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Here are five things that caught my interest this week:
FAB 1. One of the biggest Buccaneers-related news items this week was the revelation that Tampa Bay had spent the least amount of cash on players since 2004. The article by NFL.com’s Jason La Canfora disclosed that the Buccaneers only spent $449 million on committed cash over the past five years – $117.89 million less than the Dallas Cowboys, which spent the most ($566.89) over that time frame.
The first thought by some Bucs fans undoubtedly is that the Glazers are being cheap owners and that they don’t care about the team anymore compared to the perceived effort that ownership puts towards Manchester United. The second thought some fans might have is that the Glazers simply don’t have the cash to dole out anymore due to their heavy-interest debt they took out to acquire Manchester United.
Both may be valid – and only the Glazers would know for sure – but I would put a lot more stock in the second supposition than I would the first.
But I would probably put the most stock in the fact that the Glazers are being cautious with how they spend their money, especially in this economy, which has hit the Tampa Bay area hard and is showing up in the fact that the season ticket waiting list has evaporated and that there will be blackouts if there aren’t sellouts this year.
What I want to know is why the Buccaneers have made a conscious decision to not spend a lot of money on their team over the last five years setting aside the Manchester United argument, to which we truly don’t know how much of that is a factor on the team’s finances.
Let’s take an objective look at the team from 2004-08 in which the Bucs posted three winning records (11-5 in 2005, 9-7 in 2007 and 9-7 in 2008), two playoff appearances (2005 and 2007) and two losing records (5-11 in 2004 and 4-12 in 2006). During the Bruce Allen and Jon Gruden era, the team finished with a 38-42 record over this span, in addition to a 0-2 mark in the postseason.
During the first two years of this span from 2004-05, the Bucs were a salary cap-strapped organization, and by that I mean that a team is forced to release players to clear enough room to be under the maximum salary cap number mandated by the NFL. In 2004, the team still had plenty of high salaries thanks to some mistakes in free agency, including the signing of running back Charlie Garner ($4,461,200) and offensive tackles Derrick Deese ($3,237,100) and Todd Steussie ($4,764,100), in addition to high-priced players like defensive end Simeon Rice ($8,850,900), linebacker Derrick Brooks ($5,504,300) and defensive tackle Anthony McFarland ($4,039,500) among others.
In 2005, the Bucs began a mini-youth movement born out of cap room necessity rather than ideology. Allen told me that rookies were cheaper and would allow the team to get out of salary cap hell. In ’05, the Bucs started Alex Smith at tight end, Cadillac Williams at running back and Dan Buenning at left guard – all were rookies.
In 2006, Tampa Bay did the same thing on offense by starting three more rookies on offense – right guard Davin Joseph, right tackle Jeremy Trueblood and quarterback Bruce Gradkowski. But once the days of salary cap purgatory were over, Allen and Gruden didn’t stick with the youth movement plan, signing the likes of 31-year old left tackle Luke Petitgout and 37-year old quarterback Jeff Garcia in 2007, signing 34-year old Kevin Carter and trading for 33-year old quarterback Brian Griese in 2008. All four were starters at some point for the Buccaneers at key positions.
Right off the bat, I suspected that one of the reasons why the Bucs were so far behind other teams was because they had underpaid the quarterback position since Brad Johnson’s departure in 2004. But thanks to incentives that Garcia hit, he actually made more than $10 million in his two-year stay in red and pewter. I was quite surprised to compare the Bucs’ stable of quarterbacks from 2004-2008 to that of the Cowboys, the team that had spent more than any other team over the past five years. Here’s what I found.
COWBOYS QBs 2004-08 $18,283,210 Tony Romo (2004-08) $8,008,910 Drew Bledsoe (2005-06) $6,508,520 Brad Johnson (2007-08) $1,100,000 Vinny Testaverde (2004) $539,840 Drew Henson (2005-06) TOTAL $34,440,480
BUCCANEERS QBs 2004-08 $10,258,640 Jeff Garcia (2007-08) $8,874,010 Brian Griese (2004-05, 2008) $7,805,602 Chris Simms (2004-07) $4,002,800 Brad Johnson (2004) $2,266,590 Luke McCown (2004-08) $728,260 Bruce Gradkowski (2006-07) $500,000 Tim Rattay (10 games in 2006) TOTAL $34,435,902
I was shocked to learn that the Bucs had only spent $4,578 less at the QB position than the Cowboys did. I thought there would be a much bigger discrepancy. Then I looked at the top three receivers for the Cowboys and compared them to the Bucs’ top trio from 2004-08 in terms of actual paid money and found the huge contrast I was looking for.
COWBOYS WRs 2004-08 $31,732,660 Terrell Owens (2006-08) $13,770,000 Terry Glenn (2004-07) $8,007,410 Keyshawn Johnson (2004-05) $3,319,560 Patrick Crayton (2004-08) TOTAL $56,829,630
BUCCANEERS WRs 2004-08 $13,527,010 Joey Galloway (2004-08) $10,761,190 Michael Clayton (2004-08) $4,171,680 Ike Hilliard (2005-08) $760,000 Tim Brown (2004) TOTAL $29,219,880
The difference between what Dallas and what Tampa Bay paid at the wide receiver position was $27,609,750. The majority of that differential is the cash paid to Owens, whose three-year salary total alone eclipsed what the Bucs paid for Galloway, Clayton, Hilliard and Brown combined between 2004-08. That positional number alone makes up almost 25 percent of the $117.89 million differential between Dallas and Tampa Bay.
It’s clear to see that Owens is an elite talent, but taking him out of the equation, Galloway was a more productive receiver than either Johnson or Glenn were for the Cowboys, and a better value for the Bucs than those two were for Dallas. At the end of the day, Owens helped the Cowboys produce a 31-17 record during his tenure, so the signing was worth it from a regular season standpoint. But the Cowboys – the biggest spenders from 2004-08 – were no better than the Bucs when it came to playoff victories over that span.
Often times, it’s merely a couple players per team that makes a big difference in the spending between teams like Tampa Bay and teams like Dallas. Look at teams that have a superstar quarterback, such as the New York Giants, which ranked 19th in cash committed with $497.63 million – $48.63 million more than Tampa Bay.
NY GIANTS QBs 2004-08 $32,090,000 Eli Manning (2004-08) $3,000,4000 Kurt Warner (2004) $2,160,625 Anthony Wright (2007-08) $1,643,090 Tim Hasselbeck (2005) $1,029,730 Jared Lorenzen (2005-07) TOTAL $39,923,445
Not only does Manning’s $32 million rival what Tampa Bay spent at the position, but with him on the roster, the Giants spent nearly $5.5 million more than the Bucs at the quarterback position. You can bet that if Bruce Allen had a franchise quarterback like Manning, he would have spent at least $5 million more at the QB position, too.
Seattle ranked behind Dallas as the team with the second-highest committed cash from 2004-08. Here’s their payroll at the QB position, led by Matt Hasselbeck, a $40 million man.
SEATTLE QBs 2004-08 $40,522,120 Matt Hasselbeck (2004-08) $5,407,960 Seneca Wallace (2004-08) $2,164,572 Charlie Frye (2007-08) $1,219,840 David Greene (2005-06) $1,251,200 Trent Dilfer (2004) TOTAL $50,565,692
The difference between what the Seahawks spent at quarterback and what the Buccaneers spent at quarterback is $16,129,790, largely because of one player – Hasselbeck.
Indianapolis ranked fourth on the list and spent $532.77 million, which was $83.77 million more than Tampa Bay. But Colts quarterback Peyton Manning was paid $68,218,780 from 2004-08. The difference between what Tampa Bay spent and what Indy spent at the quarterback position with Manning and what Tampa Bay spent with its entire depth chart at the QB spot is $33,782,878.
The Colts have only carried two quarterbacks because of Manning’s durability, but if you throw in the salary of backup Jim Sorgi ($3,520,160), the differential between Indy and Tampa Bay at the quarterback position swells to $37,303,038. Manning (and Sorgi) makes up over 45 percent of the spending difference over five years.
This isn’t to say that the Bucs haven’t paid big money to some players over the years. In 2004, when Allen came aboard and Tampa Bay was knee deep in cap problems, Simeon Rice entered that year set to make $5.5 million (before incentives), which ranked fifth among NFL defensive linemen. Cornerback Ronde Barber entered 2004 set to make $4.6 million (before incentives), which ranked 10th.
Johnson was the sixth-highest paid quarterback that year and linebacker Derrick Brooks was the fifth-highest paid linebacker in 2004. Then factor in what was paid out for Deese, Steussie and Garner that year and it is no wonder the Bucs had to curb their spending over the next couple years.
But in 2007, Bucs defensive end Gaines Adams, who was the fourth overall pick in the draft, was the highest-paid defensive lineman in the NFL, making $15.4 million. And in 2008, Tampa Bay went out and landed the top lineman in free agency in center Jeff Faine and the top wide receiver in Antonio Bryant. Faine was the third-highest paid lineman in 2008 with $13,105,760 and was the 14th highest-paid overall player that year in the NFL.
As for Bryant, as former Tampa Bay senior assistant Kevin Demoff once told me, would you rather have Bryant and pay him $600,000 or pay him $7 million per year like Bernard Berrian made? Bryant’s production in 2008 was likely going to be the same either way Demoff argued, and that’s a good point.
The Bucs’ spending reasoning has been reflected in the team’s circumstances over the years. In 2004, the Bucs’ median salary, according to USA Today, was $688,900, which was a lot five years ago. In 2005, it dropped to $569,950 before rising to $786,080 in 2006. In 2007, it dropped to $762,000 before swelling to $1,424,054 in 2008.
It’s interesting to note that in the years in which the team performed best and made the playoffs (2005 and 2007) that spending was lower than the previous years (2004 and 2006), which were non-playoff seasons.
In 2008, the top 5 NFL spending teams were: Oakland $152,389,371 Dallas $146,401,600 Minnesota $133,354,045 Cleveland $131,916,300 New Orleans $131,531,820
Of those teams, only Dallas and Minnesota made the playoffs, but neither team advanced.
In 2008, Tampa Bay ranked 23rd in spending with a payroll of $104,329,311, which was ahead of 25th-ranked Atlanta, which spent $96,391,525.
The bottom 5 spenders in 2008 were: Green Bay $94,018,300 Indianapolis $93,373,915 New England $92,734,120 Baltimore $90,713,965 Kansas City $83,623,776
It’s interesting to note that out of the bottom five spenders, Indianapolis won 12 games, and both New England and Baltimore won 11 games last year. So perhaps that, coupled with the fact that Oakland and Cleveland were among the top spenders, doesn’t always mean spending the most money will deliver the most wins. But there may be a bit of correlation as Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh was sixth in spending with a payroll of $128,815,061 with Super Bowl-runner up Arizona two spots behind after spending $122,110,110.
The good news for Bucs fans is that the Bucs were 23rd in spending in 2008 and made some real attempts to land high-priced free agents in defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and linebacker Jonathan Vilma. Perhaps the Bucs are trending upward in spending, especially with franchising Bryant at $9.33 million, signing the likes of running back Derrick Ward and trading for Kellen Winslow and making him the highest-paid tight end in the NFL.
FAB 2. What else can we glean from all the data presented in Jason La Canfora’s blog and in FAB 1? It’s hard to draw serious conclusions over a five-year period because each year has its own set of circumstances for each team. But two things stand out to me.
First, the Bucs have not had a true franchise quarterback. Had the team had that player alone and dedicated another $5 million per year to a Pro Bowl-caliber QB, the Bucs would be in the $474 million range in spending, ahead of Tennessee and behind Jacksonville and would rank 29th instead of 32nd. Not a huge difference unless you consider that one player could move the team three ranking spots by himself.
But also consider the fact that for years the Buccaneers have been a team with aging stars on old, out-dated contracts and young players still on rookie deals. Outside of Kellen Winslow, Antonio Bryant, Jeff Faine, Derrick Ward and Michael Clayton this Tampa Bay team is simply void of players who are in their prime and rank among the higher-paid at their positions. This is perhaps the biggest reason for the discrepancy in the Bucs’ payroll when compared to other NFL teams.
There are a few aging stars like cornerback Ronde Barber and defensive tackle Chris Hovan on one end of the spectrum, and plenty of players like free safety Tanard Jackson, middle linebacker Barrett Ruud and offensive linemen Donald Penn, Davin Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood, who have been starters for years but are still on their cheaper, rookie deals (or in Penn’s case, a one-year tender).
There are four groups of players that make the most money in the NFL:
• The first group of players consists of top 15 draft picks – of which the Bucs have had three over the past five years in Clayton, Cadillac Williams and Adams. Williams and Adams are still on their rookie contracts.
• The second group consists of players that have been hit with the franchise tag. The Bucs did not use the franchise tag from 2004-08 (but did use it this past offseason on Bryant). This is a result of lack of cap room to be able to afford to franchise a player (such as Warren Sapp in 2004) in addition to poor talent evaluation in Tampa Bay over the last couple years in not having any players worth franchising.
• The third group of players is the premier free agents. Free agency has been greatly watered down over the years due to teams using the franchise tag to keep their young stars that are still in their prime. We’ve seen a combination of the Bucs being unwilling to overpay for free agents due to the fear of sliding back into salary cap trouble in addition to free agents not matching up with team needs in certain years. Players like Faine and Ward have been the exception – not the rule.
• The fourth group of players consists of guys in their prime that re-sign with the team and make substantially more money on their second deal. This is where players like Ruud, Jackson, Penn, Joseph, Trueblood and perhaps others will cash in with contract extensions (assuming they stay in Tampa Bay). Then you will see the Bucs’ payroll skyrocket to at least the middle of the pack.
Look no further than the fact that Seattle middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, who was drafted a couple spots behind Ruud in the second round of the 2005 NFL Draft, received a six-year, $42 million extension last year that averages $7 million per season. Meanwhile, Ruud is making $1.6 million in the last year of his rookie contract and is seeking a similar extension.
The Bucs have been missing the fourth group of players – like Tatupu – for some time as they were without four premium draft picks that were surrendered for Jon Gruden in 2002 and 2003. Also gone are players like Kenyatta Walker, the team’s first-round pick in 2001 that in theory should have been a 30-year old cornerstone offensive tackle for the Bucs given his draft status.
Also missing from the fourth group are players like Marquis Walker, Travis Stephens, Chris Colmer and Marquise Cooper, who were all early-round draft busts that never developed into players worthy of starting or star players that would receive rich contract extensions.
This missing group of players that came about because of trades involving draft picks and due to Tampa Bay’s poor evaluation has played a much larger role in the fact that the Bucs are the least-spending team in the NFL.
FAB 3. To wrap up the discussion from my point of view on the Bucs’ spending ways over the past five years, I’ll share with you some of the insight I’ve gleaned on Tampa Bay’s methodology from conversations with former general manager Bruce Allen, former senior assistant Kevin Demoff and current general manager Mark Dominik.
Note that I’m not necessarily endorsing these viewpoints, only relaying them to you so you will know what their line of thinking is and has been – regardless of whether you or I think this approach is right or wrong.
On his way to St. Louis to become the Rams’ chief operating officer and vice president of football administration, Demoff, the team’s capologist, explained the Bucs’ value system as it pertains to players. He said that once things started going badly in 2006, he and Dominik started developing a long-term plan of how the team could get better and how they could attack free agency and do all the things they needed to do without going after the top guys in free agency as they had before in 2004 with the likes of offensive tackles Derrick Deese and Todd Steussie. They worked on the plan for three years and said to each other that if they ran a team, that’s how they would do it. With Demoff in St. Louis and Dominik atop the Bucs’ organization in Tampa Bay, they’re doing it.
When is the right time to go get a big free agent guy? According to Demoff and Dominik, whenever they are available. If a Pro Bowl-caliber player gets to free agency, the team has to explore it if it’s a position of use, according to the plan. That’s why Dominik was aggressive in trying to land defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, linebacker Jonathan Vilma and trying to trade for Jay Cutler, and ultimately traded for tight end Kellen Winslow.
Demoff laughed at media types, including Pewter Report, that suggested the Bucs should attempt to sign Pro Bowl left tackle Jordan Gross when the Bucs already had Donald Penn, who maybe wasn’t in Gross’ class, but certainly a pretty good starting left tackle. Demoff said that the money was better spent on a player like Haynesworth rather than a player like Gross because left tackle wasn’t the pressing need that defensive tackle was. The right time to go after premium free agents is when the player matches up with a team’s need.
When cornerback Drayton Florence was brought in prior to the 2008 season, Dominik, Demoff and Allen had him in for a visit thinking that his market value wasn’t going to exist. When it became clear that his market value was going to be more than they expected – it was going to be $4 million or so but he was not going to be anything but a nickel corner in Tampa Bay – then the team knew it couldn’t justify spending that much despite having plenty of cap room to do it.
Why not? If the Bucs had signed Florence, not only where they clearly stating that Phillip Buchanon, a starting corner, was already worth more than Florence, it also would have been a slap in the face to Ronde Barber, who wasn’t going to earn as much despite being the best corner in franchise history.
Allen was always keenly aware of the team’s locker room and embedded that mindset in Demoff and Dominik. Allen was always telling my fellow Pewter Reporters and I, “Why should I have to pay for Rich McKay’s mistake by making Jason Webster one of the higher-paid corners in Atlanta?” He always focused on the team dynamics rather than league dynamics, much to the chagrin of agents at times who constantly use market analysis to determine a player’s worth.
Allen, Demoff and Dominik all dealt in player contracts and fully understand that the Bucs players know what each other makes due to the information age. That’s changed from 10 years ago. Demoff once told me that he really wishes he could sign the best 53 players and then put the $123 million in the middle of the locker room and let those players decide who gets what to make it easier on the front office.
His viewpoint was that as a team executive his duty was to maximize the resources that the team has. It’s not about getting good deals or bad deals or trying to save the club money. It’s about giving the Buccaneers the option of getting the next best player or being able to pay their own guys without having to cut other players to do so because of the salary cap. One thing that stuck with me from what Demoff said was that the team has to set aside money for its own escalating players. A lot of that is cash and not necessarily cap. He could make it work within the cap, but he also had to have the cash to do it.
Putting values on certain positions within the offensive and defensive schemes has been a huge part of the team’s plans since 2007 and continues today with Dominik in charge. The Buccaneers would never pay a strongside linebacker $7 million per year – ever. That’s a reason why the Bucs have passed on players like Lance Briggs and Adalius Thomas over the years because Tampa Bay already had Derrick Brooks, who was occupying the weakside linebacker position. If Briggs were signed, he would have had to play strongside and the Bucs would have had too much money tied up in their linebackers.
A strongside player is going to play 55 percent of the snaps and is not a key figure in the defense. It doesn’t matter if the player is great – like Thomas or Bart Scott. That position is not a value position to Tampa Bay and doling out top free agent money at that spot will only come back and hurt the team from a salary cap perspective sooner rather than later.
Another example of looking at the locker room dynamics and putting the proper value on certain positions at the same time involves the contract of center Jeff Faine. Demoff once told me not to look at the fact that he’s a center and that folks made too big of a deal that he was the highest-paid center. The reality was that with the total value of the contract, Faine became about the 40th-highest paid offensive lineman in the league with a six-year, $37.5 million deal. So despite the fact that Faine can claim he was the highest-paid center over the life of the deal, the Bucs actually got a very good player at a very good price. That’s the hallmark of a good value.
If Davin Joseph comes to the front office and says that he wants over $6 million per year to save face, then the Bucs can do it from a value perspective. If Tampa Bay had overspent for Faine, paying him $8 million per year, then not only would Joseph look around the league at what the guards are making, he would surely want to be the team’s highest-paid offensive lineman, which would have automatically put him in the $8 million range to start, rather than the $6 million range.
Allen told me that the Bucs always had to look at the market and the team’s payroll structure as a whole piece together, but the nature of the team’s plan would dictate the allocation of resources. Allen, Demoff and Dominik were all in agreement that Tampa Bay did not need to pay a second cornerback a king’s ransom. If a team has two Pro Bowl-caliber players, such as the Bucs did with Barber and Brian Kelly when both were in their primes from 2000-03, that’s one thing.
But Tampa Bay would rather draft a cornerback in the first round like it did with Talib and pay him handsomely and then have another drafted player become a number two corner opposite him making $1 million or $2 million per year rather than paying $7 million per year for top-shelf free agent corner. The reason is because that $7 million could be spent elsewhere to help the team address a bigger need or at a position where there is a higher-grade player.
Demoff used the example where if someone were to give you $1,000, would you rather have a $1,000 gift card to a single store at International Plaza or a $1,000 gift card that could be used at any store International Plaza? Everybody would rather have the latter so they could buy whatever they want from wherever they want instead of having to do it at one place. The key is finding players who fit what the Bucs do that aren’t necessarily known and maybe they are undervalued on their own team for the role they are performing.
The most recent example of this was defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson, who signed a two-year deal worth $3 million last year. Wilkerson was behind starters Jared Allen and Tamba Hali, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t a good player in the eyes of Dominik, who was scouting him hard.
Did it mean that Wilkerson was a sure-fire 10-sack guy? No, it did not. According to Demoff, Wilkerson is the type of player that will do exactly what he did last year in getting five sacks as a reserve. But as Demoff said, in this league, that guy is usually a $3 million per year guy – not a $1.5 million player, which is what Tampa Bay paid for him.
Antonio Bryant was the same way. He was as talented as any of the receivers on the market, which is something that Dominik and Allen knew right away. He came with some well-documented baggage that made him toxic to some clubs and lowered his market value considerably, but at $600,000, the Bucs had virtually no risk. They paid Bryant $600,000 because they didn’t have to pay him any more and they got a much better value with him than they would have received from signing another top-shelf receiver like Bernard Berrian.
How did the team make out? Consider that Berrian made $13.7 million last year in salary, signing bonus and roster bonus money. Even though Bryant will be making $9.88 million in salary in 2009 due to the franchise tag designation and Berrian’s base salary will fall to $2.395 million, the Vikings will have spent $16.095 million for two years on Berrian while the Bucs spent just over $10.5 million for Bryant over that two-year span.
Forget the salary cap. That’s a savings of $6 million in cash that the Glazers can use to extend the contract of a player like Joseph or middle linebacker Barrett Ruud.
This value-conscious approach is one of the reasons why Dominik is making Bryant prove himself one more year before entertaining the idea of a lucrative, long-term deal past the Berrian range that Bryant is seeking. Demoff and Dominik researched Bryant’s 2008 stats and found that they were strikingly similar to those of Clayton’s during his phenomenal rookie season.
Everyone was in agreement that Bryant is a more talented receiver and warranted more money, but the goal, according to Demoff, was not to pay Bryant $9 million per year because that’s what Roy Williams got. The goal was to franchise Bryant, see how he would do in Jeff Jagodzinski’s offense and then find the next Bryant-type player.
Maybe that player is tight end Kellen Winslow. With Jags’ scheme tailor-made for the tight ends, Winslow may wind up being the focal point of the offense instead of Bryant. If that’s the case, is Bryant worth $9 million per year? The Bucs have this year to find out before committing to Bryant long term.
The bottom line is that the Bucs will never be among the league’s top-spending teams. That distinction will always go towards the clubs that Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder run. Those teams will almost always win the offseason trophies from columnists and media pundits, and come up short in the post-season.
But look for Tampa Bay to climb up into the middle of the pack in league spending if the games of players like Ruud, Joseph, tackle Jeremy Trueblood, free safety Tanard Jackson, defensive end Gaines Adams and cornerback Aqib Talib continue to ascend in the NFL and they earn hefty contract extensions after playing through their rookie deals. And if Tampa Bay’s talent evaluation improves over the next five years from what it has been from 2004-08, the Bucs become a top 10 spending team if its roster is littered with Pro Bowlers as it was during the team’s Super Bowl window from 1999-2003.
Keep one thing in mind, as long as Dominik is at the helm, he will always be a value-conscious general manager when it comes to player contracts. Future history will decide whether this is the right or wrong approach.
FAB 4. Much has been made of Donald Penn’s non-perfect attendance during the OTAs and his dissatisfaction over receiving a one-year tender instead of a long-term contract extension this offseason. Also gaining scrutiny was the fact that Penn didn’t show up to mandatory mini-camp in tip-top shape.
One of the OTA sessions Penn showed up for was the infamous conditioning hour disguised as a “we-fense special teams practice.” Of course, this followed the much-publicized Aqib Talib helmet-swinging incident that involved the Bucs’ starting left tackle. From observing that practice, it was clear that Penn lacked ideal stamina during the wind sprints and his row was forced to start over on more than one occasion because of false starts off the starting line. The lack of concentration was likely due to mental and physical fatigue.
So when I had the chance to inquire about that workout and ask Penn about his spotty participation during the OTAs and his weight at the mandatory mini-camp I did just that. Regarding his attendance, Penn didn’t hide the fact that he was upset over his contract.
“I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to be here,” said Penn, who has started the last 29 games at left tackle. “I’ve got some stuff going on with the front office, but that stuff isn’t big right now. I’m here. I’m ready to work. That’s all that matters. I missed being with the guys. Over my whole career, everything has always worked out, and it will.”
Penn, who has been falsely listed at 305 on the team roster for quite some time now, didn’t dodge questions about his weight, which was admirable. I get the sense that he is fully aware that offensive line coach Pete Manguarian, offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski and even general manager Mark Dominik aren’t happy with the fact that Penn hasn’t shed the pounds that others along the offensive line have in preparation for the movement-heavy zone-blocking scheme that the Bucs will deploy this season.
“I talked to Pete today and he wants me to drop some weight,” Penn said. “It’s on its way down, it’s just not going down as fast as I would like it to. This offense is a lot quicker with us moving side to side. After last year, I told (strength and conditioning coach) Kurt Shultz I wanted to lose some weight – even when Jon Gruden was still here. I played last year at 330 and I played pretty well, but I want to be a little bit lower than that. I’m still at 330 right now and I’m still working on getting down to 325 or 320. But I still played well at 330 last year and did well, so I’m not worried about it.”
But what concerns the Bucs front office is Penn’s failure to comply with the team’s desire to shed the excess weight and be ready for training camp like the rest of the starting offensive linemen are. With the Bucs offensive line having to work in concert with zone blocking, the group is only as strong as its weakest link. And facing a contract year again in 2010, Penn can’t afford to be the weakest link – literally.
Penn swears he has a strong work ethic and that his weight won’t be an issue when the regular season starts.
“I feel I am in good condition,” Penn said. “You can always do better, though. I’ll take a week off in July and then hit again for three weeks before camp starts. I’ve been working out. People may think I’m sitting at home on my ass. I’m working out every day and taking Saturday and Sunday off. I’m going to try to lose some more weight because all the fans think I’m a fat ass. I’ll show them so I can fit better into my jersey this year.”
Penn, an avid Pewter Report reader, was smirking when he made that last remark. He also knows the impression his role in the verbal jousting with Talib left with the fans and stressed that the practice spat wasn’t out of the ordinary – save for Talib actually swinging his helmet, which sliced up Torrie Cox’s face.
“It wasn’t a squabble. Everybody blew it out of proportion,” Penn said. “Talib’s my friend. That’s my guy. It happens all the time on this team and it never hits the media. I’m surprised this one did. They blew it up more than it was. It happens everywhere all the time. Other teams have fights on a regular basis in practice, too. It could happen every day. It’s competition. People are out here fighting for their jobs and to feed their families. The good thing is that all of the fights I’ve ever been around, they always stay on the field. It never leaves the field. Never. Ours always stay on the field. It never gets out of the locker room.”
The conversation then shifted towards Penn’s excitement about the new zone-blocking scheme.
“I like it a lot,” Penn said. “I think it’s going to open up a lot more holes for our running backs. They have more than a one-way go. They have a two- or three-way go. That will keep the defense guessing. I’m looking forward to it. It’s a lot more man-to-man blocking on the tackles, but I’m ready for it. I don’t think our chemistry is so much for the offensive line itself as it is the running backs. They have to be able to feel us and recognize if we are going a certain way with a guy so they can cut it back. This offensive line has played together dating back to last year. We know each other. We’ll fight for each other. I think it’s mostly about the running backs knowing how we are going to block and how we reach defensive linemen. It’s coming along real well.”
Penn said that he is also excited about working more with the team’s tight ends and double-teaming the point of attack with the zone-blocking scheme.
“We have some tight ends that can block, man,” Penn said. “Jerramy Stevens has really been working on his blocking and he’s getting a lot better at it. We know John Gilmore can block and I like what I’m seeing out of Kellen Winslow, too. He’s a pretty tenacious guy. That’s going to help us all out as a group, especially us tackles.”
Penn has some work to do in the weight room as far as weight loss and conditioning goes. Had he not missed as many OTAs during the offseason, he would be much further ahead in that area come August 1, which is the first day of training camp. But Penn stresses that his absence did not put him behind in terms of learning the ins and outs of the new zone-blocking scheme.
“The first couple weeks I came I picked up the offense like that,” Penn said. “There are a lot of similarities to what I’ve done in the past. I took my playbook home and when I wasn’t here, I looked over it and I feel pretty good about it. Everybody is still learning this scheme, but I don’t feel behind at all.”
We’ll find out come August.
FAB 5. Here are some things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• One of the crying shames at One Buccaneer Place is the fact that Pro Bowl return man Clifton Smith does not have his own engraved wooden nameplate above his locker yet. In the locker room, the established players have their own name carved in the wood where the practice squad players and the third-string players that are signed to one-year deals have an identical wooden nameplates that simply say Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I asked Smith if it bothered him during the mini-camp and he smiled and said, “No, not really.” Translation, it bothers him a little bit, but he doesn’t have a big enough ego to get too bent out of shape over it. Smith and I talked about how the only engraving that matters is the kind that he has done on his cleats with a black Sharpie before games since he arrived in Tampa Bay. It says, “One Chance.” For an undrafted free agent try-out player like Smith it means he only had one chance to make this team – and he did. But somebody at One Buccaneer Place – anybody – please get Smith his own personalized nameplate. If Dexter Jackson can have one, I think Smith – the guy who took his job – should have one, too.
• I don’t think Arron Sears is going to show up at training camp for the Buccaneers. In fact, the Bucs will likely place him on the non-football injury/illness list if he doesn’t. That will save Tampa Bay a roster spot without having to cut a player. The same thing would happen if the Bucs place running back Cadillac Williams on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. If Sears does not report for the 2008 season, as expected, that significantly increases the chances of not only Sean Mahan making the team because reserve guard-center Jeremy Zuttah is now the starting left guard, but it also helps the chances of undrafted free agent Rob Bruggeman. Mahan helped his cause by slashing his 2009 salary from $3 million to $1.6 million, and Bruggeman, a college center at Iowa, is doing the same by cross-traning at guard. “It’s really not that different. You are out a little bit further from the defensive line, but that’s about it,” Bruggeman said. “You have to learn all the schemes playing center, so I know what the guards do, too. I’m still playing some center in addition to guard. I feel more comfortable at right guard as opposed to left guard because you are used to having your right hand down on the ball and you still play with your right hand down.” Bruggeman was running with the second-team at right guard in mini-camp and at center on the third-team.
• One of the attributes that general manager Mark Dominik and head coach Raheem Morris want in a quarterback is size. After watching 6-foot signal caller Jeff Garcia struggle to see over the line of scrimmage and leave the pocket way too soon because of his limited vision, the Bucs are clearly favoring taller passers. Count new offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski, who tutored 6-foot-5 Matt Ryan at Boston College, among that group, too. That is not to say Jagodzinski, Dominik or Morris wouldn’t want 6-foot quarterback Drew Brees if he somehow landed in Tampa Bay. But there is a reason why the Bucs don’t have a quarterback under 6-foot-3 on the roster, and that newcomers Bryon Leftwich and Josh Freeman are 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-6, respectively. At the quarterback position, size does matter in Tampa Bay these days.
• The response from Pewter Report’s “$10 Recession-Buster Special” continues to amaze us, so we have extended this promotion through Bucs training camp so even more Bucs fans can take advantage of this offer, which is 75% off the regular price of $39.99. This $10 offer is open for everybody – new subscribers and existing ones that want to extend their subscription – so take advantage of it. Most folks are taking advantage of our three-year, $30 price. That makes up 85% of our extensions and renewals. We’ve also seen a lot of new subscribers coming in that have been referred to Pewter Report from you, our existing subscribers. On behalf of the PR staff, thank you, and keep the referrals coming. Call 1-800-881-BUCS(2827) or subscribe online by clicking here to extend or renew your subscription today.
• At the time of my last SR’s Fab 5 column two weeks ago, we had 425 followers on Twitter. My hope was that Pewter Report’s Twitter page would have over 500 followers by the time Bucs training camp begins on August 1. Well, in only two weeks we’re already past 600 followers with three weeks to go. If you haven’t signed up for our Twitter page, what are you waiting for? Did you know that you can set your cell phone or mobile device up to receive FREE Twitter updates from us and breaking news alerts from Pewter Report’s Twitter page via text messages (standard text rates may apply depending on your cell phone plan)? Click here for details. All you need to do is set up a Twitter account, which is easy, fast and FREE, and then sign up to follow Pewter Report on Twitter by clicking here. In addition to breaking news alerts, you will also know when a story has been posted on PewterReport.com so you can quickly check it out. And to give you an incentive to follow Pewter Report on Twitter, check out a nugget of inside scoop on the Pewter Report Twitter page each time I post an SR’s Fab 5 on Sunday. Remember, after you finish SR’s Fab 5, go become a PR follower on Twitter and check out the FAB5 Extra now on our Twitter page. For those who don’t use Twitter, I’ll post that FAB5 Extra later on the Pewter Insider board on PewterReport.com to be fair.