BUCS’ OFFENSIVE LINE PREVIEWWith free agency scheduled to begin at 4:00 p.m. on March 11, PewterReport.com brings you its annual free agency preview by position. Starting Monday, PewterReport.com will take a look at what Bucs will become free agents at each position, who the Bucs have under contract at the previewed position, then take a look at five players that could fit into Tampa Bay’s plans, known as the Bucs’ Best Bets. Today it’s Tampa Bay’s offensive, followed by the defensive line tomorrow.
BUCS’ PENDING FREE AGENTSThe Buccaneers have two pending free agents in offensive linemen Ted Larsen and Jamon Meredith. Both, like most of the offensive line, had disappointing seasons in 2013. Bucs head coach Lovie Smith and Jason Licht both certainly saw it on the review of film from last season. Larsen played both center and guard at times last season as Tampa Bay tried several different line combinations to fill in for an injured Carl Nicks. Meredith settled into the starting lineup midseason against the Seahawks and did a solid job initially before inconsistency and some nagging injuries caused his play to suffer.
WHAT THE BUCS HAVERight tackle Demar Dotson was easily the most consistent of all of the Buccaneers linemen in 2013 and could find himself competing for the starting left tackle position once training camp opens up in late July.
Center Jeremy Zuttah was a bit of a disappointment at both center and guard, giving up way too much leverage while pass blocking and not making a huge impact in the run game. His versatility is a plus but his scheduled $4 million dollar salary could be a factor in his future in Tampa Bay.
Starting left tackle and former Pro Bowler Donald Penn had his worst season as a Buccaneer in 2013 and many think the Buccaneers may look to upgrade the position via free agency or the upcoming draft. Counting $7.73 million against the camp (with base salary, workout bonus), management will have a decision to make.
Guard Davin Joseph, like Penn didn’t come close to earning his salary in 2013 and could, and was released on Saturday, clearing $6 million in salary cap space.
Nicks, a prized free agent acquisition in 2012, has spent more time in the training room and operating table than actually on the field. Tampa Bay is on the hook for over $6 million that would be owed to Nicks if he is released due to his toe injury and MRSA issues so they will most likely do everything they can to get him healthy enough to suit up in 2014. Word from One Buc is Nicks rehab is going well and that is great news for the organization and Bucs fans.
Tampa Bay has a handful of young developmental players in tackle Emmett Cleary, center Jace Daniels, and guards Patrick Omameh and Jason Foster. None have any significant playing experience.
WHAT THE BUCS NEEDThe question remains, do the Buccaneers attempt to resurrect the current starting group to their potential or blow it all up and start over, which they started with the release of Joseph? The Buccaneers need much better play from the offensive line and could also use a youth infusion. At the absolute very least, Tampa Bay could use some significant upgrades as far as depth is concerned all across the offensive line. But most are expecting the Buccaneers to be active in free agency to address the line concerns and also add a player or two in the May draft, possibly even addressing it with their No. 7 overall pick.
BUCS’ BEST BETS1. Kansas City G Jon AsamoahAsamoah was a solid starter for the Chiefs for much of the 2013 season before losing his starting role late last year due to a shoulder injury. Most grade Asamoah as a much better pass blocker than run blocker but has been a steady player during his four seasons with Kansas City. And at age 26, he is just approaching his prime. With the uncertainty of Nicks’ health, the Bucs could choose to sign Asamoah to either replace Joseph or Nicks, giving them a bit of relief wondering who will be one of the two starting guards in 2014.
2. Kansas City OT Branden AlbertAlbert’s name has already been rumored as a targeted replacement for Penn one free agency opens next week, but at 29 years old, it will most likely take a high-dollar contract to secure his services. Would he be a significant upgrade over Penn? The Chiefs drafted offensive tackle Eric Fisher with the first overall pick last year and will let Albert walk in free agency. Albert is a very polished, all-around tackle and could be wearing pewter and red next season. However, the Buccaneers will have to outbid what is expected to be a number of teams for his services.
3. Baltimore OT Eugene MonroeMonroe, like Albert, has been rumored as a potential free agent target by Tampa Bay, but won’t come cheap, however at just 26 years old, Monroe could be the five-year answer at left tackle for the Buccaneers. Monroe will draw plenty of interest in free agency by other NFL teams including his current team the Ravens, so signing him will come with a hefty contract. But the Buccaneers can cut Penn without any salary cap hit and apply that money to help lure Monroe to Tampa Bay.
4. St. Louis G/T Rodger SaffoldSaffold is versatile, and capable of playing left tackle and guard. His best spot might be guard, but because of injuries, he hasn’t played a 16-game season since 2010 and getting a read on his future is somewhat difficult. Saffold’s injury history could keep his price down somewhat, but with the Rams desperate for offensive line help, chances are they will pay him a little more than he may find on the open market.
5. Tampa Bay OL Jamon MeredithWhile Meredith’s play slipped down the stretch in 2013, he may be the toughest and most physical lineman on the Bucs roster. Meredith has played through an assortment of injuries over the last two years, including a significant ankle/foot injury in 2012, but was always able to suit up on Sundays. His versatility to play both guard and tackle is also a plus and the fact that it won’t break the bank to bring him back could mean the Buccaneers front office keeps Meredith in Tampa Bay.
TOP FIVE OFFENSIVE LINEMEN IN FREE AGENCY1. Oakland T Jared VeldheerVeldheer is thought to be the best free agent offensive lineman, but the odds of him being pried away from Oakland is slim, as the Raiders have a reported $60 million in cap space available and can easily afford to keep Veldheer a part of Raider nation.
2. Cleveland C Alex MackMack is easily the best center in free agency and one of the best in the league overall, but after being designated as the Browns transition player – meaning the Browns can match any offer that the two-time Pro Bowler signs with another team – creates a limited market for his services.
3. Baltimore OT Eugene Monroe Monroe’s agent’s phone number will be blowing up between Saturday and Tuesday at 4:00 p.m. with teams looking to secure the 26-year old tackle’s services. Monroe and Veldheer are considered the prized free agent tackles of 2014.
4. Kansas City OT Branden Albert Albert will earn a significant paycheck next week once free agency opens with several teams most likely bidding for his talent at one of the most important positions on a football team – left tackle.
5. St. Louis G/T Rodger Saffold The oft-injured but talented Saffold most likely will return to St. Louis who desperately needs offensive line help to protect Sam Bradford, or whoever lines up under center for the Rams in 2014.
UP NEXT: Defensive Line
Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, surfing and family time at the beach. In addition, Cook can be found in front of a television or in Doak Campbell any time the FSU Seminoles are playing. Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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