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Here are some things that caught my attention this week:
FAB 1. The good news for Tampa Bay is that Kansas City defensive end Jared Allen has left Minnesota as a Chief – not a Viking – after a two-day visit, which is the maximum amount of time a player that has been slapped with the franchise tag can stay on a trip to another team.
Allen, who led the NFL in sacks last year with 15.5 and wants out of K.C. due to a rift between he and general manager Carl Peterson, and Allen’s Tampa-based agent, Ken Harris, who also reps Buccaneers safety Sabby Piscitelli, plan on visiting One Buccaneer Place this week prior to the 2008 NFL Draft after talking contract numbers with Minnesota.
Like the Vikings, the Bucs are in hot pursuit of Allen for his ability to rush the passer. The Bucs envision Allen playing right end opposite of Gaines Adams, who flourished at the left end position as a rookie, notching seven sacks, including the postseason. The challenge presented to both Minnesota and Tampa Bay is not only working out a deal with Allen, who is free to visit and negotiate with teams, but also to work out a compensation plan with Kansas City that best suits the Chiefs’ needs.
Allen may want to play in Minnesota and the Vikings may offer more money, but if Kansas City likes what Tampa Bay is offering even better, he becomes a Buccaneer. The same is true if Allen wants to be a Buc, but the Vikings work out a better trade package with Kansas City.
Even if it costs Tampa Bay a first- and a second-round pick to make this trade happen – because Minnesota is currently offering a first- and third-round pick – I say pull the trigger. Of course, I would try to spread that out and offer next year’s second-round pick instead of the one this year.
Is there any player in this draft better than Allen, a high-motor sack-machine? Would you bet money that Chris Long, Vernon Gholston or Derrick Harvey would be Pro Bowlers and would lead the league in sacks the way Allen has?
Right now, Allen is better than the 20th player in this year’s draft, and he’s better than the first player taken in this draft. The Bucs would essentially be making the 26-year old defensive end their first-round pick this year and only losing the player that would have been drafted in next year’s second round.
Because Bucs general manager Bruce Allen has done a remarkable job of turning over the roster and finding a lot of young, impact players in the draft and free agency, and has freed up a plethora of salary cap room – $25 million in 2008 to be exact – not having that second-round draft pick in 2009 won’t cripple Tampa Bay.
On offense, quarterback Jeff Garcia, 38, and wide receiver Joey Galloway, 36, are the only locks to start on offense over the age of 30. Left tackle Luke Petitgout, 32, will have a tough battle on his hands from Donald Penn, 24, and 32-year old wide receiver Ike Hilliard will try to fend off 25-year old Michael Clayton this year. There is a chance 33-year old Warrick Dunn emerges as the starter at running back, but 28-year old Earnest Graham will be heading into training camp as the one to beat.
On defense, 35-year old linebacker Derrick Brooks will still start, as will 33-year old cornerback Ronde Barber. Every other projected Bucs starter is currently under the age of 30. Only nose tackle Chris Hovan turns 30 in May.
If Tampa Bay was a team full of thirty-somethings as it was a couple of years ago, the prospect of giving up a second-round pick in 2009 for Allen would be much different. But Allen is a difference-maker who can help this team right away in 2008. There would be no rookie learning curve initially for an experienced pro like Allen, and no rookie wall later in the season.
Allen’s presence would speed up Adams’ development this year and give Tampa Bay an even more potent bookend set of pass rushers than the Bucs enjoyed last year when Adams and defensive end Greg White combined to record 14 sacks and force nine fumbles. Allen would have the same type of impact on the Buccaneers that Simeon Rice had when he landed in Tampa Bay in 2001.
I know that the Bucs have more salary cap room than the Vikings do – $25 million as opposed to $14 million – and the fact that Harris is based in Tampa cannot be understated. You can bet that the Buccaneers will have Jimmy Wilkerson, Ryan Sims and Michael Bennett – three former Chiefs that are now on Tampa Bay’s roster – as part of Allen’s welcoming party to One Buccaneer Place this week. Those factors could help offset the fact that Allen would be playing alongside two Pro Bowl defensive tackles in Pat Williams and Kevin Williams in Minnesota.
But this whole deal will revolve first around agreeing to terms with Allen on a contract. If Allen and the Bucs don’t wind up on the same page, the deal is off regardless of what could be worked out between Tampa Bay and Kansas City in the way of compensation. Word out of Minnesota is that he is already close to a deal with the Vikings.
Allen is looking for a deal that would pay him Dwight Freeney money, which amounts to $72 million over six years, including $30 million in guaranteed dollars. Sources told PewterReport.com that Tampa Bay is believed to be willing to pay him close – but just a little less – than that amount.
The Bucs’ concerns center around the fact that Allen has had two DUI arrests in 2005 since he entered the league as a fourth-round draft pick in 2004. Allen was originally suspended by the NFL for the first four games of the 2007 season due to violating the league’s substance abuse policy. The suspension was appealed and reduced to only two games as a result.
However, the next alcohol-related arrest or incident could get Allen banned from the league for a year if he is still in the NFL substance abuse program, which I believe he is.
That concerns the Bucs. And frankly, that was the same concern that Peterson had, and that is what was has kept the Chiefs from doing a long-term deal with Allen prior to now. Allen had the reputation of being a big-time partier in college and also in Kansas City. However, after his second DUI arrest, Allen entered an alcohol treatment program and went above and beyond what the Chiefs and the NFL mandated that he do to clean up his act. Allen has apparently sworn off drinking entirely and has been sober for over one year.
If Allen gets one more DUI arrest and is suspended for a year by the NFL, the Bucs would still have to pay him, although the league would wind up taking that money as part of his punishment. Still, Tampa Bay would be without the cash and – more importantly – without the player.
With new Collective Bargaining Agreement rules basically eliminating clubs from recovering bonus money from players who run afoul of the law or get in trouble with the league (see the Atlanta Falcons vs. Michael Vick), Tampa Bay does not want to pay big money to a guy who may disappoint them. Is Allen’s sobriety short-term because he is on the verge of cashing in on a mega-deal, or has he truly seen the error in his ways? That’s what Tampa Bay will have to explore on his visit to One Buc Place this week.
Sure, Tampa Bay has been the home for wayward NFL players and castoffs, such as defensive tackle Darrell Russell, wide receiver David Boston, tight end Jerramy Stevens and wide receiver Antonio Bryant over the years, but all of those players were signed to one-year, league-minimum “prove it” deals – not long-term contracts that border on the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player.
Should Jared Allen and Tampa Bay agree to contract parameters this week, I have no doubt that Bruce Allen will work out a fair deal with Peterson that will not allow the Bucs to get hosed in the deal. Whether it has been trading disgruntled wide out Keyshawn Johnson for Joey Galloway, who has become arguably the greatest receiver in franchise history, or getting a second-round pick from Indianapolis for underachieving defensive tackle Anthony McFarland.
Bruce Allen also has a recent history of dealing with Peterson, trading for Sims and Bennett last year, but will have to better Minnesota’s offer of a first- and a third-round pick in 2008. That is why I proposed the notion of sending a first-rounder in 2008 and a second-rounder in 2009 to Kansas City. Of course, I would try to throw in a mix of players and a first-rounder first, but ultimately, two premium picks is what this deal might come down to.
The Vikings have reportedly suggested that they may wait until after the 2008 draft to sign Allen to a contract with poison pill language that would free him from Kansas City. Per league rules regarding the franchise tag, the Vikings would acquire Allen and have to send two first-rounders to Kansas City should they choose not to match the offer. The poison pill language, such as “player receives $25 million in bonuses by playing a game in Minnesota in 2008” would prevent that as the Chiefs don’t play the Vikings this year.
Because the 2008 draft would be over, the Vikings would only have to send first-rounders in 2009 and 2010 to Kansas City. That may be something Tampa Bay might have to consider, too.
It will be interesting to see what transpires on his visit to Tampa Bay this week and what type of discussions Bruce Allen has with Harris regarding the contract, and with Peterson regarding compensation.
Jared Allen has admitted that it pains him to leave the Chiefs players and fans, and a great football town like Kansas City, but it has gotten personal between Allen and Peterson and that is why all of this is going down. He simply will not extend his contract due to his fractured relationship with Peterson.
I’m sure Bruce Allen will mention to Jared Allen that the Bucs actually play the Chiefs this year … at Arrowhead. Different things motivate certain players, and Jared Allen’s disdain for Peterson might be so great that – all things being equal contract-wise – the Bucs game at Kansas City could help push him over the edge in favoring Tampa Bay over Minnesota, although the Vikings and Chiefs do practice together a bit in training camp up in Wisconsin.
Because Allen plays in the AFC West, some of you Buccaneers fans may not know too much about him. Here are a couple of videos that may get you acquainted with No. 69.
The first video is head coach Herman Edwards on the type of player Allen is. The second video is a comical look at Allen’s funny, free-spirited personality, which would be a welcome addition to Tampa Bay’s locker room.
FAB 2. Assuming the Bucs don’t trade for Kansas City defensive end Jared Allen, or do so and some how wind up keeping their first-round pick in 2008, wouldn’t you love to be a fly on the wall in the war room on April 26 when Tampa Bay is on the clock and staring at the prospects of potentially taking Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm or Delaware gun-slinger Joe Flacco?
Then the phone rings. It’s new Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff. Suppose he just drafted LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey at number three and wants to assure that he gets the Falcons a franchise quarterback – because neither Joey Harrington and D.J. Shockley is the answer – by trading up into the bottom of the first round.
If you are Tampa Bay general manager Bruce Allen, do you pull the trigger on a trade that could possibly send a twice-per-year major thorn in your side to a division rival? Of course, the Falcons would have to send the Bucs a couple of draft picks, which could turn into players Tampa Bay could use to beat Atlanta.
But the NFL is a quarterback-driven league. To illustrate that point, all of the teams that made the playoffs in 2007 had their quarterbacks start all 16 games last year, except for one team – the Buccaneers. Knowing that the draft pick Tampa Bay would send to Atlanta would be used on a top-flight quarterback would have to make the powers that be at One Buccaneer Place a bit nervous.
Atlanta is dealing from a position of strength in this draft as it has six picks in the first three rounds of the 2008 NFL Draft. What would be of interest to Tampa Bay in this scenario are the Falcons’ three second-rounders – the 34th overall pick from Oakland via the DeAngelo Hall trade, their own pick, which is the 37th overall pick, and the 48th overall pick from Houston via the Matt Schaub trade from a year ago.
But fans love to map out “trade down scenarios” in their heads, thinking that it is so easy to say, “Well, just take Atlanta’s first two second-rounders and give them Tampa Bay’s first-rounder.” In talking to members of the Bucs’ brass – it’s not that easy.
According to the new NFL trade chart that is circulating around, the Bucs’ first-round pick is worth 980 points. The first two Atlanta picks are worth 560 and 530 points for a total of 1090, which is a difference of 110 points. The Falcons surely wouldn’t want to forget about that 110 points, so they might ask for the Bucs’ fourth-round pick, which is worth 54 points and its fifth-rounder, which is worth 31. That’s a total of 95 points and may be close enough.
Or the Falcons may want to hold on to their highest second-round selection and only give the Bucs the 37th overall pick (worth 530 points), the 48th overall choice (worth 420 points) and a sixth-rounder worth 22.6 points. That’s a total of 972.6 points, which would probably get the deal done. But what if Tampa Bay didn’t want to settle for the that deal and insisted on getting Atlanta’s first two picks in the second round? I could see Allen trying to drive a harder bargain with a division rival, but ultimately, would it be wise to do so?
Hypothetically, the Bucs may opt to deal with Miami instead. Published reports suggest the Dolphins have the hots for Michigan QB Chad Henne, who is also on Atlanta’s radar. Miami picks ahead of Atlanta in round two, but may sense that the Falcons, who are flush with draft picks, could jump ahead of the Dolphins and select Henne with the Bucs’ pick at number 20.
Miami has two second-round picks – the 32nd overall selection and the 57th overall pick from San Diego via the Chris Chambers trade in 2007. The 32nd overall pick is worth 670 points and the 57th overall pick is worth 330 points for a total of 1,000 points. With a 20-point differential, Tampa Bay might have to send Miami its fifth-rounder and receive a sixth-rounder from the Dolphins. Dealing with an AFC East team like Miami instead of a divisional foe may be more appealing to Allen and the Bucs, too.
Should this scenario unfold with Miami and Atlanta wanting Tampa Bay’s first-round pick due to a quarterback, the Bucs could throw the trade chart out the window and use competition as a way for getting a deal that is better than the trade chart would offer.
For you unrealistic, trade-happy fans out there that think that wheeling and dealing on draft day is as easy as the scenarios I have laid out, imagine if the Bucs did the deal with Atlanta and then, with Miami possibly missing out on grabbing the QB it wanted, Tampa Bay dealing Chris Simms to the Dolphins for a 2008 second-day draft pick. Now that would be a coup.
FAB 3. The 2008 NFL schedule came out on Tuesday and aside from Tampa Bay’s return to the spotlight of national televised games, the most intriguing item was the fact that the Bucs open up against the Saints at New Orleans. I say this because you need to be prepared for the big Saints lovefest that is looming ahead in the coming months.
When pro football annuals start to come out shortly after the draft, I suspect that New Orleans will once again be the darlings of the division and that the Buccaneers, who surprised everyone by winning the NFC South last year, will be playing second fiddle this year.
Pundits will look at the 2007 Buccaneers and see a 9-7 NFC South champion, who lost a home Wild Card game, forgetting that the same team likely could have beaten San Francisco and Carolina in the final two weeks of the season to finish 11-5 had it not rested its injured starters before losing to the eventual Super Bowl champs.
I’m not particularly impressed with the additions of 14-year veteran Aaron Glenn or New England castoff Randall Gay. Both corners should be an upgrade over the terribly toasted Jason David, who was a free agent bust last year, and should provide insurance for Mike McKenzie’s rehab from a torn ACL. But cornerback is still a weakness for the Saints.
Trading for former Pro Bowl middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma made a big splash in the Bayou, but how will his surgically-repaired knee hold up in 2008? The Saints signed the chronic concussion that is Dan Morgan as insurance, but one big lick from Bucs fullback B.J. Askew in the season opener could make Morgan feel like he is under the influence of some Bourbon Street voodoo. Consider this position an upgrade if Vilma returns to his first-round form.
While I don’t like the signing of center Matt Lehr to replace Jeff Faine, who the Saints will miss terribly, especially in the running game, I really like the signing of former Jacksonville defensive end Bobby McCray. McCray, who is a good pass rusher, can team with Will Smith and Charles Grant, who is coming off a stabbing incident this offseason, to form a nice one-two-three punch that will test the tackles of their opponents this fall.
At receiver, Joe Horn has still not been replaced, last year’s first-round pick Robert Meachem is a total mystery after being a total bust as a rookie, and the team showed so much faith in speedster Devery Henderson that it signed him to a … one-year deal. It’s still Marques Colston and everybody else. Oh yeah, David Patten was re-signed, too. I forgot about him.
I just don’t think the Saints have done enough to vastly improve their 26th-ranked defense that allowed 348.1 total yards and 24.3 points per game last season.
I like Tampa Bay’s schedule much better than I do New Orleans’, even though the Saints don’t have the murderous slate they had a year ago en route to a 7-9 season. The Saints open up at home against the Bucs before traveling to Washington and Denver – both of which should be better than a year ago. Still, I can see New Orleans starting off 2-1 or even 3-0 and starting to prove the pundits right. I can even see the Saints’ record swelling to somewhere between 5-2 and 7-0 while feasting on three potential cupcake games against San Francisco, Minnesota and Oakland at the Superdome before traveling to Carolina on October 19.
But then the trouble sets in and the Big Easy becomes the Big Difficult on October 26 when the Saints have to travel to London to play San Diego before the bye week. The Saints lose a home game as a result of the trip to England, and that may prove costly – even though it didn’t seem to bother the Giants last year.
After the bye, New Orleans will only have three of its last eight games at the Superdome. Back-to-back road games at Atlanta and Kansas City precede a Monday night home contest against Green Bay. On a shortened schedule, the Saints have to travel to Raymond James Stadium for an important NFC South contest against the Buccaneers, followed by a home game against Atlanta the next week.
After a game against the hated Falcons on December 7, the Saints have just four days to prepare for a Thursday night game at Chicago, followed by another road game at Detroit on December 21. The end of the regular season features another NFC South clash as the Saints host Carolina, which can be a dangerous team even if not in the playoffs – as Tampa Bay found out last year with a Week 17 loss.
It’s too early to be predicting wins and losses for either the Bucs or the Saints, but I believe Tampa Bay is still a game or two ahead of New Orleans in the NFC South. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Bucs finished the 2008 regular season with 10 wins and the Saints wound up with nine.
FAB 4. I know some of you are itching for some pre-draft info, but this is the week before the draft and if I can even come by any info from a team source, I probably won’t believe it as I mistakenly did in 2005 with the pre-draft hype of USC wide receiver Mike Williams.
The one thing that I will share with you is that the Buccaneers do not necessarily go into the draft targeting a specific player. Rather, the team actually targets a pool of players in each round. Here’s an example of what I am talking about.
In 1998, which was the last time Tampa Bay traded out of the first round during the draft, the Bucs did so wanting to get a playmaking wide receiver and a cornerback (much like their needs this year). The Bucs liked Florida wide receiver Jacquez Green and Virginia wideout Germaine Crowell, and wound up with Green with the 34th overall selection after trading out of the 20th pick – ironically – with Oakland, which gave up two second-round picks as compensation.
The Bucs knew they would likely get Green at No. 34 and there were five second-round cornerbacks Tampa Bay was interested in drafting with one of its two remaining second-round picks. Vanderbilt cornerback Corey Chavous was drafted one spot ahead of Tampa Bay by Arizona at No. 33, so he was no longer an option. Ten picks later at 43, the Bengals grabbed hometown cornerback Artrell Hawkins, whom the Bucs also liked, from the University of Cincinnati.
When Southern Miss cornerback Patrick Surtain, the player the Bucs coveted, went with the next pick at No. 44 to Miami, general manager Rich McKay grew concerned about the sudden run on cornerbacks and had to trade a fourth-round pick to Atlanta to move up in the second round from No. 53 to No. 45 in order to land USC’s Brian Kelly before all of the good corners were taken.
That proved to be a shrewd move on draft day as Florida State cornerback Samari Rolle, who was the last corner on Tampa Bay’s wish list, was drafted next at No. 46 by Tennessee. McKay made another wise move by trading the team’s third and final second-round pick – the 59th overall selection – to San Diego in exchange for a first-round draft pick in 2000. That pick was used in conjunction with Tampa Bay’s own selection that year to trade for wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson.
The pool of players the Bucs will be looking at in the first round will likely be a mix of wide receivers (with Houston’s Donnie Avery, Indiana’s James Hardy and Florida’s Andre Caldwell headlining the bunch), cornerbacks (the remainder of the top tier of corners – South Florida’s Mike Jenkins, Troy’s Leodis McKelvin, Tennessee State’s Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – along with Arizona’s Antoine Cason, Virginia Tech’s Brandon Flowers and Indiana’s Tracy Porter), running backs (Oregon’s Jonathan Stewart, East Carolina’s Chris Johnson and Texas’ Jamaal Charles), offensive tackles (Vanderbilt’s Chris Williams and Boise State’s Ryan Clady) and defensive ends (Florida’s Derrick Harvey and Clemson’s Philip Merling).
Out of this bunch, only seven or eight players will likely remain when Tampa Bay is on the clock at No. 20, which is about the size of a normal pool. And if that’s the case, don’t be surprised if the Bucs attempt to trade down a little bit as they did from the 20th spot a decade ago.
One piece of insider info that I don’t fully trust is that I have heard that the Bucs will not draft a quarterback this year and head coach Jon Gruden is quite upset about this. Should this rumor become reality next weekend, it would be further proof that general manager Bruce Allen is not Gruden’s puppet and will tell his head coach “No” on occasion.
The reasons for the Bucs drafting a quarterback are there – behind 38-year old starter Jeff Garcia and 33-year old Brian Griese there is not a player that has proven himself worthy of being the quarterback of the future. Conversely, with six quarterbacks on the roster, the reasons are also present for the team not drafting a quarterback.
With only five draft picks this year, the Bucs would only get play out of four of them if Tampa Bay spent one of those selections on a quarterback. With this team trying to defend its NFC South title and become a consistent Super Bowl contender, drafting a quarterback in 2009 when the Bucs once again have seven draft picks, might be a more sound option.
FAB 5. Here are a few things to hold you over until the next SR’s Fab 5 column.
• Typically, I’ll put out a new mock draft on the eve of the draft, and I may well do that on Friday. However, I can’t see PewterReport.com make many changes at this time. I feel comfortable with Pewter Report’s last mock, which had Houston wide receiver Donnie Avery as Tampa Bay’s first pick, especially after an article in the Houston Chronicle suggested that Avery’s stock has risen to where he will be selected between picks 20-40 in the draft. The Bucs are fond of East Carolina running back Chris Johnson, whom Pewter Report has the team drafting in round two. I think I might change up my third and fourth-round picks, though. I could see Tampa Bay grabbing Kent State cornerback Jack Williams in the third round (instead of the fourth round), and Eastern Michigan defensive end Jason Jones in round four. In the fifth round, I’ll stick with South Florida cornerback Trae Williams – for now.
• If former Notre Dame wide receiver Jeff Samardzija ever decides that his dream of playing Major League Baseball for the Chicago Cubs organization (he’s currently playing Double-A ball for the Tennessee Smokies) as a pitcher isn’t panning out, and wants to try his luck in the NFL, consider Tampa Bay interested. As ProFootballTalk.com discussed last week, Samardzija went undrafted in 2006 and thus is an unrestricted free agent able to sign with any team. Samardzija was a teammate of Maurice Stovall at Notre Dame and the Bucs organization liked Samardzija better as he carried a late first- or early second-round grade in the 2006 NFL Draft after catching 77 passes for 1,215 yards and 15 touchdowns after hauling in 78 receptions for 1,017 yards and 12 scores as a junior. The 6-foot-5, 218-pounder is blessed with 4.5 speed and incredible body control when making catches.
• Don’t be surprised if the Buccaneers make a move to sign Kansas State cornerback Justin McKinney or Wildcats safety Marcus Watts after the draft. While McKinney is viewed as a late-round prospect, this is a deep draft for cornerbacks the way the 2005 draft was at running back when University of South Florida star running back Andre Hall went undrafted. Watts will not be drafted due to being injury-prone, but Bucs defensive backs coach Raheem Morris coached him at K-State in 2006 and really likes he and McKinney, who is a competitive, physical corner who is undersized, but has special teams value as a returner and a coverage player.
• Consider Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber among those who would love to see Tampa Bay trade for the NFL’s leading sacker, Kansas City defensive end Jared Allen. After all, a cornerback’s best friend is a good pass rush. “I’ve heard his name come up a lot [around One Buc Place this offseason],” Barber said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we tried to make a move for him now. He’s a high-energy guy. He’s a hell of a player. To be honest, on [Kansas City’s] defense – they played similar to the defense we played. A lot of the teams that we crossed teams with Kansas City, we ended up watching the Kansas City defense. The dude stands out. He’s got so many hustle plays on film that it is hard to ignore the guy. I would be happy for the remainder of my years if he came here.”
• I can understand how some folks are excited about Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco. He has great size and a live arm. But what I don’t like about him as a prospect is that he wasn’t a team captain. How could a quarterback not be a team captain – especially during his senior season when Flacco was showing up on NFL radar screens? To me, that’s a red flag. Quarterbacks have to be leaders, and the absence of a captain title shows poor leadership qualities, in my opinion. On the other hand, San Diego State quarterback Kevin O’Connell, who is a real sleeper in this draft and is Pewter Report’s second day Bucs’ Best Bet at QB, was a team captain for all four years, which is rare. Keep an eye on O’Connell, Tampa Bay fans. The Bucs have their eyes on him.
• I agree with Pewter Report’s Jim Flynn, who stated on Friday in his Flynn's Focus column that the Bucs should not draft Florida wide receiver Andre Caldwell. I can’t add much more than what Flynn said, but Caldwell’s lack of production and Florida’s reputation for turning out crappy receivers in the NFL would have me frightened if I were Jon Gruden. This guy reminds me of South Carolina’s Troy Williamson, who has been a first-round flop in the NFL. But Gruden is tight with Florida head coach Urban Meyer, and has also drafted another Meyer receiver in Paris Warren, who starred at Utah in 2005. Other receivers I would stay away from if I was Bruce Allen include Cal’s DeSean Jackson, whose size and attitude are problems, and Malcolm Kelly, whose attitude and slow 40-time are issues, Michigan’s Mario Manningham, whose attitude and pot smoking past are detriments and LSU’s Early Doucet, whose lack of production, injuries and slow 40-time are turnoffs.
• Should Tampa Bay stray away from conventional wisdom and select a player who is not a cornerback or a wide receiver this year, a couple of players I wouldn’t mind seeing in pewter and red are Oregon running back Jonathan Stewart, who is an absolute stud, and Clemson defensive end Philip Merling, who would look great playing opposite former college teammate Gaines Adams. Stewart reminds me of Emmitt Smith and has great hands. He would be an ideal fit in Jon Gruden’s offense and could contribute right away as a kick returner as a rookie. Merling reminds me of a more athletic Greg Spires. Like Spires, he would make a great left end for Tampa Bay, while Adams could stay on the right side. If Merling is drafted by the Bucs in the first round, it would be the third straight year Tampa Bay would draft a defensive end from Clemson. The Bucs got Adams last year and drafted Charles Bennett in the seventh-round in 2006.
• Now that the schedule has come out, I highly recommend heading to New Orleans for the Bucs’ season opener on a trip with Buc Fan Tours. Alas, I will not be on this trip this year, but you need to head to New Orleans for this game. Buc Fan Tours does a great job with the tickets (lower level – sit with Bucs fans), the hotel (a real first class hotel right in the French Quarter just down the street from Bourbon Street, the Superdome, the Riverwalk and Harrah’s casino) and the travel (no need to get an expensive taxi or rent a car). A trip to New Orleans – it’s safe, by the way – will change your life (and you’ll get to see the Bucs play in the season opener against a tough NFC South foe). In case you missed it, here’s my account of going on the trip last year – go ahead and click here and scroll down towards the bottom of my SR’s Fab 5. It’s worth the read if you are interested in going to New Orleans.
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