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Here are a few things that caught my attention this week:
FAB 1. By now you have all read the story on Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Jerramy Stevens in the Seattle Times. If you haven’t, you should. There are a lot of eye-opening charges and accusations in there regarding Stevens’ behavior in high school and college, in addition to his more recent and public arrests as a member of the Seattle Seahawks.
Did I know that Stevens’ past was so allegedly sordid? No, and chances are you didn’t, either.
Did the Buccaneers? I don’t know for sure. I haven’t been able to have anyone in the front office comment on it, but the guess here is that they did.
Am I troubled by all of these alleged details and charges? Absolutely.
Tampa Bay signed Stevens to a one-year deal worth $600,000 in 2007 and told him to be a model citizen. Stevens did just that without any new off-field transgressions popping up as a member of the Buccaneers. Stevens did have a trial this past fall and was sentenced for a DUI that occurred in March when he was a free agent. He was fined two game checks by the NFL and was suspended for the Atlanta game on December 17.
Stevens also performed well on the field, catching 18 passes for 189 yards and four touchdowns, including the game-winner at New Orleans. He is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent and both he and the team have a mutual interest in working together again in 2008.
And because he was a model citizen in 2007, chances are Bucs general manager Bruce Allen and the Bucs will re-sign Stevens. With the general public now being made aware of some of the allegedly disturbing details in Stevens’ past, there will likely be an uproar if – and when – that happens.
So why do I think Allen will re-sign Stevens? Does Allen and head coach Jon Gruden subscribe to the outlaw Oakland Raiders ways of hiring mercenary players with checkered backgrounds to score touchdowns – the community be damned?
I’m sure that is how some see Allen and Gruden and you wouldn’t be too far off. These guys want to win and win badly. Will they do whatever takes to win? From my observation, they will do just about anything to win.
Running back Michael Pittman is still on the team after a domestic violence arrest in 2003. This team has also signed wide receiver David Boston, who also had his run-ins with the law, and still has cornerback Torrie Cox on the team despite multiple drunken driving arrests.
So why do Allen and Gruden seem to gravitate towards the NFL’s problem children? Do they not care about the community?
I have had several conversations with Allen and Gruden on this subject and they both genuinely want to help wayward athletes. A case in point was the signing of former Raiders Pro Bowl defensive tackle Darrell Russell. Russell’s past had some disturbing similarities to that of Stevens.
Before the holier than thou crowd starts evoking the names of Tony Dungy and former general manager Rich McKay and tries to make believe that the Bucs were a team with a spotless image before the arrival of Gruden and Allen, I’ll remind you that former Tampa Bay wide receivers Lamar Thomas and Darnell McDonald had issues with alleged domestic violence and road rage, respectively, and former safeties Damien Robinson and Dwight Smith were arrested for their gun-toting ways.
There have been other Bucs players who have been arrested in the 1990s, but I digress. No NFL team is perfect when it comes to character, unfortunately, and it does seem like Allen and Gruden are willing to take on some shadier characters than the previous regime. But why?
Gruden does not wear his Christian beliefs on his sleeve like Dungy does, but he genuinely believes in forgiveness (unless you drop passes, miss blocking assignments, throw interceptions or fumble the ball, of course) and second chances. I’m not making excuses for Gruden and Allen nor am I suggesting I support their idea of bringing in rogue football players with arrest records and criminal pasts. I’m just giving you some insight into their decision-making process.
Is Cox, who has had issues with alcohol, better off unemployed on the streets of Tampa or in a structured environment with a league-funded treatment program, a support staff of teammates and coaches, and a player liason in Eric Vance? Quite frankly, I don’t know, but the Bucs seem to think it’s the latter.
Allen and Gruden believe in giving certain players second chances to clean up their lives – within reason. Russell was set to become the Bucs’ starting nose tackle in 2004 and was drawing some rave reviews in the OTAs (organized team activities). But Russell’s stint in Tampa Bay was short-lived as he was released prior to training camp after consuming alcohol, which violated a stipulation in his contract.
Once Boston was arrested for allegedly driving under the influence of GHB last August he was released. Of course he did have a convenient Week 1 foot injury, which gave the Bucs all the reasons they needed to quickly part ways with Boston (Tampa Bay could not have cut Boston for an off-field incident without drawing a grievance per the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA).
Although the Bucs needed help at receiver after Boston’s release, Tampa Bay was considering signing Antonio Bryant last year, but didn’t because the team already had signed Stevens and Boston last spring and the team was concerned about fan reaction.
The allegations stated in the Seattle Times story were eye-opening and damning – if true. The one thing I’ll caution Bucs fans on though is that this is one side of the story. Stevens was not interviewed for the Seattle Times piece. Perhaps the newspaper wanted to get his reaction and he declined. Nonetheless, his side has yet to be told.
Maybe everything in this article is true. Maybe just half of it is. We don’t know. We do know that Stevens was not charged with the alleged sexual assault the story documented.
Reporters have been wrong before. Retractions are done on a daily basis from various media outlets across the country for mistakes in reporting.
The police and prosecutors make mistakes, too. Innocent people have gone to jail before. Mistakes happen. Former Buccaneers defensive end Tyoka Jackson was arrested for prostitution solicitation charges in 1998, but was acquitted in 1999 after it was determined that the police were trying to entrap him.
Witnesses have been known to embellish stories or lie before for selfish reasons. Do you remember the Duke lacrosse case?
I’m not siding with Stevens or the Bucs on this situation at all, I’m just trying to look at all of the facts objectively – and that doesn’t just mean taking everything I read at face value, especially when only one side of the story is presented. Yes, I understand there was DNA evidence that linked Stevens to the alleged crime, but the case never went to trial for a reason.
Do I think the Bucs should re-sign Stevens? I don’t know. Part of me was disgusted by what I read in that story and says, “No way.” Another part of me says that maybe this guy is trying real hard to turn his life around, evidenced by a mistake-free season in Tampa Bay, and he deserves a chance to succeed until he proves me wrong. I look at Pittman and his wife, Melissa, who have successfully moved on with their lives since their domestic incident in 2003.
All I do know is that if Stevens is re-signed by Tampa Bay and goes back to his old ways, Allen and Gruden will deservedly catch an extraordinary amount of grief from the media, Bucs fans and the community.
Tampa Bay has a need for tight ends. Alex Smith is the only viable starting-caliber tight end on Tampa Bay’s roster. Anthony Becht has a voidable year in his deal and will be a free agent in 2008, along with Stevens. Minus the baggage, Stevens would be a slam-dunk re-sign – and perhaps he still will be.
But the Bucs might look elsewhere for help at tight end. With Indianapolis’ Dallas Clark and Tennessee’s Ben Troupe on the free agent market, maybe the Bucs will pass on Stevens and go in a different direction. After the recent Seattle Times article, I’m sure many would welcome that.
FAB 2. Before Buccaneers general manager Bruce Allen gambled that his team would be okay without defensive end Simeon Rice, whom he released on the eve of training camp due to an ailing shoulder and Rice’s refusal to take a pay cut, Allen and senior assistant Kevin Demoff rolled the dice on the fact that Tampa Bay didn’t need the services of fourth-year pass rusher Dewayne White. White was allowed to reunite with former defensive line coach Rod Marinelli in Detroit for $19 million in guaranteed money.
To replace the combination of White and Rice, the Bucs signed almost-over-the-hill Kevin Carter to a contract that included no signing bonus and drafted Clemson defensive end Gaines Adams. I’m not going to count the Bucs’ leading sacker in 2007, defensive end Greg White, because no one in the organization expected him to play such a prominent role in the team’s success and develop into a starter.
We all know what happened to Rice, who got signed after the start of the season by Denver and then by Indianapolis before finishing the season on the street. But what happened to White?
Despite starting 14 games for the Lions, White finished with just 43 tackles, 6.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and one interception. After starting the season with a bang with seven tackles, two forced fumbles, one sack and one interception out at Oakland against former Bucs lineman Cornell Green, a motivated White racked up three sacks against his old team, Tampa Bay – two of which came against second-year right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, who was stricken with food poisoning the night before the game.
Through the first six games of his career with the Lions, White recorded 27 tackles, 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and one pick. But in the final eight games of the year (he missed two games due to injury), White faded down the stretch and notched only 16 tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble.
While he was doing that, Adams was just warming up during his rookie season. Although he started just eight games, Adams finished with 38 tackles (according to NFL.com), six sacks and two forced fumbles. Not counting another Adams sack in the playoffs against the Giants and the statistics between the rookie and the fifth-year pro are nearly identical. At first glance, Adams would appear to have a much bigger upside, capable of becoming a double-digit sacker, while White’s 6.5 sacks were a career high.
As for Carter, a 13-year veteran, he posted 43 tackles, three sacks, forced a fumble and recovered another one. Not a huge impact from a pass rushing standpoint, but his leadership proved to be invaluable to young players like White and Adams.
The end result appears to be that not only did Allen, who has been deservedly criticized for free agent gaffes like Todd Steussie, Derrick Deese and Charlie Garner, and Demoff make the right call on Rice, but they also made the right call on Dewayne White, too – given the immediate impact of Greg White and the production and upside of Adams.
FAB 3. It will be interesting to see what transpires this offseason at the Buccaneers quarterback position. Jeff Garcia enters the 2008 campaign as the starter for a second season, which is something that hasn’t happened to an opening day starter under Jon Gruden since Brad Johnson started the 2003 and 2004 seasons. Since 2004, the Bucs’ opening day starters have been Brian Griese (2005), Chris Simms (2006) and Garcia (2007).
With Garcia set as the unquestioned starter in Tampa Bay after leading the Bucs back to the playoffs with an NFC South title in hand, and earning a trip to the Pro Bowl as an alternate after Brett Favre backed out, the real question becomes who will Garcia’s backup be?
It will be interesting to see if the Buccaneers feel more comfortable with Garcia, another veteran quarterback and Luke McCown as the third-string quarterback, or if McCown did enough in his 15 quarters of action in 2007 to establish himself as the clear backup option in Tampa Bay in 2008.
The Bucs’ brass won’t make that determination until after they see what is available in free agency next month, but the team does feel good about McCown’s progress. McCown was 1-2 as a starter, but he was saddled with the burden of playing with former practice squad receivers in the season finale loss to Carolina. In 2007, he completed 94-of-139 passes (67.6 percent) for 1,009 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions. McCown had a QB rating of 91.7, which is less than three QB rating points off Jeff Garcia’s rating (94.6).
Perhaps the most impressive part of McCown’s performance was his outing in the first quarter of his three starts at New Orleans, at Houston and against Carolina in which he completed 22-of-22 passes for 361 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions. That computes to a QB rating of 133.9, and if you add a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Anthony Becht on the first play of the second quarter at New Orleans, McCown’s QB rating inches closer to the perfect mark of 158.3.
What this tells me is that McCown does an excellent job of absorbing and executing the initial game plan and is very prepared heading into games for a guy that has just seven career starts in his four-year NFL career. Out of his seven first-quarter drives in those three starts, the Bucs scored two touchdowns and one field goal.
Strategically, I also like the fact that McCown showed off his big arm and tested opposing secondaries deep in the first quarter of those three starts with passes of 47 and 60 yards to Joey Galloway and 52 yards to Chad Lucas. That kept the safeties deep and helped open up the running game.
Yet do the Bucs feel good enough about McCown to not seek a veteran upgrade? Here’s an amazing statistic for you. In 2007, Tampa Bay was the only team to win its division after losing its starting quarterback for at least one game due to injury – thanks to McCown.
But as one team source told me, 2006 – a year when the goal was to stay the same from the 2005 team personnel-wise – weighs heavy on their minds. That could mean that they will be in the market for another veteran with Jake Plummer turning down the team’s overtures last year.
Or the Bucs can look to the draft for another quarterback. In the Gruden era since 2002, the Bucs have drafted just two quarterbacks – Chris Simms, who was a third-round pick in 2003, and Bruce Gradkowski, a sixth-rounder in 2006. As Pewter Report has reported before, Simms wasn’t a Gruden pick. Rather, he was drafted because of general manager Rich McKay’s doing.
The interesting dynamic that comes with a three-year contract extension for Gruden, which puts him under contract through 2011, is the fact that he may be in position to draft a quarterback of the future in 2008. Aside from McCown, there aren’t the right in-house options. Simms, a lefty, is not a great fit for a West Coast offense with his slow, laboring delivery, and Gradkowski still can’t hit the deep ball.
Gruden was scouting the quarterbacks hard at the Senior Bowl and seemed to be more enamored with the ones on the North squad, especially Delaware’s Joe Flacco. Kentucky’s Andre Woodson piqued Gruden’s interest because he reminded him of Jason Campbell, but Gruden was concerned about the same hitch in Woodson’s delivery that Campbell has. The Bucs are also scouting San Diego quarterback Josh Johnson, who was the MVP of the East-West Shrine Game, quite hard.
Should Tampa Bay sign another free agent quarterback in March to join the likes of Garcia, McCown, Simms and Gradkowski, it’s a safe bet the team won’t burn a draft pick on another signal caller. However, if the Bucs decide to roll into April with their current quartet of passers, Gruden may be looking to draft the future quarterback of the Buccaneers.
FAB 4. In talking with a couple of Bucs sources at the Senior Bowl, I asked what derailed the play of Maurice Stovall at wide receiver in 2007. Tampa Bay will be in the market for at least one wide receiver, preferably one with speed to serve as an eventual successor to Joey Galloway and competition to Ike Hilliard, Michael Clayton and Stovall, among others, in 2008.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the Bucs have given up on Clayton and Stovall. In fact, Tampa Bay felt Clayton started to show flashes of his rookie form toward the end of the 2007 and they feel he will build on that in 2008. Stovall impressed all offseason and in training camp before hitting a wall in preseason.
But the Bucs still are scratching their heads over the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Stovall, who was a mystery last season. Before he went on injured reserve with a broken arm, Stovall was an exceptional player on special teams, where he physically dominated his opponents as a gunner and tackler, recording 10 stops and downing several punts inside the 10-yard line.
Before his broken arm, Stovall was drawing double and sometimes triple coverage outside as a gunner on punts. Stovall used his hulking size to swat away opposing receivers and defensive backs that were matched up against him as he raced downfield to make a play.
However, the Bucs were perplexed by how Stovall’s physical play did not carry over to the wide receiver position, where he struggled to get off of the line of scrimmage against much smaller cornerbacks who were in single coverage.
“We need him to be Plaxico Burress,” Bucs head coach Jon Gruden told Pewter Report. “That is who we expected him to be when we drafted him.”
FAB 5. Here are some things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• Will the Buccaneers pursue a trade for Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald or Cincinnati pass-catcher Chad Johnson this spring? It’s doubtful, according to our sources. Arizona doesn’t have to part ways with Fitzgerald despite a not so cap-friendly contract. The 29-year old Johnson wants a new contract and perhaps he doesn’t see a Bengals team mired in mediocrity winning anytime soon. The 6-foot-1, 192-pounder has been a model of consistency and big plays throughout his seven-year NFL career, posting six straight 1,000-yard seasons while averaging 88 catches and eight touchdowns per year. But how much would it cost the Bucs financially to meet Johnson’s demands and how much would it cost Tampa Bay in terms of draft pick compensation to land him? The Bucs would be interested in acquiring Johnson, but the compensation package would likely have to not include a first-round pick. That is doubtful, considering Johnson is a Pro Bowler coming off a 93-catch, 1,440-yard, eight-touchdown season and is still in his prime. His cousin, Keyshawn Johnson, cost the Bucs two first-round picks in 2000 in the trade with the New York Jets to acquire his services. How would head coach Jon Gruden handle the ego of Ocho Cinco? Well, whether it was Irving Fryar in Philadelphia, Jerry Rice and Tim Brown in Oakland or Keyshawn Johnson, Keenan McCardell and Joey Galloway in Tampa Bay, Gruden has always gotten his top veteran receivers to produce in his offense. Will Johnson be happy catching less than 80 passes in Gruden’s offense, which likes to spread the ball around? He will if he wants to win, is happy with his contract and is still heavily involved in the offense. If I’m Bruce Allen, I’m calling the Bengals to see how much it would take to land Johnson, a player who has caught touchdowns spanning at least 70 yards in five of his seven years in the NFL. Those numbers would be welcome in a Tampa Bay offense that has a need for speed. Additionally, Johnson is coming off a season in which he recorded a career-high 27 catches that went for 20 yards or more and he hasn’t missed a game in six seasons. Can you imagine the Buccaneers’ passing game with Johnson on one side and Galloway on the other? Jeff Garcia proved in 2007 that he can still hit the deep ball, as can Luke McCown, who may be the QB of the future. Johnson’s presence in Tampa Bay would give the Bucs a legit Pro Bowl-caliber receiver for the next five years.
• When I was at the Senior Bowl two weeks ago, I got to meet Georgia Tech running back Tashard Choice. I’ll admit that I was more enamored with the speed of East Carolina’s Chris Johnson coming into the week at Mobile, but Choice opened my eyes with his quickness to the corner, his amazingly powerful stiff arm and his love for the game. Remember, the title of Jon Gruden’s autobiography is “Do You Love Football?” Gruden loves the type of players that have a passion to play the game. If you don’t think Choice loves football, watch this clip, which shows Choice (22), who is returning from an injury the previous week, giving a powerful pre-game speech prior to the Clemson game last year. “A lot of people have seen that YouTube clip. That’s just me,” Choice told me in Mobile, Ala. “That’s me in the simplest form to my teammates. A lot of people don’t know me, but my teammates know what I stand for and where my heart is at. They know I love football, and when you get hurt it really gets you mad. More than anything, I love the game of football. I was blessed to be able to play it, so I just love the game of football. It’s great.” Choice, who is 6-foot, 205 pounds, rushed for 3,365 yards and 28 touchdowns in 675 carries (5.0 avg.) and hauled in 40 catches for 281 yards during his three-year stint at Georgia Tech, began his career at Oklahoma before he transferred to Georgia Tech when Adrian Peterson became the clear-cut starter. “Do you know that I roomed with Davin Joseph when I was at Oklahoma?” Choice said to me. “I have interviewed with the Buccaneers here at the Senior Bowl. The Bucs are a great organization and I would love to play for them. I can catch the ball, I love to pass block and I can really finish off runs.” Choice had a good week in Mobile and would look good in red and pewter. Remember his name.
• In addition to Georgia Tech running back Tanard Choice, the Bucs seemed to be zeroing in on a couple of exciting offensive prospects at the Senior Bowl. The players the Bucs seemed to be studying the hardest include: Houston wide receiver Donnie Avery, Missouri tight end Martin Rucker, Cal wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins and Cal running back Justin Forsett. Here’s a list of players of players that confirmed to Pewter Report that they did meet with the Buccaneers scouts at the Senior Bowl:
QB Colt Brennan
USC QB John David Booty
Cal RB Justin Forsett
Georgia Tech RB Tashard Choice
East Carolina RB Chris Johnson
Houston WR Donnie Avery
Oklahoma State WR Adarius Bowman
Kansas State WR Jordy Nelson
Texas WR Limas Sweed
Missouri TE Martin Rucker
Vanderbilt OT Chris Williams
Arizona State C Mike Pollak
Boston College OT Gosder Cherilus
UTEP OL Oniel Cousinsâ€¨
USC DT Sedrick Ellis
USC DE Lawrence Jackson
Florida State DT Andre Fluellen
Arkansas DT Marcus Harrison
Virginia Tech DE Chris Ellis
Georgia Tech DE Darrell Robinson
Virginia Tech LB Xavier Adibi
Georgia Tech LB Phillip Wheeler
USF LB Ben Moffitt
Auburn DB Patrick Lee
Boston College CB DeJuan Tribble
Notre Dame FS Tom Zbikowski
Troy CB Leodis McKelvin
USC CB Terrell Thomas
I’m sure the Bucs were talking to several more players than Pewter Report was able to discover, but this is about as complete a list as you’ll find anywhere about which players Tampa Bay was targeting at the Senior Bowl. One more thing I’ll add is that the Bucs need to stay away from LSU wide receiver Early Doucet. This guy is an injury waiting to happen and we all know how much Gruden hates injuries. Doucet, who always gets nicked up and missed three games during his senior season, is overrated. He only has one – just one – 100-yard receiving game in four years at LSU. This guy is not Dwayne Bowe nor is he Michael Clayton.
• It’s incredibly early for a mock draft right now, but if I had to guess who the Bucs would draft in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft, I would say Houston wide receiver Donnie Avery. Remember where you heard that first.
• Boy, did I hear about my story on former Bucs coach Art Valero taking shots at Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden at the Senior Bowl. Thankfully, the members of the Bucs coaching staff and front office who spoke with me in Mobile, Ala. didn’t shoot the messenger, but their comments about Valero’s comments and the way he exited Tampa Bay were certainly – how should I say this? – unkind. The consensus among NFL types at the Senior Bowl is that Rams head coach Scott Linehan – and thus Valero – will be fired by midseason in St. Louis, especially due to the passing of Rams owner Georgia Frontiere. The team will be sold and the new owners will likely clean house as quickly as possible, especially with the team underperforming with Linehan at the helm. In hindsight, Valero might have made a poor career choice. Time will tell.
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