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A quick glance at Buccaneers message boards on the Internet or a brief listen to Tampa Bay area sports talk radio has many a Bucs fan scratching their heads over some of the Pewter Pirates’ moves since the start of free agency on March 2.
Why in the world would Tampa Bay trade a draft pick to Denver for Jake Plummer, who has been rumored to want to retire? Why would the Bucs let Dewayne White go in free agency? Why did the Bucs sign aging defensive lineman Kevin Carter to such a rich deal? Why don’t the Buccaneers have a plan?
Pewter Report is here to answer those questions, make sense of a crazy start to the free agency period in Tampa Bay and fill you in on the Buccaneers’ plans in free agency. So far, so good when it comes to both of these fronts. The Bucs are following their plan. Yes, Bucs fans. They do have a plan.
Before we begin, we have to remind our Pewter Insider subscribers (especially our most recent subscribers) that the Bucs entered this offseason wanting to accomplish a couple of things as part of their plan. Tampa Bay wanted to get bigger on defense, which is something Pewter Report first reported in our Senior Bowl coverage, and the Bucs didn’t want to overspend in free agency to risk getting back into the salary cap hell they just got out of. Let’s address the salary cap first.
Why no major signings? While players who have never been to Pro Bowls before are making Pro Bowl money – make that Hall of Fame money – Tampa Bay is simply not going to overpay for mediocre players, and they aren’t going to pay great money to good players. That’s why an underachiever like left tackle Leonard Davis is overpaid in Dallas, and a cornerback like Nate Clements, who isn’t better than Ronde Barber, is making way too much guaranteed money in San Francisco. The Bucs have bowed out of contract talks with guard Eric Steinbach, fullback Justin Griffith and center Al Johnson when their price got too high. None of those players have made Pro Bowls, but have or will get paid like it.
As Pewter Report has mentioned several times in our magazine and in Pewter Insider stories this winter, the Bucs plan on following the salary cap management path of New England and Philadelphia that will allow them to build through the draft, avoid overpaying for free agents who will tie up precious cap space for years to come. Ideally, the Bucs want to be real players in free agency every year. This is a rather poor crop of free agents and the Bucs don’t want to burn money now on mediocre players when better players could be on the free agent market in 2008 and ’09.
Some may not want to believe it, but general manager Bruce Allen and head coach Jon Gruden are building this team for the long haul. It may not look like it with the signing of a 33-year old defensive lineman in Kevin Carter and a 37-year old quarterback like Jeff Garcia, but both deals were responsible and there is no reason why both players won’t have a significant impact on the team in 2007. If either one of these players flames out next year, the Bucs can release them without a devastating cap hit. That’s why you are seeing real modest signing bonuses and very little guaranteed money.
Criticize the Bucs if you will for signing a few older veteran players like Carter, Garcia, who probably should be considered a major signing, and Mike Alstott, but they have also signed several younger players like Patrick Chukwurah, B.J. Askew, Phillip Buchanon and Torrie Cox to go along with a roster chocked full of young players that have been acquired over the past three drafts. The Bucs will be adding much more youth through the draft this year, too.
• The signing of Kevin Carter. Ask yourself this question. If Carter were 29 instead of 33 would you be happier about this signing? The Bucs would, too. However, he’s been remarkably consistent and even though his reported four-year, $25 million deal is rather eye-opening (especially the reported $5.2 million in base salary reported by RotoWorld.com), Carter’s signing bonus figures to be $5 million or less, which is half of what Dewayne White got ($10 million).
Did you know that in his 12 years in the league that Carter has not missed a single game? He’s played in all 192 games in his NFL career. His production has been remarkably consistent, too. His lowest sack output was a paltry two in 2001. Since then, he recorded 10, 5.5 and 6 in his final three seasons in Tennessee, and posted 6 and 5.5 sacks over the past two years in Miami.
His days as a double-digit sacker are likely over, but Carter’s production can likely equal or surpass that of Dewayne White while bringing Tampa Bay a bigger body by four inches and about 35 pounds. Aside from size, consistent production and the ability to play all four positions (he’ll contend at left defensive end and possibly at under tackle), Tampa Bay likes the leadership qualities and intangibles Carter brings to the table.
Believe it or not, his reported $5.2 million salary (Pewter Report has not seen the actual numbers yet) is somewhat on par with what Greg Spires ($4.5 million) and Ellis Wyms ($3.9 million) will earn in 2007. Even at age 33, Carter may be better than Spires and he’s been more productive than Wyms. We’ll find that out in about nine months.
Did the Bucs overpay for him? Yes, but not as much as you might think when you see what some of the other defensive linemen have gotten and will get in free agency. Plus, Tampa Bay is desperate for linemen. Given his track record for staying healthy and being productive, Carter is actually a safe bet.
Deciding to let Dewayne White go. Why didn’t the Bucs re-sign a young, talented defensive lineman like White, especially when they needed pass rushers? Because Tampa Bay was never sold on him.
Some might say that Lions head coach Rod Marinelli and defensive coordinator Joe Barry, both of whom coached White in Tampa Bay, sure were sold on him. But apparently defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin wasn’t. Our Pewter Insider subscribers learned last week that the Bucs’ chances of keeping White were less than 50 percent.
At 6-foot-2, 273 pounds, Tampa Bay didn’t want to invest starter money in a smallish player. The Bucs have made a conscious decision to get bigger on defense and more stout against the run. This goes back to the fact that the Ravens opened up the Bucs’ 2006 season with a 9:00 opening drive and the Seahawks ended Tampa Bay’s 4-12 campaign with a ball-hawking 9:00 drive. White just wasn’t that good against the run.
White recorded just 14 sacks in five years with Tampa Bay, including just five last year. Three of those sacks came as a reserve, but the disappointing thing from the Bucs’ perspective was that in the eight games he started, he only produced two sacks. It should also be noted that he could never unseat Greg Spires or Simeon Rice and only got to start the final eight contests of the 2006 season when Rice went on injured reserve.
White is a good player, but he’s not consistent enough for the Bucs’ liking. They just didn’t feel comfortable giving him a $10 million signing bonus. The Lions were just as desperate for pass rusher seeing ends Kalimba Edwards, Jared DeVries and ex-Buc Corey Smith combine for just five sacks last year. If White can bring his usual five sacks to Detroit next year, he’ll double the Lions’ sack total at defensive end.
• Why did the Bucs trade for Jake Plummer? While most Bucs fans can accept and even applaud Tampa Bay for landing quarterback Jeff Garcia, who was the best available quarterback in free agency, why in the world were the Bucs interested in trading for a quarterback who wanted to retire? If you step back and look at all the facts and actually try to figure this out it makes a lot of sense. The reality is that is a very shrew and cunning move on the part of general manager Bruce Allen. Looking at all of the elements reveals why.
Who were the top three “available quarterbacks” this offseason? Garcia was a free agent, Plummer was being shopped by the Broncos and David Carr was being shopped by Houston. These quarterbacks comprise the “A list” because they are all potential starters in the NFL, unlike players like Joey Harrington and Aaron Brooks, who are more likely to be backup QBs.
Which teams needed veteran quarterbacks this offseason? Houston wanted Plummer to reunite with Gary Kubiak, who was his offensive coordinator in Denver, while teams like Oakland and Cleveland wanted any of the three. So what did Tampa Bay do in the first 36 hours of free agency? It corralled two of the top three signal callers and effectively made Houston hang on to Carr because it snatched up Plummer instantly.
Do you see what is happening here? Oakland, which picks first in draft, and Cleveland, which picks third overall, both need help at quarterback as Andrew Walter and Charlie Frye have done little to distinguish themselves in the NFL. Plummer or Carr would have been a nice fit for either team, but those options are now off the board with Tampa Bay’s swift move to trade for Plummer.
Now the Raiders and the Browns have little choice but to spend draft picks on JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn. What does that mean for Tampa Bay, which picks fourth overall? It means that the Bucs have ensured that either left tackle Joe Thomas or wide receiver Calvin Johnson will be there when Tampa Bay is on the clock.
The Bucs have Plummer six ways to Sunday. He either retires and the Bucs lose a seventh-round pick in 2008 to Denver and have the plans on going after bonus money that is as little as $5 million and possibly as much as $7 million. That’s right. The Bucs are entitled to his signing bonus and all bonuses even though the Broncos paid it to Plummer because when you trade for a player, you inherit all of the provisions and clauses in the contract.
Would you give up what has been reported to be a seventh-round pick for the chance to land as much as $7 million? You don’t think the Glazers would greatly appreciate Allen doing that?
The Bucs are only responsible to pay Plummer his base salary, but have the right to collect his signing bonus repayment if he opts not to report to camp and retire. If he retires before the start of the season, there is no hit to the Buccaneers’ salary cap whatsoever.
Tampa Bay can also trade his rights even if he is retired. By the way, go back and look at Plummer’s statement on his Web site. Did he actually use the word retire? No. He also has yet to file his papers with the NFL, contrary to some previously published reports.
Should Plummer want to report, the Bucs would likely welcome his addition. A Garcia, Plummer, Simms depth chart would turn quarterback into a strength in Tampa Bay. Gruden would genuinely want to play Plummer, who he sees as a Rich Gannon-type player. He just doesn’t want to hand the starting job over to a new QB. Gruden wants him to earn it by competing for it. That’s only fair to Simms, too.
But don’t expect the Bucs to keep Plummer, who wants to go somewhere where he is the unquestioned starter. He could eventually be dealt to Houston, Oakland, Cleveland or even Detroit or Chicago. Who knows? But expect two things – the Bucs will come out smelling like a rose and they’ll actually deal Plummer for a better deal than they struck with Denver.
Plummer has no choice but to comply with the Bucs. Allen is a patient G.M. and Tampa Bay is perfectly fine letting Plummer sit out the 2007 season and dealing him in 2008, too. After all, Plummer, who is essentially a commodity, didn’t cost Tampa Bay a draft pick in 2007.
Didn’t think the Bucs would sign Garcia and trade for a quarterback? Pewter Report’s Jim Flynn first mentioned that possibility in his Flynn’s Focus Pewter Insider column on January 25. Here’s what Flynn wrote:
“And even if he doesn’t hit free agency, the Bucs could be willing to trade for Plummer in an effort to keep teams like Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, Jacksonville, Minnesota and Oakland from competing for his services. Houston will be the biggest competition for Plummer's services because Texans head coach Gary Kubiak was Plummer's offensive coordinator in Denver. Believe it or not, the Bucs are so determined to bolster their quarterback position with capable and starting-caliber talent that they could even attempt to land both Carr and Plummer, and have both players come in and compete with Simms for the starting job while the losers fill the backup and No. 3 QB roles. That scenario, while expensive, is possible since the Bucs have the cap room. Of course, if that scenario were to come to fruition, Bruce Gradkowski and Luke McCown would be the odd men out in Tampa Bay.”
• Responsible deals. The Bucs have yet to throw stupid money out in free agency. You might raise your eyebrows at the Kevin Carter signing, but Jeff Garcia essentially got Chris Simms’ deal. He got a $3 million signing bonus and has a base salary worth $2 million in 2007 and $2 million in 2008. He has the chance to earn another $7 million or so in incentives, but his salary cap value in 2007 is a very reasonable $3.5 million.
Patrick Chukwurah adds size to Tampa Bay’s linebacking corps at 6-foot-1, 250 pounds, although he will be a pass rush specialist in addition to a utility linebacker and standout special teamer. He’s not big, but he’s fast in the Robert Mathis mold. His deal totaled $5.3 million over five years and included only a $300,000 signing bonus. Chukwurah will take the place of Dewayne White, who was a situational pass rusher over the past few years. He’s certainly much cheaper, and he totaled 4.5 sacks compared to White’s 5 sacks, and did so with much fewer snaps.
Fullback B.J. Askew received a two-year deal worth $1.6 million and includes a $300,000 signing bonus. For a young fullback who is bigger, faster and stronger than Justin Griffith, who reportedly wants $3 million per year, Askew is a much cheaper alternative with just as much upside. Like Chukwurah, Askew is a great special teamer.
Speaking of fullbacks, Mike Alstott re-signed for $1.5 million with $400,000 of it guaranteed.
Tampa Bay did an outstanding job of re-signing cornerback Phillip Buchanon, who got a two-year deal worth $4.75 million, including a $2 million signing bonus. The deal is really a one-year looksie as Buchanon’s salary cap value in 2007 is a palatable $1.845 million thanks to a $845,000 base salary. His cap value goes up to $3.155 million in the last year of his contract, but Tampa Bay will know if he is starter material or destined to be a nickel or dime corner by next year and can plan accordingly in 2008 with information gathered by his play in 2007. If Buchanon winds up as a starter this year, he’s a bargain.
• What’s next? The Bucs will continue to bring in players for visits. They will end up signing a center, either Sean Mahan, Jeremy Newberry – or both – this week. Tampa Bay will also try to sign a linebacker this week – possibly Napoleon Harris or they may look to Donnie Edwards.
Look for the Buccaneers to go after players who excel on special teams and have exceptional leadership qualities. Those, coupled with the need to get bigger on defense, are two areas Tampa Bay is focusing on in free agency.
There is also quite a bit of chatter around the league that the Bucs will swing another trade or two before free agency is done and possibly a deal on draft day. We’ll report specifics when we know them.
The only thing that has really surprised Pewter Report is the fact that Tampa Bay has been pretty quiet at the safety position in free agency.
Will these moves pay off for the Buccaneers? It's impossible to tell right now. We'll all have to wait and see on Sundays. The addition of Derrick Deese was heralded in the 2004 offseason and the signing of Chris Hovan flew under the radar in the 2005 offseason. Both players surprised the Bucs and their followers in very different ways.
It will be interesting to see if the Buccaneers' offseason plans come to fruition. There is still plenty more free agent activity on the way this week.
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