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1. NO NEGOTIATIONS Many Bucs fans have been wondering why Tampa Bay has not spent more of their salary cap room to re-signing some of their own prominent players. The Buccaneers have a number of players that are scheduled to hit free agency, and are candidates for contract extensions. The expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2010 makes the players with less than six years in the NFL restricted free agents – unless a new CBA can be worked out to keep the salary cap in place.
The contract for middle linebacker Barrett Ruud, Tampa Bay's leading tackler in 2009, is set to expire. The same holds true for the team's leading rusher Carnell ‘Cadillac' Williams. Tampa Bay's offensive tackles Donald Penn and Jeremy Trueblood have not allowed a sack thus far in 2009, and both will be free agents. One of the leaders on special teams, Maurice Stovall, is also a free agent. All of them would be restricted free agents if there is not an extension of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Franchise wide receiver Antonio Bryant is playing on a one-year contract. Starting left defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson leads the team in sacks, and is on pace to have eight sacks in 2009. They both have enough experience in the league that if they are unrestricted free agents regardless of the status of the CBA. Tampa Bay would have to use franchise or transition tags to try and restrict them from signing with another team.
After speaking with players and player representatives, here is a scorecard of the contract negotiations.
Bryant- no negotiations Wilkerson- no negotiations Trueblood- no negotiations Penn- no negotiations Stovall- no negotiations Williams- no negotiations Ruud- no negotiations
Obviously, Tampa Bay is in no hurry to extend the contracts of their veterans, despite having a reported $30 million in available cap room. The Buccaneers are banking on the Collective Bargaining Agreement not being successfully renegotiated.
The Bucs would get Penn, Trueblood, Stovall, Williams, and Ruud for somewhat cheap one-year contracts until they have have six years of experience in the league. If an extension happens, Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik will have to scramble to do contracts for some of these veterans or risk losing them in free agency.
A lot of the players put a good face on it, but when asked about their contract situation, you can tell that they are bewildered. They don't understand why the organization is not negotiating, and not willing to give them fair extensions for their market value. At the beginning of training camp, Ruud was asked if anybody in the organization gave him a reason why the team wasn't speaking with his agent about an extension. Ruud said nobody in the front office said a word to him about it.
The players understand that they are in a tough situation regarding their free agent status and the collective bargaining agreement. The four-year veteran Trueblood summed up well the predicament for the sub-six-year vets (Ruud, Penn, Stovall, Williams, and himself).
"Nope, I haven't," said Trueblood of extension talks. "Basically, they have me by the balls. It'll all work itself out in the end. That's how I look at it." 2. BUCS LOOKING AT KAMPMAN, MERRIMAN? With the NFL trade deadline looming, a couple of veteran pass rushers are being discussed at One Buc Place. According to sources, the Bucs are contemplating trading for Green Bay Packers defensive end/outiside linebacker Aaron Kampman or San Diego Chargers outside linebacker Shawne Merriman. We don't need to spend time rehashing how the Buccaneers need some pass rushers, and how their current group of defensive ends isn't producing enough. That is obvious to anybody who has watched some of the 2009 Buccaneers.
There are a few reasons why Tampa Bay are investigating the situations of these two veterans. The Bucs organization wants to add a fire-starter to the defense. They want a vocal veteran leader in the mold of former middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson or defensive tackle Warren Sapp – a player that will put some fear into younger players, and command them to work hard or else. Tampa Bay lacks that kind of leader, and the organization is thinking about whether Kampman and Merriman could add that to the locker room.
For years the firm and steady approach of linebacker Derrick Brooks and defensive end Kevin Carter led the Buccaneers. The team feels that kind of leadership is great with a veteran team that is playing well. They can keep the team focused, and do a great job of getting established players to play together as a team.
However, that kind of leadership doesn't force a team that is sinking to turn around its play. Brooks kept the team together in 2004 (5-11), 2006 (4-12), and at the end of 2008 (0-4 in December), but did not lead them to reverse course in the win column when times got tough.
Numerous years under former head coach Tony Dungy, Tampa Bay started the season 3-4 but kick-started their season and made the playoffs. The Bucs management believes the uncompromising leadership of Nickerson and Sapp helped those turnarounds take place because they commanded the team to play better. General manager Mark Dominik was around to see all of that, and knows the Bucs need a leader in that mold.
Now in 2009, the Bucs are interested in players like Kampman and Merriman, who may be available on the trading block. Both are veterans with that kind of fire and intensity. Kampman (6-4, 260) is a self-made player. Packers fans knew all about his hard work and motivation before he broke out as a player on the field. Kampman posted a career-high 15.5 sacks while playing for defensive coordinator Jim Bates in Green Bay in 2006.
Because he turns 30 this season and looks to be a poor fit in the Packers 3-4 defense, Kampman may be deemed tradable. In four games this season he has one sack.
Merriman, 25, is in a contract year, and has a lot to prove after a knee injury caused him to miss 15 games last season. Before that, the 6-foot-4, 265-pound Merriman started out his career with three fabulous seasons. He had sack totals of 10, 17, and 12.5 over those years. Merriman has the size to be 4-3 defensive end, and a change of system and scenery might be beneficial for him.
The Chargers management and Merriman have allegedly butted heads over a few things. San Diego drafted Larry English last April, and he is in line to be Merriman's replacement.
The Buccaneers front office has a great reference on Merriman from Bucs defensive tackle Dre Moore. Moore and Merriman are close friends, and Merriman tutored Moore at Maryland. Moore said that Merriman is a leader, and he prodded Moore to come out of his shell personally, and start producing on the field.
The biggest question mark with Merriman is the health of his knee. It is unclear if that is fully healed, and if the injury caused Merriman to lose a step. The Bucs will be watching that closely this weekend, and when they look at tape of his previous four games. Keep in mind that Tampa Bay traded for tight end Kellen Winslow despite serious knee injuries in his past.
Tampa Bay won't trade a first-round pick for either veteran, and it really wouldn't want to deal away a second-round pick, either. While a third-round pick may not seem to be enough to land one of these pass rushers, it will be an appealing pick to Green Bay and San Diego because it is likely to be at the top of the round. The Bucs could package it with other late-round picks, or another mid-round pick in the 2011 draft to pull the trigger on a trade.
Sources tell Pewter Report that the Bucs will be watching Kampman and Merriman on tape, and on Sundays. They say the Buccaneers are considering making a move for a proven pass rusher, and want to do a little more evaluation before they make a final decision. They also could make a move for one of these veterans next offseason as both could be available.
Another defensive end that could be in the mix is Quentin Groves, a big-time pass rusher at Auburn that tied the school's sack record of 26. Groves was drafted by Jacksonville last year, but has been moved to outside linebacker where he is third on the depth chart behind Clint Ingram and Bryan Smith. At 6-foot-3, 264 pounds, Groves has the size to play defensive end in Tampa Bay and appears to be playing out of position for the Jaguars.
3. BLACK AT DE Pewter Report has wondered why the Bucs haven't tried to use linebacker Quincy Black as a defensive end in the ‘go' package this season. During the organized team activities and in training camp, Black got reps at left defensive end in pass rushing situations. Morris said that Black was a hybrid athlete that 3-4 teams would love to have. The Bucs head coach said that Black was a Pittsburgh Steelers-type defender that Tampa Bay should look to use the way the Steelers use standout James Harrison.
The Buccaneers pass rush from the defensive line has been pathetic in the first four games of the season, and the team is on pace to produce only 16 sacks this season. Tampa Bay has not used Black as a defensive end in passing situations despite spending months practicing that look.
Black recorded his first sack of the season and the first of his career against the Redskins when Black spied quarterback Jason Campbell, fired his gun, and raced into the backfield to take down the quarterback. After that play, one would think the Bucs would consider getting Black more involved with chasing down the quarterback. To find out why Tampa Bay hasn't followed through with their offseason and training camp preparation, Pewter Report spoke to some of the players in the locker room.
The players said that the package to use Black as a defensive end is only when the Bucs are winning late in a game and the opposing offense is going to a two-minute offense. The Buccaneers coaches are not planning on using Black as a defensive end in the normal nickel package – even though the team is without the services of rookie Kyle Moore, which leaves the team thin at defensive end.
It seems to be a curious train of thought to use Black as an end only in that situation. Theoretically, the Bucs would have the lead, and the opposing team would be trying to win or tie the game with a field goal or touchdown. Why at that point would you try something that you haven't done all season?
4. DRAFT FOCUS: There is a lot of attention for the showdown between number one Florida visiting number four LSU. It will be a good game to watch Florida defensive ends Jermaine Cunningham and Carlos Dunlap go against LSU tackle Ciron Black (6-foot-5, 322). All three are going to be drafted. Cunningham (6-foot-3, 252) and Dunlap (6-foot-6, 290) have had slow starts to the season.
Dunlap, a junior, is being projected as a top-10 pick by many when he enters the NFL Draft. The Gators move their ends around, but Cunningham, a senior, logs more snaps at right end. Thus, he will go against Black more often.
The action downfield from the line will be worth watching as well. LSU junior receiver Terrance Toliver and senior receiver Brandon Lafell will go up against top-notch Gator cornerbacks Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins. Tolliver has produced well thus far in 2009. He has 23 catches for 342 yards and two touchdowns.
Many view the senior Lafell as a potential first-round pick. Last season, he had 63 receptions for 929 yards and eight touchdowns. Thus far in 2009 he has 23 catches for 282 yards and five touchdowns. Not only will the Gator corners challenge those receivers, safeties Ahmad Black and Major Wright are a formidable duo to contend with as well. There will be a lot of future pro talent battling each other on Saturday night.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com