SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL:
FAB 1. COULD BOSA BECOME A BUCCANEER?
Ohio State’s All-American defensive end Joey Bosa is regarded by some in the NFL community as the best player in the 2016 NFL Draft – not just the best pass rusher. But with Tennessee, which has the number one overall pick, looking to bolster its offensive line to protect franchise quarterback Marcus Mariota, Ole Miss left tackle Larmey Tunsil could wind up filling a bigger need for the Titans than Bosa could.
Most of the time NFL teams end up drafting for need, especially in the first round, instead of the best player available.
And because beauty is in the eye of the beholder in the NFL, sometimes the supposed top-rated player isn’t selected first. Sometimes Edgerrin James gets picked ahead of Ricky Williams, and Alex Smith gets selected ahead of Aaron Rodgers.
Tampa Bay’s biggest need is at defensive end, and that’s why you’ve seen Eastern Kentucky’s Noah Spence mocked to the Buccaneers – first by PewterReport.com and then by a host of other websites. PewterReport.com had Oklahoma State defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah going to Tampa Bay in its first mock draft in early January.
Spence, who once played with Bosa at Ohio State before getting kicked out of school for testing positive for ecstasy, is one of the hottest draft prospects entering the NFL Scouting Combine. Spence had a redemption year at Eastern Kentucky where he recorded 63 tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. He had a great showing for the South team in the Senior Bowl, recording a sack and several other quarterback hurries.
But what if Spence tears up the Combine – or his pro day – with a blazing fast 40-yard dash time? What if Spence runs a 4.6 in the 40-yard dash and Bosa runs a 4.8 on Sunday? And what if Spence erases all doubts about his past drug use and character concerns with sterling interviews in Indianapolis?
What if Spence really grew on Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley, who coached the South in the Senior Bowl, and the Jaguars selected him with the fifth overall pick over Bosa? And what if San Diego, which uses a 3-4 scheme on defense, opted for defensive end DeForest Buckner, who played in a 3-4 at Oregon, instead of Bosa with the third overall pick?
Could Bosa actually slide all the way to the Buccaneers with the ninth overall pick? It’s not too far fetched if the top 9 picks in the 2016 NFL Draft goes down like this:
Possible Top 10 2016 NFL Draft Picks 1. Tennessee – Ole Miss LT Laremy Tunsil 2. Cleveland – North Dakota State QB Carson Wentz 3. San Diego – Oregon DE DeForest Buckner 4. Dallas – Florida State DB Jalen Ramsey 5. Jacksonville – Eastern Kentucky DE Noah Spence 6. Baltimore – Notre Dame LT Ronnie Stanley 7. San Francisco – Cal QB Jared Goff 8. Miami – Florida CB Vernon Hargreaves III 9. Tampa Bay – Ohio State DE Joey Bosa 10. New York Giants – Clemson DE Kevin Dodd
The possibility of Bosa becoming a Buccaneer is not as far fetched as some might think. It’s happened before. Tampa Bay didn’t think quarterback Trent Dilfer would fall to the team, which had the sixth overall pick in the 1994 draft. A year later, the Bucs were shocked to see defensive tackle Warren Sapp slide to them with the 12th overall pick.
At 6-foot-5, 278 pounds, Bosa has the size and athleticism to play on the strong side or the weak side in either Mike Smith’s 4-3 or 3-4 defensive fronts. Smith and defensive line coach Jay Hayes prefers bigger defensive ends, and Bosa is two inches taller and about 24 pounds heavier than Spence.
Starting since his freshman season, Bosa has seen action in 41 games (37 starts), and his 26 career sacks rank third in Ohio State history. Bosa’s 50.5 tackles for loss are the fourth most in Buckeyes history. In fact, no other college football player has amassed more tackles for loss over the past three seasons than Bosa.
What makes the Fort Lauderdale native special is he is very good at changing directions at full speed during his pass rush. Bosa maintains ideal leverage when getting after the quarterback and has a powerful bull rush, in addition to a nice club-rip move.
Although he primarily played left defensive end, Ohio State moved Bosa around and he would also rush from the right edge and the inside on obvious passing downs. He is a very powerful tackler with a great wrap-up. Bosa’s strength allows him bring down big backs and big quarterbacks with relative ease. That’s important in a division with a 6-foot-5, 245-pound quarterback like Carolina’s Cam Newton.
Bosa is also a force against the run. He’s incredible at the point of attack in the run game, shedding blocks with great hands and power that comes from perfect pad level and strength in his lower body.
There is no doubt that a speed rusher like Spence would be an asset to a team like Tampa Bay that needs more talent at the defensive end position and needs a more consistent pass rush. But don’t fret if Spence is taken before the Bucs are on the clock with the ninth overall pick. It could mean that Bosa is still available, and he would be a steal for Tampa Bay.
FAB 2. BUCS EMBRACING CHANGE ON DEFENSE
Outside of an occasional blitz by linebackers Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David, who combined for five sacks, the Buccaneers defense was rather predictable last year. The only thing that wasn’t predictable was which cornerbacks that Lovie Smith would start as the position was a ridiculous carousel, spinning out a new combination of players virtually every week for 16 weeks.
The Bucs defense was known as the Tampa 2, but that didn’t mean that Tampa Bay played Cover 2 all the time. In fact, the Bucs played more man coverage last year, in addition to Cover 3. But the Bucs’ front seven was rather predictable with Smith always deploying a 4-3 scheme and dropping the linebackers into coverage more than blitzing them. The ends and tackles would do some occasional stunting, but there was plenty of straight ahead rushing in the single-gap defense, too.
As a result, opposing quarterbacks completed exactly 70 percent of their passes for 4,072 yards with 31 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions against the Bucs defense last year. The Tampa 2 scheme made rookie quarterbacks look like veterans, and journeymen QBs look like Hall of Famers as the defense was routinely carved up due to a lack of consistent pressure up front and shoddy pass coverage in the secondary.
Tampa Bay did cobble together 38 sacks last year, which was the most since recording 43 in the Bucs’ Super Bowl season in 2002. But the pressure was sporadic, and the team did not have a double-digit sacker for the 10th straight season since legendary pass rusher Simeon Rice recorded 14 in 2005.
Smith inexplicably took over the defensive play-calling duties from defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier last offseason despite Tampa Bay’s defense showing improvement down the stretch in 2014. That move would prove to be fatal for the former Bucs head coach, as his own defense would be his undoing and ultimately lead to his firing three days after the 2015 season concluded.
When offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter replaced Smith as head coach, he hired his good friend and colleague Mike Smith to take over as defensive coordinator. Smith, who had great success as Jacksonville’s coordinator (2003-07) before becoming Atlanta’s head coach in 2008, will use the 4-3 scheme as the Bucs’ base defense, but will run multiple looks on third downs and obvious passing downs. That means the Bucs will be dabbling in some of the 3-4 defense.
“In this day and age, because most teams are going to attack you with their quarterback, you’ve got to give the quarterback some different looks,” Koetter told Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times this week in Indianapolis. “And anything I’m saying now is not a knock against what we did in the past because I wasn’t involved in that anyway, so I didn’t even really know. I think you have to be able to give the quarterback different looks and you’ve got to have everybody on the same page, whether you’re on offense or defense you have to have everybody on the same page. Your front has to be equally connected with your back end. So that’s what multiplicity is. It’s giving the quarterback different looks, affecting the quarterback in different ways and not enabling them to necessarily know what you’re going to be in every play. And again, is that in no way a knock, because I didn’t even know what we did. I know what it was categorized as [the Tampa 2], but that gets overblown.”
Koetter went to great lengths to not throw Lovie Smith and the Tampa 2 under the bus when speaking to reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine, but the fact that they are moving away from that predictable scheme speaks volumes.
A former Bucs coach told PewterReport.com in 2014 when Smith became head coach, “You can’t just run Tampa 2 in this league – not anymore. You have to mix it up to avoid being predictable.”
There is a reason why former Bucs disciples Mike Tomlin, who is the head coach in Pittsburgh, and Joe Barry, who is the defensive coordinator in Washington, run the 3-4 defense. There is also a reason why Denver used that 3-4 defense to stymie the league’s MVP, Cam Newton, and hold Carolina to just 10 points in the Broncos’ triumph in Super Bowl 50.
“We’ll be different some,” Koetter said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “As you know, we hired Mike Smith as our defensive coordinator. Smitty and I have a long history together – we were both at Jacksonville and Atlanta – and we have put together a terrific defensive staff. I think we will be a multiple team on defense. I think that’s one of the toughest things for an offense to go against so that’s what we’ll try to do on defense.”
Tampa Bay nose tackle Akeem Spence went by One Buccaneer Place to meet Smith and inquire about the new Buccaneers defense.
“My conversations with him were very brief, but the research I’ve done on him is that he likes to give multiple looks on defense,” Spence said. “Sometimes it’s a 4-3 and sometimes it’s a 3-4. He likes to change it up and add a little flavor to it. I’m very excited about that.”
Fellow nose tackle and team captain Clinton McDonald signed with Tampa Bay in 2014 after playing in Seattle, winning a Super Bowl with the Seahawks. McDonald played in multiple defensive scheme under head coach Pete Carroll and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, who is now the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“In the NFL there are lots of changes,” McDonald said. “I’ve played in both schemes. In Seattle we played a 3-4 Under with the Sam linebacker down on the line to make it look like a Bear front. I’ve also played in Tampa and Seattle in a true 4-3 and get up the field and disrupt.
“I feel that with the wisdom of Mike Smith and the wisdom of Dirk Koetter they have their scheme for a reason. We as players have to adjust.”
Smith has said that the Bucs will primarily be in a 4-3 scheme in base defense, but on third and long situations and on obvious passing downs Smith will mix up the looks he gives opposing quarterbacks, using a 3-4 look as well as a 4-3 front with a myriad of blitzes out of both schemes.
There were several Bucs defenders that believed the Tampa 2 defense, which relied on all 11 defenders playing perfect, precise technique and being in perfect synchronicity on every play in order to work, was outdated and predicted. Those players, including Spence, are excited that Tampa Bay is catching up with the times and moving to a more modern, multiple scheme.
“The Tampa 2 defense, it’s a tough defense to play in,” Spence said. “They had success in that defense with Simeon Rice, Warren Sapp and those guys. But it depends on all 11 guys doing their job perfectly at the same time, all the time – down in and down out. This is the NFL, and that’s hard to do. Guys are going to make mistakes. It was predictable. It’s time for a change, and change is rarely a bad thing.”
FAB 3. WHICH BUCS DEFENDERS FIT IN A 3-4 DEFENSIVE SCHEME?
Just because Tampa Bay will be deploying a 3-4 scheme on passing downs and third-and-long situations, don’t look for the Bucs to start drafting extra linebackers.
The ideal thing to do would be to use a 4-3 defensive end like Jacquies Smith or Howard Jones in a stand-up, outside linebacker role rushing off the edge opposite Bruce Carter or Lavonte David and with the other linebacker moving inside next to Kwon Alexander. That weakside defensive end/outside linebacker position is also known as the “Buck,” “Elephant” or “Leo.”
The Bucs will likely draft a defensive end – possibly Eastern Kentucky’s Noah Spence – that can rush from a three-point and two-point stance in this year’s draft to give the team another possibility at the Leo position.
So what about the nose tackle position? The Bucs don’t have a massive, 350-pounder who can line up over the center in a 3-4 scheme and draw a double team.
Defensive coordinator Mike Smith likely won’t be deploying a 3-4 Under scheme in second-and-short situations or other obvious running downs. Instead, he’ll use it on passing downs, and a player like Akeem Spence is certainly strong enough to push the pocket from the middle – even if he’s about 40 pounds lighter than the likes of legendary nose tackles, such as Tony Sirgusa, Ted Washington and Vince Wilfork.
The three primary fronts I think you’ll see from Smith are the 4-3 Under scheme, which former Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and head coach Tony Dungy brought to Tampa Bay and used in 1996 and 1997, the 4-3 Over scheme and the 3-4 Under scheme. Seattle uses all three fronts with great regularity and success.
The 4-3 Under scheme featured a five-man line consisting of bringing the Sam linebacker down to the line to line up outside of the tight end. The Will linebacker and under tackle playing the three-technique tackle were lined up together away from the tight end.
There is also a 4-3 Under scheme variant in which the Will linebacker and Sam linebacker swap positions to create matchup problems and confuse quarterbacks and offensive linemen.
The 4-3 Over front, which Kiffin switched to after the 1997 season and used with greater regularity, saw the Sam linebacker move off the line of scrimmage back to the linebacker level. The weakside linebacker remained on the weak side, but the three-technique tackle moved to the strong side and played the outside shoulder of the guard on the tight end side.
The 3-4 Under front features a nose tackle lined head up over the center with two defensive ends (one is usually manned by the three-technique defensive tackle) lined head up over the offensive tackles. The Leo position is typically in a two-point stance lined up opposite the Will linebacker. This is the scheme that Denver regularly used with Von Miller (Will) and DeMarcus Ware (Leo) to beat Cam Newton and the Panthers in Super Bowl 50.
The big question is whether the Bucs have the personnel to pull off all of these multiple looks. PewterReport.com has evaluated the ends, tackles and linebackers on Tampa Bay’s current roster and offers its analysis as to how many Bucs defenders are ideal or good fits in the new schemes.
BUCS DEFENSIVE ENDS DE Will Gholston – 6-6, 281 – Ideal fit
Gholston enters his contract year coming off his best season with 67 tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble. Perhaps the most versatile defensive lineman in Tampa Bay, Gholston is capable of playing defensive tackle or end in a 4-3 and has ideal size to play the 5-techique defensive end in a 3-4 scheme. Smith loves big defensive linemen and Gholston is a physical specimen. He’s an ideal fit for what Smith wants to do, so expect Gholston to fit heavy into the rotation because of his versatility.
DE Jacquies Smith – 6-2, 260 – Ideal fit
Tampa Bay’s most productive pass rusher not named Gerald McCoy, Smith has recorded 13.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries in his two years with the Bucs. Injuries cost him four games and parts of two others, but Smith, who was the team’s starting right end, still had 22 tackles, seven sacks, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries and a touchdown. Smith, who is an exclusive rights free agent and will receive a tender offer from the team, can play defensive end in a 4-3 and also projects as a rush linebacker (Leo) off the edge in a 3-4 scheme.
DE Howard Jones – 6-4, 248 – Good fit
Jones had 14 tackles, five sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery for a touchdown during his rookie year. Jones is a one-dimensional player and is likely a situational pass rusher in Smith’s scheme, either as a weakside 4-3 defensive end or as a 3-4 outside linebacker (Leo) in pass-rushing situations.
DE Kourtnei Brown – 6-4, 253 – Good fit
Brown played outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme in Houston before coming to Tampa Bay and exceled in the preseason where he recorded multiple sacks as a pass rusher, and also had a pick-six dropping into coverage as a linebacker. Brown’s size, speed, range and experience in the 3-4 make him a training camp wild card and could give him an edge when it comes to securing a roster spot in August.
DE Cliff Matthews – 6-4, 268 – Possible fit
Matthews, a newcomer who spent the last four years in Atlanta as a reserve, only has 28 career tackles. He came from South Carolina, which ran both a 3-4 and a 4-3 scheme during his time with the Gamecocks, which gives him experience playing in a multiple defensive front. Matthews’ experience with Smith helps his cause, but his lack of production, especially rushing the passer, creates questions.
DE Olatunji Fatinikun – 6-2, 250 – Possible fit
Fatinikun is coming off a torn ACL, but used his time on injured reserve to hit the weight room and get stronger, especially in the upper body. Fatinikun is an undersized speed rusher who is like a situational pass rusher as a 4-3 defensive end or as a 3-4 rush linebacker coming off the edge. When healthy, Fatinikun is among the fastest defensive linemen, but do the Bucs have the same player in Jones?
DE George Johnson – 6-4, 265 – Not a good fit
Johnson was a bust last year in Tampa Bay as he lost his starting job halfway through the year and didn’t notch a sack. Johnson did record 23 tackles, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery, but is limited to just playing defensive end in a 4-3 scheme and he’s not a quick-twitch athlete. His lack of versatility, lack of pass rush ability and his salary ($2 million) don’t help his chances with the Bucs this year.
DE Martin Ifedi – 6-3, 275 – Not a good fit
Ifedi, who was on the Bucs’ practice squad last year, set the Memphis school record with 22.5 career sacks, but is not a quick-twitch athlete. He’s a high-motor player that has experience in both a 4-3 and a 3-4 scheme in college, but doesn’t have the size to play a 3-4 defensive end in the NFL, nor does he have the speed to play outside linebacker as the Leo. He’s likely pigeonholed as a 4-3 defensive end, which doesn’t help his chances of staying in Tampa Bay.
DE Jermauria Rasco – 6-3, 252 – Not a good fit
Rasco, a first-year player, played with Alexander at LSU and was a marginal pass rusher despite having a good burst off the edge. Rasco wasn’t invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, which speaks to his lack of elite athleticism and likely hurts his chances of becoming a 3-4 stand-up rush linebacker. Rasco is better suited as a 4-3 defensive end, which limits his versatility.
Larry English has some experience playing outside linebacker for years in San Diego in a 3-4 scheme, but he is an unrestricted free agent and will not be re-signed.
BUCS DEFENSIVE TACKLES DT Gerald McCoy – 6-4, 300 – Ideal fit
At 6-foot-4, 300 pounds, McCoy has the size and strength to play the three-technique in a 4-3 scheme, a position that has made him a three-time Pro Bowler, or a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme. Playing in both schemes would allow Smith the opportunity to seek the best match-up for McCoy, which could be either guard in a 4-3 or either tackle in a 3-4 defense.
DT Akeem Spence – 6-1, 307 – Ideal fit
Spence has developed into a starting-caliber nose tackle in his three years with the Bucs. He enters a contract season coming off a year in which an offseason back injury and a sprained ankle limited him to 11 tackles and one sack. But Spence had 39 tackles and three sacks in 2014 in which he played in all 16 games. Spence is one of the strongest players on the team and can hold up well against double teams as a one-technique tackle in a 4-3 or a pure nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme despite his lack of size at 307 pounds.
DT Clinton McDonald – 6-2, 297 – Good fit
McDonald, who is coming off a torn pectoral, plays well against the run as a 4-3 nose tackle, but is undersized to play defensive end or nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme. McDonald is valued for his work ethic and leadership ability as much as his on-field talent, so he has value as a one-dimensional nose tackle, but will be in for a training camp fight with Spence for the right to start next to McCoy in Smith’s 4-3 defensive front. McDonald played in a multiple type defense in Seattle, so he’s familiar with playing in different fronts.
DT Derrick Lott – 6-4, 314 – Good fit
Lott is an intriguing defensive tackle with the size to play nose tackle in a 4-3 or defensive end in a 3-4. Lott also has the quickness to get a look at the three-technique defensive tackle position as a possible back up behind McCoy. At 314 pounds he’s the heaviest defensive tackle on the roster and still has good movement. Lott’s size might help him earn a roster spot if he can show he can make plays.
DT Davon Coleman – 6-2, 295 – Possible fit
Coleman, a newcomer, is an undersized three-technique candidate that spent two years in Dallas and limited time with Chicago last year. His size likely limits him to just the three-technique position, which could hinder his chances of sticking in training camp, especially if the Bucs truly want to give teams multiple looks where they will play both a 4-3 and a 3-4 front.
DT Da’Quan Bowers – 6-4, 288 – Not a good fit
Bowers, a former second-round pick in 2011, is on his fourth head coach in Tampa Bay and he’s been washed out of the Bucs organization a couple of times already because he doesn’t love football and can’t get in ideal playing shape. Bowers has just seven sacks in five years with the Bucs. While his size allows him the chance to play defensive tackle in a 4-3 or defensive end in a 3-4, his lack of effort and production will hold him back from making a favorable impression on the new defensive coaches unless his attitude does a 180-degree turn.
Defensive tackles Henry Melton and Tony McDaniel are unrestricted free agents and are not expected to be re-signed.
BUCS LINEBACKERS LB Lavonte David – 6-1, 233 – Ideal fit
David finally achieved Pro Bowl status in 2015 and had a strong finish to his fourth year in the league with 143 tackles, three sacks, three interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. David is a solid blitzer, evidenced by 13 career sacks, including seven in 2013, but seems better rushing up the middle than off the edge. Given his speed, agility and athleticism, David could play inside or outside in a 3-4 scheme, which could give opposing offenses different looks, in addition to his familiar weakside spot in Tampa Bay’s 4-3 front.
LB Kwon Alexander – 6-1, 227 – Ideal fit
Alexander showed great promise as an all-around middle linebacker – one that can stuff the run, drop in coverage and blitz effectively using his blazing speed and explosiveness. Alexander recorded 93 tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions in the first 12 games of his rookie season before serving a four-game suspension for using a performance-enhancing drug found in an energy drink he consumed. Whether it’s a 4-3 or a 3-4 front, this future Pro Bowler has the football I.Q. and athletic ability to excel.
LB Bruce Carter – 6-2, 240 – Ideal fit
Carter has experience playing all three linebacker positions – Sam, Will and Mike – in Dallas, and served as the backup middle linebacker last year, getting four starts when Alexander missed the month of December with his suspension. Although he’s a bit pricey at $4.25 million, the Bucs see good value because he’s versatile and he’s played in a 3-4 scheme before with the Cowboys. Carter, who had 47 tackles and two sacks, may take over as Tampa Bay’s Sam linebacker for Danny Lansanah this year as Lansanah will be a restricted free agent and may not receive a tender offer.
LB Jeremiah George – 5-11, 234 – Possible fit
George was a stalwart on special teams for the Bucs last year and recorded seven tackles on defense. He’s a young, developmental linebacker from Clearwater that has the ability to learn all three linebacker positions. He could eventually be Alexander’s primary backup at the Mike spot.
LB Adarius Glanton – 6-1, 230 – Possible fit
Glanton, who came to Tampa Bay via Carolina, is a fast, athletic player that fits the Bucs’ mold at linebacker. At Florida Atlantic he recorded 3.5 sacks his final two years of college, in addition to two interceptions, including a pick-six. He must stand out on special teams and show versatility to have a shot at the 53-man roster.
LB Josh Keyes – 6-2, 223 – Possible fit
Keyes is a well-rounded linebacker that is back for his second offseason with the Buccaneers. Keyes notched 7.5 sacks in his final two years at Boston College, so he has some experience rushing the passer as well as dropping into pass coverage. He excels on special teams and has a chance to win a reserve linebacker role, especially if Lansanah doesn’t return.
LB Darius Eubanks – 6-2, 222 – Not a good fit
Eubanks is a blazing fast (4.48) outside linebacker with a thin build and not much experience rushing the passer in college or at the NFL level. He seems pigeonholed as a 4-3 weakside linebacker and will have to excel on special teams to make the 53-man roster.
Lansanah, 30, is a restricted free agent that may not receive a tender after failing to make many splash plays as the Bucs’ strongside linebacker in 2015. Lansanah had three interceptions in 2014, including a pair of pick-sixes.
FAB 4. SMITH MIGHT BE THE BUCS’ BEST PASS-RUSHING FIT IN FREE AGENCY
Understand that when it comes to free agency, Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht hates it – and with good reason.
The Bucs have found as many as eight possible starters in the draft over the past two years in franchise quarterback Jameis Winston, wide receiver Mike Evans, running back Charles Sims, tight end Austin-Seferian Jenkins, offensive linemen Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet and Kevin Pamphile and middle linebacker Kwon Alexander. Free agency hasn’t been nearly as kind or successful.
The Bucs’ top three free agent signings in 2014 when Licht came aboard with head coach Lovie Smith – quarterback Josh McCown, defensive end Michael Johnson and left tackle Anthony Collins – were all overpaid busts that flamed out after one year in Tampa Bay. Cornerback Alterraun Verner remains on the roster, but hasn’t lived up to his hefty price tag yet.
Last year, Licht signed linebacker Bruce Carter to a rich, three-year deal, only to see him lose his starting job to Alexander, a rookie. Licht also swung and missed on three defensive ends in free agency in Trent Cole, Derrick Morgan and Greg Hardy, and had to settle for trading for George Johnson, who turned out to be another overpaid bust – although not as overpaid as Michael Johnson was.
So you’ll have to excuse Licht and the Bucs front office for wanting to skim through free agency and focus on what has proven to work, which is building through the draft.
Four out of the five Buccaneers Pro Bowlers – Winston, running back Doug Martin, linebacker Lavonte David and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy – were all Tampa Bay draft picks. And with Winston, Smith, Marpet, Alexander, Sims, Evans and Seferian-Jenkins all on cheap rookie contracts, building through the draft represents great value.
That’s not to say that the Bucs won’t be active in free agency. Re-signing Martin remains the priority this offseason. And finding less expensive, value free agents like defensive tackle Clinton McDonald in 2014 and free safety Chris Conte in 2015.
There will be some Bucs fans that will clamor for the team to target Miami defensive end Olivier Vernon in free agency. The 6-foot-2, 275-pound pass rusher had a career year in 2013 with 11.5 sacks. Over the past two seasons, Vernon has recorded 14 sacks, including 7.5 last year, and two forced fumbles.
Vernon is expected to cash in during free agency and command top dollar as one of the premier 4-3 defensive ends on the market, fetching between $9-$10 million per season. Don’t expect Licht and the Bucs to be interested, despite defensive end being a big need.