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. INSIDE BUCCANEERS 2016 FREE AGENCY
We tried to warn you, Buccaneers fans.
Not just PewterReport.com, but Greg Auman and Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times and Roy Cummings of the Tampa Tribune. All of the primary Bucs beat writers were pretty much in unison, suggesting that general manager Jason Licht would tread lightly in free agency and patiently wait for the market to settle before signing more than just a couple of players. Licht and director of football administration Mike Greenberg are looking for value and aren’t interested in overpaying for mediocre talent.
There would be no mega-signings of players to deals worth $10 million or more. And that’s exactly what happened.
Remember, in my SR’s Fab 5 from February 26 I wrote: “Understand that when it comes to free agency, Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht hates it – and with good reason.”
I listed the free agent busts the Bucs had in 2014, and should throw in Bruce Carter from last year, while highlighting Licht’s success with the draft. That’s the route the Bucs want to continue to go down in building their roster.
Unlike their big spenders to the north in Jacksonville, Tampa Bay added just three unrestricted free agents on the first day of free agency, re-signing reserve safety and special teams ace Keith Tandy to a modest two-year contract worth $1.85 million and of course keeping running back Doug Martin, the league’s second-leading rusher in 2015, with a five-year, $35.75 million contract that was slightly more than the Bucs wanted to pay. Martin’s deal features $15 million in guaranteed money.
The new addition in free agency wasn’t a pass rushing defensive end or a cover corner, but rather Seattle guard J.R. Sweezy, who was signed to a five-year deal worth $32.5 million and features $14.5 million in guaranteed money. I’ll have more on Sweezy in Fab 2.
Panthers DE Charles Johnson – Photo by: Getty Images
If Licht has one area where he has failed as a general manager it has been landing a veteran defensive end after watching Michael Johnson flop in 2014. Last year, Licht swung and missed on Trent Cole, Derrick Morgan, Aldon Smith and Greg Hardy last year, in addition to Charles Johnson this year.
But it wasn’t for a lack of effort.
Cole wanted to go to a playoff team in Indianapolis. The Bucs, coming off a 2-14 record in 2014, couldn’t compete with that.
Morgan used the Bucs for leverage to get more money from Tennessee. That always happens around the league in free agency.
Smith wanted to stay on the West Coast because that’s where his son is and went from San Francisco to Oakland. Geography hurt the Bucs more than anything.
Hardy leveraged Tampa Bay for more money from Dallas, and when the Bucs found out that was what he was doing Licht bowed out of the bidding, which was neck-and-neck with the Cowboys at the time. Hardy always wanted to be a Cowboy, too.
As for Johnson, the Bucs offered way more than he took when he re-signed with Carolina on a one-year, $3 million deal. Johnson said his heart was with the Panthers organization where he had spent the first nine years of his career.
The Bucs also hosted New York Giants defensive end Robert Ayers on Thursday, but he left without a contract and is slated to visit with Jacksonville and then Miami. We’ll see what happens, but I’m not a big fan of Ayers, as I wrote about in my SR’s Fab 5 column from February 26.
I also wrote about Tampa Bay not being interested in Miami pass rusher Olivier Vernon in that same edition of SR’s Fab 5, warning fans that the Bucs would pass on him:
“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.”
That’s exactly what happened. They didn’t even sniff around Vernon because they knew he would cash in on a mega deal – and they believe he’s not much better than their own exclusive rights free agent Jacquies Smith, who I also wrote about two weeks ago:
Bucs DE Jacquies Smith – Photo by: Cliff Welch
“Yet the best value the Bucs will get in free agency is re-signing exclusive rights free agent Jacquies Smith. Because he has only played two years in the league, he can only negotiate with Tampa Bay. In his two years in Tampa Bay, Smith has recorded 13.5 sacks, including seven last year, along with four forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries and a defensive touchdown. That production is slightly better than [Tamba] Hali’s and on par with that of Vernon and Ayers – despite missing a combined 10 games during that span. Why would Licht go out and spend tens of millions of dollars on a player that may only be slightly better than Smith, a player that would be significantly cheaper?”
It’s important to reiterate that the Bucs feel like Smith – when healthy – is one of the league’s better pass rushers and the stats do reflect that. There’s no doubt Licht will add another pass rushing end – either in the draft or free agency, or both – likely to replace George Johnson, who is not a lock to make the 53-man roster and might not make it to training camp depending on how many defensive ends the Bucs acquire between now and July.
You may not feel as strongly as Tampa Bay does about Smith, but I’m telling you that’s why the Bucs were not terribly active in free agency in looking for a defensive end, passing on the likes of Vernon, Mario Williams, Jason Pierre-Paul, etc.
With the addition of Sweezy and the re-signing of Martin, the Bucs could be done in free agency for the time being on the offensive side of the ball outside of perhaps finding a fullback considering Tampa Bay didn’t offer Jorvorskie Lane a new contract. The Bucs like their receiving corps and their crop of tight ends and seem relatively set along the offensive line.
Tampa Bay brought in linebacker Tahir Whitehead for a visit, but he elected to re-sign with Detroit. In addition to checking out available help at defensive end and in the secondary, the Bucs will continue to investigate available linebackers to replace Carter and Danny Lanasanah, who was not tendered an offer as a restricted free agent, on the strong side. I’ll have more on the Sam linebacker spot in Fab 4.
The Bucs have approximately $53 million in salary cap space, which ranks third in the league, but will likely be saving a lot of that room for next year’s crop of free agents. Any deals struck in 2016 will take up cap room in future years, too. This is a big aspect of free agency that fans often forget about.
Buccaneers’ 2017 Unrestricted Free Agents SS Bradley McDougald CB Johnthan Banks C Joe Hawley DE Will Gholston DT Akeem Spence RT Demar Dotson RT Gosder Cherilus QB Mike Glennon WR Vincent Jackson K Connor Barth TE Brandon Myers SS Major Wright WR Russell Shepard RB Mike James
Bucs SS Bradley McDougald – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
If you want to know why Tampa Bay hasn’t used most of its available cap room, that’s why. Wright, James and Barth aren’t locks to make the 53-man roster this year, and it’s hard to believe that Jackson, who will be 34 next year, Cherilus, who will be 32, and Myers, who will be 31, will get another contract from Tampa Bay in 2017. Glennon will likely pursue a starting job elsewhere in the league, and Dotson, who will be 31 next year, might not return, either.
McDougald, Banks, Hawley, Gholston and Spence could command some serious money if they have a big year in 2016, and the Bucs will need some cap room for Smith and tight end Cameron Brate – both of whom will be restricted free agents and could command high tenders in 2017.
Free agency isn’t over for the Bucs, but don’t expect any big splashes outside of perhaps signing Ayers if you consider that to be a big signing – and if Tampa Bay signs him. Remember that Hawley, Cherilus and defensive tackle Tony McDaniel were all signed during or after training camp.
The Bucs will continue to look for value in free agency, but that’s not the way Licht or head coach Dirk Koetter wants this team constructed. Most of the Bucs’ attention now shifts to the NFL Draft.
FAB 2. SWEEZY AN ENFORCER ON BUCS’ YOUNG OFFENSIVE LINE
The minute Tampa Bay signed Seattle free agent guard J.R. Sweezy Buccaneers fans took to Twitter to find out more about the player that would replace Pro Bowler Logan Mankins. What they found – if they follow the analytics-driven Pro Football Focus site’s Twitter feed – was a torrent of critiques about Sweezy’s game.
Pro Football Focus had Sweezy, who signed a four-year, $32.5-million deal with $14.5 million in guaranteed money, rated as the 69th best guard out of 82 guards last year. He graded out 64th in pass protection in their grading system, and 52nd in run blocking with the Seahawks in 2015. The site also said that Sweezy has allowed the ninth most pressures from the guard position over the last four years.
It was also brought up by PFF that Sweezy commits too many penalties. It’s true that Sweezy had a career-high 10 penalties last year (4 holding, 3 false starts 3 unnecessary roughness) after having just six in 2014 (5 false starts, 1 holding) and six infractions in 2013 (3 false starts, 1 holding, 1 illegal use of hands, 1 ineligible downfield).
Bucs LG J.R. Sweezy – Photo by: Getty Images
While Bucs offensive line coach George Warhop will think 10 is too many, especially with Tampa Bay being the most penalized team in the league last year, that number is in line with what the Bucs offensive linemen had. Right tackle Gosder Cherilus led the team with 11 infractions. The offensive lineman with the next highest amount was rookie left tackle Donovan Smith who had nine, followed by Mankins with eight and rookie right guard Ali Marpet with seven and center Joe Hawley with four.
But there is a lot to like about Sweezy’s game and several reasons why general manager Jason Licht was justified in signing this promising, young, 26-year old guard. First of all, don’t pay much attention to the Pro Football Focus rankings. The Bucs certainly don’t, nor do other teams like the New England Patriots.
Former Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik, who is now an NFL analyst for ESPN, says that analysis from websites like PFF have to be taken with a grain of salt.
“You are trying to evaluate a guard on tape, and you don’t even know what the play is or if they got the right line call coming down the line,” Dominik said. “The center might have told him the wrong thing and then the guy looks bad. Guards are extremely hard to evaluate on tape.”
What is clear from the tape is Sweezy’s toughness, especially in the run game. Free agent defensive end Chris Long called him an “enforcer” on his Twitter feed shortly after Sweezy signed with Tampa Bay.
“I think he’s very good. And he’s an enforcer type dude. Will do well there,” Long tweeted.
Seattle offensive line coach Tom Cable pointed out Sweezy’s strengths and offered some interesting insight on video to fans at Seahawks Town Hall event. The 6-foot-5, 300-pound Sweezy, Seattle’s seventh-round pick out of North Carolina State in 2012, played with Bucs backup quarterback Mike Glennon in college, but was a defensive end in college before moving to the offensive side of the ball in the NFL.
“At the very core of what Coach [Pete Carroll] wants this program to be about and what we all believe, I think J.R. is going to demonstrate that for you here – it’s all about your effort and your enthusiasm and how hard you can play and how smart you can play and then the finish,” Cable said. “What’s cool about J.R. is that he has that unique skill set we talk about. He’s sudden, he’s quick, he’s powerful, he’s smart and he has a tremendous amount of finish to him.
“I think he’s one of the very, very fine guards in pro football. This is who he is every day, so if you have to practice against him every day it’s not a lot of fun. … One of the real special offensive linemen in pro football.”
Cable also compared Sweezy, who has played in 59 career games with 49 starts, to Seattle legend and future Pro Football Hall of Fame guard Steve Hutchinson.
“You think about how really, really gifted Steve was playing guard, and now you have a guy like J.R. who is just as physical and just about as damn ornery as Steve is, too,” Cable said. “
The Bucs beat out nine other teams for Sweezy’s services and they have their own comparisons. They compare Sweezy, who is a mauler in the run game, to a less experienced Mankins due to the fact that he’s such a finisher.
“We identified J.R. early on as one of our top targets in free agency,” Licht said. “He has all of the attributes we look for in an offensive lineman – tough, physical, smart, athletic – and he is a winner. We are excited to have him on board with us.”
Sweezy is still a work in progress because he has only played guard for four years. He needs to continue to work on his pass protection, which isn’t as far along as his run blocking. But the Bucs love his aggressive attitude and the way he finishes plays, which is in the same vein as Mankins and second-year right guard Ali Marpet.
Bucs LG J.R. Sweezy – Photo by: Getty Images
“That’s who I am,” Sweezy said. “That’s who I am as a player: I’m going to play whistle to whistle. The high-effort thing, that’s just me playing ball and doing everything I can to block an extra second, to make a hole a little bigger, to make an opportunity for someone to gain an extra yard. I’m going to go hit a pile when they’re standing up, just to gain those extra yards. Those are just the things I do, the things I believe in and the way I believe the game should be played. I will continue to play like that my entire career.
“I love run blocking. That’s what I live for. I take a lot of pride in it and I want to run the football; that’s what I’m about.”
Sweezy does not believe the transition from right guard to left guard will be problematic. Sweezy replacing Mankins on the left side allows Marpet to continue to grow and develop on the right side.
Had the Bucs not landed Sweezy in free agency, and they knew the competition was going to be fierce, the plan was to insert third-year lineman Kevin Pamphile in as Mankins’ replacement, as PewterReport.com had reported before. The addition of Sweezy allows Pamphile to stay in his role as a swing tackle and run-blocking tight end and creates tremendous flexibility for Tampa Bay in the upcoming draft. The team can focus on adding talent to the defensive side of the ball without having to spend a pick on the offensive line.
The Bucs see Pamphile as incredibly valuable because the team does not have to draft a guard this year to replace Mankins on the roster, nor does Tampa Bay have to draft offensive tackle to replace Pamphile or a run-blocking tight end, a role that Pamphile has played the last two years.
Pamphile’s value is his versatility as he can back up Sweezy and Marpet at guard, in addition to being Tampa Bay’s swing tackle. Pamphile, who saw some action at right tackle as a rookie, could even be the team’s long-term answer there after 2016 when the contracts for the 30-year old Demar Dotson and 31-year old Gosder Cherilus expire. Or Pamphile could eventually be developed as the Bucs’ long-term answer at left tackle where he started at Purdue for two years if Tampa Bay wanted to move Donovan Smith to right tackle.
Not only did signing Sweezy pay dividends on the field in finding a valuable, enforced in the run game for running back Doug Martin and Charles Sims, but also aided the Buccaneers’ front office in shaping the offensive line roster for the upcoming season and beyond.
FAB 3. LICHT FINISHING WHAT DOMINIK STARTED There are a good deal of Bucs fans that remember former Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik as the G.M. that released linebacker Derrick Brooks, running back Warrick Dunn and wide receiver Joey Galloway. And the guy who re-signed and overpaid wide receiver Michael Clayton, signed some free agent busts in cornerback Eric Wright and running back Derek Ward, drafted some underachievers in quarterback Josh Freeman, receivers Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams, defensive linemen Adrian Clayborn, Da’Quan Bowers and Brian Price, and of course, blew it by selecting strong safety Mark Barron instead of middle linebacker Luke Kuechly in the first round of 2012 NFL Draft.
Former Bucs GM Mark Dominik – Photo courtesy of the Buccaneers
Most Bucs fans fail to remember Dominik as the one who re-signed cornerback Ronde Barber, left tackle Donald Penn and right guard Davin Joseph to their contract extensions, discovered right tackle Demar Dotson, lured wide receiver Vincent Jackson to Tampa Bay and traded for Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis.
Dominik also deserves credit for drafting three Pro Bowl cornerstones of the current Buccaneers team in defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, running back Doug Martin and linebacker Lavonte David.
Instead of remembering the 2012 draft as the draft the Bucs could have had Kuechly, Bucs fans would be better off recalling the 2012 draft as the draft Tampa Bay landed Martin and David, in addition to valuable reserve safety and special teams player Keith Tandy. It’s time to give Dominik, who still lives in Tampa and covers the NFL for ESPN, his due for some fine draft picks in his final years at One Buccaneer Place.
Current Bucs general manager Jason Licht is finishing what Dominik started, and deserves credit for signing McCoy, David and Martin to contract extensions and keeping those Pro Bowlers in Tampa Bay. Although he didn’t mention Dominik by name, Licht gave a hat tip to his predecessor in the press conference to discuss Martin’s extension on Wednesday.
“He’s a special, special guy and he’s now in an elite category of running backs that make it to their second contract,” Licht said. “We’re very excited for Doug and being able to reward one of our own. It was a great draft pick – it was a great draft pick by this organization.”
Dominik and Licht have a great working relationship and there is a good deal of mutual admiration between the two. Dominik has always been a class act, and harbors no ill will towards the organization that he spent nearly two decades serving. He continues to root for the Bucs players and the organization.
“I’m happy for those players,” Dominik said. “I was with the organization for 19 years and I still follow the Bucs every day. I’m always excited for their success and I was very happy for Doug Martin to be able to keep his career going in Tampa. The Doug Martin I saw in year four was the same Doug Martin we saw as a rookie – the explosion, the power, the balance and the ability to make you miss.
“Lavonte David has been a stellar football player that hasn’t quite had the accolades I think he’s deserved. Certainly, Gerald has been a great player and a great leader and it’s been fun to watch him grown into the player he’s become.”
Former Bucs GM Mark Dominik – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Dominik said the key to Tampa Bay’s long-term success is drafting and developing talent and then re-signing those worthy Buccaneers to second contracts. Dominik saw that the rise of the Bucs in the late 1990s was attributed to Pro Bowlers like defensive tackle Warren Sapp, linebacker Derrick Brooks, fullback Mike Alstott and strong safety John Lynch getting contract extensions. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough of that under the Bruce Allen regime nor was there enough under Dominik’s time at the helm of the franchise from 2009-13.
Yet thanks to Dominik’s drafting of McCoy, Martin and David, and the success of Licht and director of football administration Mike Greenberg in re-signing those players to contract extensions, the fortunes of Tampa Bay’s franchise are turning around.
“Getting the quarterback position solved is the most important piece of the puzzle, and Jason got that done with Jameis [Winston],” Dominik said. “When you look what Jason has been able to do in the last two drafts and I’m sure what he’ll do in the coming draft, there are some guys that you can already see are going to be second contract-type of players. That’s the ideal situation. It’s where you are spending the most free agent money on your own free agents. That’s when you know you are in a good spot.”
Dominik was quite pleased to see the Bucs increase their win total by four games over the past season and the team put five players in the Pro Bowl – even if they weren’t on the first ballot.
“It’s a big key indicator that it’s turning around in Tampa Bay, and the good news is that out of the five that made it to the Pro Bowl, four of them have a shot of making back again next year,” Dominik said. “If the team continues to go in the direction it’s heading they will. Then you have to add more players that continue to become nationally recognized and have your players step up their game.
“Kwon Alexander had a fantastic year. Ali Marpet did, too. That’s two really good picks by Jason Licht outside of Jameis that also have the chance to shine at the national level as long as the team continues to improve its win total.”
Bucs RB Doug Martin – Photo by: Getty Images
Dominik hopes that the on-field success of players he helped draft like McCoy, Martin, David and even Barron will help him get a second chance at running an NFL franchise, or at least being a vice president of personnel. But more importantly, Dominik is hoping that the on-field success of the Bucs’ Pro Bowlers lead to more wins and a return to the playoffs for his former team.
“There are a lot of good things happening in Tampa,” Dominik said. “It’s fun to watch the football team grow and succeed. I’m happy for the players. They are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Whether it is Gerald, Lavonte or Doug – I’m happy for the players. They are not my players. They are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ players. I’m glad they have played to a level where they have been rewarded with new contracts.”
The final draft that Dominik and former Bucs head coach Greg Schiano put together in 2013 isn’t looking too shabby, either. Mike Glennon has been a valuable backup quarterback that will either fetch the organization a decent draft pick in the coming year or a nice compensatory pick in 2018. Cornerback Johnthan Banks will be given a chance to revert back into the player that picked off seven passes in his first two years in Tampa Bay, while Will Gholston and Akeem Spence are vital, starting-caliber defensive linemen for the Bucs.
Some of those Buccaneers could be the next Dominik draft picks that wind up getting extended by Licht, too.
FAB 4. BUCS SEARCHING FOR A SAM LINEBACKER
The Buccaneers didn’t tender 30-year old Danny Lansanah and reversed course on Bruce Carter, cutting the veteran and saving his $4.5 million salary. Whether it was the new defensive coaching staff not seeing him properly fit into their scheme or the fact that he was overpaid, Carter’s departure leaves Tampa Bay without a starting-caliber Sam linebacker unless the team feels that reserves Josh Keyes or Jeremiah George can ascend up the depth chart with another training camp under their belts. Keyes and George each recorded seven tackles last year and George blocked a punt against Chicago.
The Bucs were interested in Detroit’s Tafir Whitehead and had him in for a visit on Thursday before he re-signed with the Lions. Tampa Bay may find another suitable starter in free agency, but it’s a safe bet that the team will also draft a linebacker this year to develop.
Bucs LB Jeremiah George – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The Bucs are set at weakside linebacker with Pro Bowler Lavonte David, and have an up-and-coming star at middle linebacker in Kwon Alexander. Those two are three-down linebackers that also see time in nickel defense.
Because Tampa Bay figures to be in nickel defense at least 60 percent of the time, it’s hard to imagine Bucs general manager Jason Licht using a premium pick in the first or second round on a strongside linebacker that will only play on 40 percent of the downs. Alexander was drafted in the fourth round last year and that seems where the Bucs will begin to find an athletic linebacker.
The physical traits the Bucs look for in their linebackers is speed, specifically fast 40-yard times under 4.7 and 10-yard splits around 1.6. Here’s a look at the speed of the linebackers currently on Tampa Bay’s roster:
Current Bucs Linebacker Speed Darius Eubanks (4.48, 1.60) Kwon Alexander (4.55, 1.58) Adarius Glanton (4.59, 1.68) Lavonte David (4.65, 1.60) Jeremiah George (4.66, 1.61) Josh Keyes (4.67, 1.60)
Of the linebackers that ran the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, two really stood out as good fits in Tampa Bay’s scheme – LSU’s Deion Jones (4.59, 1.60) and East Carolina’s Montese Overton (4.61, 1.59). Ohio State’s Darron Lee (4.47, 1.55) was the fastest linebacker, but will be a first-round pick.
The second-fastest linebacker, Washington’s Travis Feeney (4.5, 1.59), was primarily a Buck edge rusher who replaced Hau’oli Kikaha. The Bucs ask their Sam linebacker to drop in coverage and cover backs and tight ends, which is something Feeney was rarely asked to do.
Minnesota’s DeVondre Campbell (4.58, 1.65) is a big, athletic specimen at 6-foot-4, 232 pounds, but lacks instincts. The same applies to Stephen Weatherly (4.61, 1.59), an edge rusher with a great frame at 6-4, 267 pounds, but he’s too slow getting off blocks and lacks power despite his size.
Ohio State’s Josh Perry (4.68, 1.65) is fast for a big linebacker at 247 pounds, but lacks the fluidity in coverage that the Bucs want. The same could be said of Clemson’s B.J. Goodson (4.69, 1.61), who is 6-foot-1, 242 pounds.
Jones, who was Alexander’s understudy at LSU, was only a full-time starter for his senior year after Alexander left for the NFL. The well-built 6-foot-1, 222-pound Jones was a standout special teams player for the Tigers until he became a starter in 2015 when he was named a permanent captain and the team’s Defensive MVP.
Jones led LSU with 100 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, three pass breakups and two interceptions, including a pick-six against Eastern Michigan. Jones does a good job of diagnosing plays, scraping off blocks and attacking the run. He improved in pass coverage as the season went on and has a big upside.
Alexander and Jones would love to be reunited and Jones would be a great fit at Sam linebacker. He would be worthy of a fourth-round pick by the Bucs.
If Tampa Bay wants to spend one of its sixth-round picks on an athletic linebacker than East Carolina’s Overton would be a great selection. Not only could he star on special teams, Overton was a two-year starter for the Pirates that saw heavy action for three years at East Carolina as a strongside linebacker.
Overton, who had 217 tackles at East Carolina, was used in space as a coverage linebacker where his athleticism was often matched up against slot receivers. He had 14 pass breakups in college, including seven as a senior. The Pirates also used Overton as a blitzer off the edge, evidenced by his 17.5 career sacks, including 7.5 as a senior.
Whether it’s a player already on the roster, or a player acquired in free agency or the draft, Tampa Bay will find a fast, athletic linebacker this offseason to fill the void left by the release of Lansanah and Carter.
FAB 5. SR’s BUC SHOTS
• Bucs running back Doug Martin’s five-year, $35.75-million contract is actually a two-year deal given the fact he has $15 million of guaranteed money ($4 million roster bonus and $4 million in base salary in 2016 and a $7 million base salary in 2017). If Martin slows down or loses effectiveness by the time he turns 29 in 2018 the Bucs can release him without any cap hit and save his $6.75 million salary. Martin has base salaries of $7 million in 2019 and 2020.
Bucs LG J.R. Sweezy – Photo by: Getty Images
• Tampa Bay’s practice of only guaranteeing the first two years of contracts continued with guard J.R. Sweezy. He has a base salary of $4.5 million coupled with a roster bonus of $5 million in 2016, and his base salary of $2.5 million and his roster bonus of $2.5 million is also guaranteed in 2017. The Bucs could also cut Sweezy after two years without a cap hit and save his $6.5 million salary. Sweezy has base salaries of $5.75 million in 2019 and 2020.
• Tampa Bay Times Bucs beat writer Rick Stroud had a great stat on Twitter that I wanted to pass along to you. On February 13 Stroud tweeted that the “Bucs are fourth in the NFL in free agent spending since 2012 with total contract value of $395 million and a 19-45 record. Spending doesn’t always = wins.” Well said, Rick.
• Former Bucs general manager Mark Dominik came under fire for drafting Alabama strong safety Mark Barron and passing on Boston College middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. Barron was traded to St. Louis by general manager Jason Licht in 2014 after Bucs head coach Lovie Smith deemed he wasn’t a fit in his Tampa 2 defense. While Kuechly, a perennial Pro Bowler, has turned out to be the better player, Dominik can take solace that Barron has found a great degree of success in the NFL, too.
“I’m proud of Mark Barron that he’s been able to hit a contract that averages $9 million per year,” Dominik said. “That’s an impressive number. When we drafted him I stood on the podium and said he’s a 21st century safety, and the Rams have made him a 21st century linebacker/safety. They use him in coverage a lot at the line of scrimmage, so linebacker or safety – whatever you want to call him – we did that a lot with him his first two years in Tampa with the system that he was in and he had very good production.”
Former Bucs SS Mark Barron – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Barron had 88 tackles in each of his first two years in Tampa Bay, in addition to a combined 16 pass breakups, three interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. After a year spent transitioning from Tampa Bay to St. Louis during the 2014 season, Barron starred for the Rams last year as a weakside linebacker with a career-high 116 tackles, five pass breakups and a personal-best four forced fumbles.
“I think people looked at one or two snaps of him and said Mark couldn’t cover,” Dominik said. “But obviously he’s covering well for the Los Angeles Rams and he’s making a ton of tackles all over the field.
“I’m very happy for Mark. It is what it is. Things happen when regime changes go through. Players come and players go. Certainly with the number of teams that were trying to sign Mark Barron and the contract he got, I still feel good about that pick. But he’s playing in a different city in a different system, so it is what it is.”
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Free agent CB Sterling Moore – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
• The Bucs haven’t made much progress re-signing safety Chris Conte and appear to be in no hurry. The team isn’t interested in 32-year old Pro Bowl safety Reggie Nelson, who previously played in Jacksonville under defensive coordinator Mike Smith. At least not yet, and I’ve heard nothing about any interest in 31-year old Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle, who could be joining Oakland.
One thing is for certain. Third-year restricted free agent Bradley McDougald will be a starter at one of the safety spots after getting a $2.553 million tender offer from Tampa Bay that came with second-round draft pick compensation. That means the Bucs would receive a second-round pick if another team signs McDougald to an offer sheet and Tampa Bay doesn’t match it. The fact that the organization is keeping McDougald at such a high tender, and giving second chances to cornerbacks Alterraun Verner and Johnthan Banks speaks volumes. It says the team believes the Bucs’ problems on defense in 2016 were more about coaching and scheme than it was about talent.
And speaking of the secondary, it does not look like cornerback Sterling Moore will be back in Tampa Bay as PewterReport.com previously reported. The free agent cornerback just wasn’t the right fit for the type of team the Bucs want to field in 2016.
• PewterReport.com’s Mark Cook was the exclusive guest on Buccaneers Insider with Scott Smith on Buccaneers.com after J.R. Sweezy’s press conference on Thursday. Click here to watch the video with Cook and Smith and be sure to leave a comment about how snazzy Cook looks in his PewterReport.com pewter polo.
• PewterReport.com will have a new post-free agency 2016 Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Draft next Monday in addition to its initial 2016 NFL First-Round Mock Draft next Wednesday. Stay tuned for another big week of Bucs coverage on PewterReport.com as Tampa Bay continues to build its 2016 roster.
• And finally, PewterReport.com will have a big announcement coming on Monday morning, but here’s a sneak peak. PewterReport.com has formed a partnership with 620 WDAE and we will have a major presence on the station during the offseason in terms of Bucs draft coverage, during Bucs training camp and during Tampa Bay’s regular season with multiple on-air appearances during the week on several shows as well as podcasts. Full details coming Monday on PewterReport.com and during the Ronnie and TKras Show with Ronnie “Night Train” Lane and Tom Krasniqi on 620 WDAE when Mark Cook and I will be live in studio at 11:00 a.m. ET to discuss the partnership on-air and talk Bucs football.
In the meantime, listen to my interview with Ronnie and TKras with insight into the re-signing of Bucs running back Doug Martin, the addition of left guard J.R. Sweezy and what the Bucs plan to do to address their defense this offseason by clicking on this podcast link.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com
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