BUCS’ WIDE RECEIVERS FREE AGENCY 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 wide receivers, followed by tight ends tomorrow.
BUCS’ PENDING FREE AGENTSThe Buccaneers have two pending free agents, in seldom-used receiver but primary kick returner Eric Page (ERFA) and Tiquan Underwood (UFA). The Bucs have decisions to make with both, although most likely either could be signed relatively cheap if management feels they have the ability to potentially earn a roster spot in 2014. Page’s future may be determined if they Buccaneers end up signing a free agent kick returner like Devin Hester or Dexter McCluster.
WHAT THE BUCS HAVEThe wide receiver position, like many of the units on the team, could use an infusion of talent and depth. Vincent Jackson is coming off of back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons, and will once again line up as the team’s No. 1 receiver. Jackson led the Buccaneers with 78 receptions for 1,224 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013. While Jackson had several noticeable drops in 2013, the fact that Mike Williams was lost for the season with a hamstring injury made the 2012 Pro Bowler the only legitimate receiving threat on the roster and opposing teams knew that. Yet Jackson was still able to produce.
Williams, who was signed to a six-year, $40-million extension last year, was slowed early with the hamstring injury and attempted to play through it, but it was severe enough to eventually require surgery, ending his season prematurely. In his six games played, Williams managed just 22 catches for 216 yards and two touchdowns. There are also some concerns about Williams’ off-the-field behavior, which has drawn the ire of head coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht.
The other Bucs receivers – Skye Dawson, Chris Owusu, Russell Shepard and Tommy Streeter – are very inexperienced and are all long shots to make the roster in 2014.
WHAT THE BUCS NEEDThe biggest thing lacking in Tampa Bay’s receiving corps over the last few years – going all the way back to the days of former receiver Joey Galloway – is speed. Jackson is a precise route runner and can physically out-jump and out-man most cornerbacks in the NFL, but he will never be confused with a track star. Williams is almost a mirror of Jackson, minus a couple inches in height. The Buccaneers thought they had the answer last year after signing former Cowboys receiver Kevin Ogletree as a free agent, but that experiment lasted all of three weeks. Tampa Bay re-signed Underwood but his inconsistency in catching the football and as a blocker once again reared up on a number of occasions.
Tampa Bay needs to find a game-changer, someone who can take a 5-yard pass and turn it into an 80-yard touchdown. After he was hired, new offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford mentioned he wants to get players with speed in space to create mismatches, but first the team needs to acquire some players with speed.
BUCS’ BEST BETS1. Arizona WR Andre RobertsLicht, who came from Arizona’s front office, is obviously familiar with Roberts and could make him a target early in free agency. Roberts would instantly provide the ability to stretch the field with his 4.4 speed. Roberts has been playing in the shadows of Larry Fitzgerald during his time in Arizona and is looking to find a place he can showcase his ability a little more. Roberts is a completely different type of receiver than anyone on Tampa Bay’s roster currently, and it most likely wouldn’t break the Bucs’ bank to obtain his services. Roberts totaled 43 receptions for 471 yards and two touchdowns last year for the Cardinals.
2. Carolina WR Ted GinnAs mentioned in the special teams preview earlier this week, Ginn was a solid receiver for the Panthers in 2013, but also brings the ability return kicks to the table, something the Buccaneers could use. Ginn averaged 12.2 yards per punt return last year for the Panthers and has six career kick returns for touchdown. In two games against the Buccaneers last season, Ginn nabbed seven passes for 127 yards and one touchdown, something the new Bucs coaching staff must have noticed when reviewing last year’s game film.
3. Kansas City WR Dexter McClusterMcCluster, like Ginn, doesn’t just provide the Buccaneers with a nice receiving option in the passing game, but also is a difference-maker on special teams. The Largo, Fla. native contributed 53 receptions for 511 yards and two touchdowns as a receiver last year under Andy Reid in Kansas City, and also averaged 11.9 yards on punt returns while scoring two touchdowns on returns. Perhaps McCluster would give the Buccaneers a hometown discount for his services the if Tampa Bay decides to target the former Ole Miss star.
4. Seattle WR Golden TateAs a receiver for the Seahawks Tate recorded 64 receptions for 894 yards and six touchdowns in 2013, and for his career has totaled 165 receptions for 2,195 yards and 15 touchdowns. Buccaneers fans will also remember Tate, as he helped spark the turnaround last season in the Bucs 27-24 loss to the Seahawks with his dynamic second half punt return that eventually led to a Seahawks touchdown. Tate averaged 11.5 yards on 51 punt returns in 2013. Tate has expressed an interest in returning to Seattle and likely would command a much bigger contract that Roberts or McCluster. But with Tampa Bay needing help at the receiver and returner position, Tate makes some sense and at just 25 years old, is entering the prime of his career.
5. Tampa Bay WR Tiquan UnderwoodUnderwood had probably reached his potential in the NFL and is most likely never going to challenge for a No. 1 or No. 2 receiver role in the league. But with that said, Underwood does have some attributes that make re-signing him not out of the question. The former Rutgers receiver is well-liked inside the locker room, is a hard worker and a team player and would come cheap. Last year, Underwood produced career highs with 24 catches for 440 yards (18.3 avg.) and four touchdowns, including a career-long 85-yarder against Detroit.
TOP FIVE WIDE RECEIVERS IN FREE AGENCY1. Denver WR Eric DeckerComing off an 87-reception, 1,288-yard and 11-touchdown season, Decker is set to earn a big contract in free agency and will be coveted by a number of teams. Can the Broncos afford what most likely will be an $8-9 millions dollar a season average? He’s expected to leave Denver.2. New York WR Hakeem NicksNicks is a talented receiver, but has had trouble staying healthy over the last couple years with nagging injuries, and some have questioned his motivation. It is doubtful Nicks will receive a large long-term contract, but he certainly has the ability to be a top 10 receiver in the NFL when he’s focused. He fell out of favor in New York last year.
3. Seattle WR Golden TateAt 25, Tate is one of the league’s most well-rounded receivers entering his prime. The Seahawks – and quarterback Russell Wilson – would love to have the former Notre Dame standout back in the fold, if they can find the money. Tate has told Seattle he might take a hometown discount.
4. New England WR Julian EdlemanEdleman burst onto the scene in New England last year and produced a career-high 105 catches for 1,056 yards and six touchdowns, replacing Danny Amendola as Wes Welker’s replacement. The Patriots chose not to slap the franchise tag on Edleman, but doesn’t mean they wouldn’t love to have him back.
5. Green Bay WR James JonesSome reports have the Packers set to move on from Jones, who had a very good 2013 season, catching 59 passes for 817 yards and three touchdowns. If so, expect Jones to be a hot commodity next week when free agency opens.
Up Next: Tight Ends
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 [email protected]
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