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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. JPP Brings Toughness, Pass Rush To Bucs
It’s been a big theme – perhaps the theme – for Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht this offseason as he tinkers with the roster, and tries to put the right pieces in place to solve the playoff puzzle, which has been ongoing for over a decade in Tampa Bay.
I’ve stated before that the Bucs were soft up front, in the trenches last year, evidenced by an inability to run the ball with consistency and effectiveness, and the inability to consistently stop the run and rush the passer. And when I say soft, I mean as soft as Chris Baker’s midsection.
Tampa Bay’s prideful offensive and defensive linemen might not want to hear that, or agree with that sentiment, but it’s true. And the Bucs front office feels the same way, which is why Licht and the team’s personnel department acquired a bunch of tough guys like nose tackle Beau Allen, center Ryan Jensen, reserve defensive lineman Mitch Unrein and defensive end Vinny Curry.
That quartet of linemen has the physical and mental toughness that the Bucs need to engage in the kind of trench warfare necessary to rebound in 2018 following a dreadful 5-11 campaign a year ago. With Jensen anchoring the offensive line, Tampa Bay’s interior run game should improve. Allen, Unrein and Curry should help the defense stop the run.
But what was noticeably lacking in the Bucs’ free agency haul was someone to fill the team’s top need: rushing the passer.
That’s when Licht pulled the trigger on a blockbuster trade on Thursday, trading a third-round pick and swapping fourth-round picks to land New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, a two-time Pro Bowler (2011-12). Pierre-Paul grew up in Deerfield Beach, Fla. and played his junior year at the University of South Florida in Tampa before turning pro and becoming the 15th overall pick of the 2010 NFL Draft.
The 28-year old Pierre-Paul, who goes by the nickname JPP, will bring the needed speed and power off the edge in Tampa Bay’s defense. Pierre-Paul has recorded 432 tackles, 58.5 sacks, 13 forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries and two pick-sixes in his eight years in New York. In his second season with the Giants, Pierre-Paul’s career-high 16.5 sacks, which included a safety, helped fuel New York’s run to the Super Bowl where they beat the New England Patriots.
While Pierre-Paul brings the juice and flash that has been missing in Tampa Bay’s pass rush since Simeon Rice left in 2005 after recording the team’s last season with double-digit sacks, what he also brings is toughness.
Pierre-Paul’s toughness comes from a pain that few people have ever experienced. In a well-documented fireworks accident that happened on July 4, 2015, the 6-foot-5, 278-pound pass rusher sustained a hand injury that caused his right index finger to be amputated. Some men that had already made millions would have folded and bowed out of football. Many would have understood if Pierre-Paul took that route, but he didn’t.
The Giants had placed the franchise tag on him that year and he wound up returning to the field on a one-year deal to play half of the 2015 season where he recorded 26 tackles and just one sack. Pierre-Paul spurned an offer from Arizona to remain in New York in 2016 where he adjusted to playing with just three fingers and thumb on his right hand and returned to form, notching seven sacks, three forced fumbles and one recovery for a touchdown in 12 games before missing the last month of the season with a sports hernia.
Pierre-Paul showed the resolve and toughness to not just return to the game of football, but to return to playing at a high level. The Giants initially placed the franchise tag on him for a second time before re-signing JPP to four-year, $62 million contract with $40 million in guaranteed money.
Last year, Pierre-Paul recorded 8.5 sacks, which was the third-highest sack output of his career. And he did so playing in all 16 games and logging 92 percent of the snaps, which is a crazy amount of playing time.
That’s toughness, especially on a woeful Giants team that won just three games.
Bucs fans were beside themselves when Licht dipped his toe in the trade waters for Robert Quinn and Michael Bennett, but didn’t want to get in for what seemed like little compensation – essentially a fourth-round pick for Quinn and a fifth-round pick for Bennett. But that should tell you how little interest there was for either of those defensive ends that came with their own baggage.
Licht had to pay a bit more – a third-round pick – to acquire Pierre-Paul because unlike Bennett and Quinn, he wasn’t on the trading block. The origin of this trade happened at the NFL Scouting Combine when Licht approached good friend Dave Gettleman, who just became the general manager of the New York Giants. Gettleman is attempting to rebuild the Giants and needs draft picks to do it. After thinking about Licht’s overture due to Tampa Bay needing a pass rusher, the two settled on the trade that was consummated on Thursday.
In my opinion, Pierre-Paul comes with less football injury baggage that Bennett and Quinn have, and better recent production. Pierre-Paul has 15.5 sacks, five forced fumbles and a scoop-and-score fumble return over the last two seasons with just four missed games due to injury. The 32-year old Bennett has just 13.5 sacks with no takeaways missing five games due to injury, while the 27-year old Quinn has 12.5 sacks and two forced fumbles over the same span, missing eight games.
Pierre-Paul’s pass rush ability will certainly be a welcome addition in Tampa Bay where sacks were scarce last year, but so will his toughness. JPP’s toughness will fit right in with the new look Buccaneers in 2018.