethic is going to take him a long way. He wants to be great. He wants to be the best. He made a lot of rookie mistakes. He wasn’t making mistakes that vets usually make. He made rookie mistakes, which is expected. So once you get past those, and look past all of the rookie mistakes, he made he played great.
“He made a lot of plays, and he made some vet plays. He’ll learn to use his feet more. He read out his reads, and it took a little time to do it. But now moving forward, he will read a lot faster and know how to take those risks with those passes. He’s going to be good. He’s a very, very, very humble and quiet guy, but once he steps across those white lines he turns into a different guy. That’s just who he is, and I think he’s going to be good.”
• Another free agent linebacker to keep an eye on for the Buccaneers is Chicago’s Blake Costanzo. The 29-year old Bear played for Lovie Smith in Chicago and is a special teams demon. Costanzo forced four fumbles in 2012 and led the Bears with 17 special teams tackles last year. He could be a good replacement for Jacob Cutrera or Adam Hayward in free agency.
• With former Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer taking over as Minnesota’s new head coach, don’t be surprised if the Vikings opt for signing Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson instead of re-signing Jared Allen. Johnson just turned 27 last week and is over four years younger than Allen.
Johnson will also come cheaper after recording just 3.5 sacks in a contract year after being franchised with an $11.175 million salary cap figure in 2013 following a career-high 11.5-sack season in 2012. The Bengals opted to sign defensive end Carlos Dunlap and defensive tackle Geno Atkins to extensions last year, rather than Johnson, so they seem resigned to the fact that he’ll leave during free agency.
If Johnson heads to Minnesota, that means Allen could be in play for Tampa Bay during free agency. Although Allen, who turns 32 in April, wants to go to a legitimate Super Bowl contender, he does have a great rapport with defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, who was his defensive coordinator and coach in Minnesota, and that gives the Bucs a chance. The key will be weather or not new general manager Jason Licht wants to make a big splash in free agency with a player like Allen, who had 11.5 sacks last year and has 128.5 in his career, or stick to his “value free agents” mantra.
One value free agent to keep an eye on is Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen, who played opposite Allen. Griffen, a fourth-round pick in 2010, had 27 tackles, 5.5 sacks and a forced fumble last year, and had eight sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and a pick-six in 2012. In three years as a starter, the 26-year old Griffen has 17.5 sacks, which is one less sack than Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers have combined.
• I wanted to re-post a correction to our previous reporting about Mike Williams' contract. According to ESPN's Pat Yasinskas,
Williams contract includes guaranteed money in 2014 ($1.2 million) as well as in 2015 ($5.2 million). If the Bucs released him they would take a $6.4 million cap hit. Now the Bucs have the cap room to afford taking a hit if the team wanted to release him, as the previous regime was contemplating if he didn't have a great offseason, but that seems very unlikely under the new regime as Williams will be given a blank slate and fresh start to make a good first impression.
• And finally, in the spirit of Valentine's Day, I want to hear from you Bucs fans. In the article comments below, tell me not only what you liked (or didn't like) about this edition of SR's Fab 5, but also the one Buccaneer player you love or loved and why.I'll give you an example. For me it was legendary cornerback Ronde Barber, who just barely edges out Hardy Nickerson. I loved interviewing Barber because he was brutally honest and so
intelligent that we could hit on any topic - sports, entertainment,
world events, politics - when we had a conversation. And the guy could was just an incredible playmaker. He may be the most dynamic playmaker in Bucs history in my
estimation with over a dozen defensive touchdowns.
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