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1. HAYNESWORTH IS THE ONLY BIG NAME The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' top two-team needs are quarterback and pass rushing defensive linemen. The franchise tag was placed on New England quarterback Matt Cassel, Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers, and Baltimore defensive end/linebacker Terrell Suggs. Thus, it will take a ransom to get those players, and at a price that the Buccaneers are probably not willing to pay.
The Oakland Raiders re-signed the top free agents at their respective positions in cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and punter Shane Lechler. The Carolina Panthers re-signed the top offensive lineman in offensive tackle Jordan Gross. Then you throw in the New York Giants franchising and re-signing running back Brandon Jacobs, and the Bucs franchising wide receiver Antonio Bryant, and the top players at each position are off the market.
During the Super Bowl week the Bucs head NFL scout Doug Williams echoed to me a consistent sentiment from the Bucs front office and front offices across the NFL, the best players very rarely ever hit the open market. The players that are available are available for a reason.
The exception likely is Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. Haynesworth is the best defensive tackle in the NFL, and he will hit the open market in a few hours. The contract he signed last season prevented Haynesworth from being franchised again because he met certain benchmarks. A number of sources have indicated that the new regime heading up the Bucs is looking to make a splash signing. The organization is looking to get a boost in attention to help ticket sales as well.
With all the top players being taken off the market Haynesworth is really the only big name splash signing available for Tampa Bay. 2. JOHNSON ON RADAR, HAS QUESTIONS TO ANSWER Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris was disappointed that Georgia Tech defensive end Michael Johnson pulled out of the Senior Bowl, according to sources. Many scouts, coaches, and general managers shared that sentiment across the NFL. Johnson is a player that Tampa Bay is interested in for one of their first two picks, but they have a lot of questions that need to be answered about Johnson.
Johnson put up some great numbers in his senior season with nine sacks, 17.5 tackles for a loss, 37 tackles, and three forced fumbles. However in his prior seasons he could not break into the starting the lineup, but was used as a situational pass rusher. Georgia Tech did have a number of good NFL defensive linemen ahead of him on the depth chart, and Johnson was consistently getting pressure on the quarterback in his spot duty.
In his career he totaled 19 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, and 30.5 tackles for a loss. His numbers are good, and his measureables are excellent. Johnson is a phenomenal athlete that has physical abilities that are reminiscent of Peppers. Johnson proved his abilities again with a fabulous workout at the combine. That combine performance was expected, and just confirmed the natural talent that Johnson has.
Yet there is a lot of negative chatter about Johnson around the NFL. That is due to a reputation of taking a lot of plays off. He could have answered some those questions with a great week of practice at Mobile, but his decision to sit out the Senior Bowl allowed other defensive ends like Northern Illinois' Larry English and Tennessee's Robert Ayers to move up draft boards and possibly past him.
There was a lot of talent on Georgia Tech this season, and this reporter watched a number of their games with a focus on Johnson and defensive tackle Vance Walker. There were times when Johnson looked to have the ability to be unstoppable, and then he would disappear for stretches. He did appear to take plays off, and then would decide to turn it on at certain times.
With the inconsistent motor that he displayed, Johnson should really be a second-round pick. However, the demand for pass rushers is always massive, and thus Johnson still stands a good shot of being selected in the first round. With the coasting attitude, it is definitely a buyer beware situation with using a premium draft pick on Johnson. 3. DON'T TAKE POTENTIAL ALONE IN THE FIRST-ROUND If the Buccaneers are targeting a defensive lineman with their first-round pick, then they will have to have contingency plans in case top pass rushing defensive ends: Texas' Brian Orakpo, Florida State's Everette Brown, and Northern Illinois' Larry English are already selected. Among the options if those three are gone are Johnson, Ayers, and Texas Tech's Brandon Williams.
The later three are behind the others because they are one-year wonders or have shown potential but have not had college careers of consistent production. Johnson could not crack the starting lineup until his senior year, and he has a big reputation around the NFL for taking plays off. Williams had a banner junior season and he declared early for the draft. Ayers did not produce much during his college career, and his skyrocketing draft status is based off of perceived potential.
An example of Ayers' lack of production comes from Cincinnati defensive end Connor Barwin. Ayers had nine sacks in his career, and mid-to-late-round prospect Barwin had 11 sacks in his one season at defensive end.
That second trio should be selected in the second and third round of the draft, but it is likely that those three players will be selected in the first round or before the Buccaneers' second-round selection.
Bill Parcells said, ‘Potential means you have not done it yet.' With a first-round pick drafting for potential is very dangerous. That is how teams end up wasting picks on players like Mike Mamula. A more recent example is the Atlanta Falcons taking one-year wonder defensive end Jamaal Anderson with the eighth overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. Anderson has a whopping total of two sacks in 31 starts through two NFL seasons.
With the needs on the Bucs roster they are not in a position to gamble on potential players. With their first-round picks they have to select players that have proven track records. Thus with Johnson, Ayers, and Williams it is buyer beware.
4. WERE THE BUCS WISE TO LET THE VETERANS GO? The dust is still settling from the release of the five veterans on Wednesday. Linebacker Derrick Brooks is the greatest player in franchise history. Wide receiver Joey Galloway is perhaps the best receiver the Buccaneers have ever had. Running back Warrick Dunn is third in rushing yards in Bucs history. Wide receiver Ike Hilliard and linebacker Cato June were valuable contributors and leaders.
Understandably there has been a lot of fan resentment towards the organization for cutting those players, especially Brooks. In the today's Fab 5, Pewter Report's Scott Reynolds discussed how it is hard for fans to let go of great players, and how it is even harder for Buccaneer fans. All of that is true, and still some fans believe that letting the players go will hurt the Buccaneers on the field in 2009.
This observer's opinion is that it was a wise move to let those veterans go. On the field they were in decline and not nearly as productive as they were as recently as the 2007 season. Brooks was targeted and exploited at the end of the season. Some of the big runs in the Carolina, Atlanta, and Oakland games were a result of Brooks not chasing down ball carriers that he would have in the past. Like Brooks, June was not a good fit for the new system on defense.
Dunn proved to be beyond the point of carrying the load as a running back after Earnest Graham was lost for the season with an ankle injury. While Dunn can still be effective in spots, it is questionable thinking to have your primary backup running back unable to completely fill the role of the starter if there is an injury.
Hilliard and Galloway had their production drop dramatically from 2007 to 2008. Galloway had 57 receptions for 1,014 yards averaging 17.8 yards per catch for six touchdowns in 2007. Last year he had just 13 receptions for 138 yards averaging 10.6 yards per catch and no touchdowns. Hilliard went from 62 receptions for 722 yards and an 11.6 yards per catch average in 2007 to 47 receptions for 424 yards and a 9.0 yards per catch average, although he did increase his touchdowns from one to four. At an advancing age and the NFL wear-and-tear, the Bucs have to find wide receivers that are younger, faster, and more physical.
While it hurts to see great players of yesteryear leave, it was a shrewd move by the Buccaneers front office. It frees up salary cap room, roster spots and starting positions for younger and more capable players. The organization has to start building a new core of younger, more talented players to go along with their new coaching staff and front office. A young player or new free agent could not be put in the lineup over Brooks, and the other veterans are not bench players either. It may be cold, but out with the old and in with the new. That is the NFL. 5. FIVE ONE-LINERS UNTIL NEXT TIME a. The slower 40-yard dash time posted by English of 4.76 could help slow the momentum of him climbing up draft boards.
b. Right now it looks like English stands a good chance of being there for the Bucs first pick at 19.
c. Maybe the reason the Buccaneers have so much cap room is because they don't have good enough players on their roster that command significant contracts.
d. On the flip side of that, Barrett Ruud (1,074,000 cap value) and Tanard Jackson (579,250) are too of the biggest bargains in the NFL.
e. Wide receiver Dexter Jackson makes 617,000 and Pro Bowler Clifton Smith makes the minimum of 385,000.
f. Pewter Report has learned this afternoon from sources that this is a group of players that the Bucs will pursue quickly once free agency starts in a few hours: Haynesworth, Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, New York Giants running back Derrick Ward, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Nate Washington, Atlanta Falcons linebacker Michael Boley, and Chicago Bears safety Brandon McGowan.