Bucs RB Doug Martin - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
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. EXPLORING LIFE WITHOUT MARTIN IN TAMPA BAY
The Buccaneers are going to re-sign All-Pro running back Doug Martin to a contract extension, right?
He wants to stay in Tampa Bay. General manager Jason Licht and head coach Dirk Koetter have gone on record stating they want Martin to remain a Buccaneer.
The two sides are likely $2-3 million per year apart in negotiations and they hope to close the gap next week when Licht and director of football administration Mike Greenberg meet with Martin’s agent, David Dunn, in Indianapolis. Martin probably wants a contract that is close to what DeMarco Murray made last year when he left Dallas for Philadelphia.
Can you blame him?
Bucs RB Doug Martin – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Martin is 27 years old and this will be his lone opportunity to cash in on a new contract either with the Bucs or another team in free agency. If Martin will be risking his health by running into 300-pound grown men, he’d rather do that at $7.5 million per year than at $5.5 million.
The problem is that the Bucs don’t believe he’s worth as much as Martin, who made $2,159,668 in the final year of his contract in 2015, thinks he is. They look at his four years in Tampa Bay and see two Pro Bowl seasons sandwiched around two disappointing campaigns.
While he rushed for 1,402 yards and six touchdowns last year in the first year in Koetter’s offense, Martin has not even put two good seasons back-to-back yet in his career. In fact, the only consecutive years he had that were similar in production were his worst two in 2013 and ’14 – two injury-plagued seasons in which Martin rushed for less than 500 yards.
Although the salary cap website, Spotrac.com figures Martin is worth $6.9 million per year, suggesting that a four-year, $27.75 million deal is fair market value, the Bucs won’t overpay Martin just because he had a good year in 2015. That’s a position PewterReport.com has reported before. With NFL free agency just over two weeks away from starting, if Dunn, Licht and Greenberg don’t meet in the middle the Bucs are content with letting Martin hit free agency to gauge his true value.
The market actually dictates what a player is worth, which is whatever one team is ultimately willing to pay for that player’s services. It takes just one team to give Martin what he wants from a financial standpoint, and then he will have to decide if he wants to stay in Tampa Bay and play for less.
Or will Licht and Greenberg be willing to raise their offer depending on a legitimate offer Martin receives on the open market? Right now, the Bucs are only negotiating against themselves. That changes on March 7 when Dunn can start officially fielding offers from other teams if Martin hasn’t been re-signed by Tampa Bay.
The Bucs risk losing Martin the minute free agency starts, although there are other free agent running backs that will be attractive to other teams and might come cheaper. Martin’s high price tag may scare off some teams in the early going, and that may limit his options and force him back to Tampa Bay.
Chicago’s Matt Forte, New York’s Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell, Miami’s Lamar Miller, Detroit’s Joique Bell, Washington’s Alfred Morris and Arizona’s Chris Johnson are the biggest names in free agency this season. Dallas and Washington are among the most running back-needy teams in free agency this year, followed by Houston, Tennessee, Indianapolis, Carolina and New England.
The Buccaneers immediately joins the mix if Martin leaves in free agency for a team like the Cowboys or Redskins that are looking for a speed back and have owners that like to make big splashes in free agency and really open the checkbook.
So what would happen if Martin decided to take the money and run – literally?
Let’s examine that scenario in this week’s SR’s Fab 5 to get you prepared for it in case it happens. That’s exactly what Licht and new director of player personnel John Spyteck and director of college scouting Mike Biehl are doing.
Bucs RB Charles Sims – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The first question that needs to be asked is if there is a player on the current Bucs roster that could replace Martin. The answer is no, as the coaches and front office are in agreement that Charles Sims, who is heading into his third NFL season, is best as a change-of-pace back and an outlet receiver in the passing game rather than a workhorse back like Martin is.
Martin had 288 carries and 33 receptions last year, while Sims had 107 carries and 51 catches. Without Martin, Sims’ workload might increase to 150 carries and 70 catches, but that’s likely his optimum level for maximum effectiveness. The Bucs would need to find a bell cow runner to be the team’s feature back and handle two thirds of the carries.
Miller would be the most logical replacement as he has rushed for 1,971 yards and 16 touchdowns over the past two years for the Dolphins. While he has game-breaking speed, evidenced by a run of 97 yards in 2014 and an 85-yarder this past season, Miller is not the tackle-breaker that Martin is, despite being 5-foot-10, 225 pounds.
Yet Miller is younger, as he turns 25 on April 25, and he doesn’t fumble as often as Martin does. Miller has four lost fumbles in his four-year career, while Martin has six career fumbles, including four last year.
Miller only rushed for 194 times last year for 872 yards (4.5 avg.) after rushing for 1,099 yards on a career-high 216 carries (5.1 avg.) in 2014. Because his running style more closely resembles that of Sims than Martin, he’s not the perfect replacement – and he’ll likely cost over $5 million per year.
While not as explosive, the 6-foot, 222-pound Ivory is the most powerful feature back on the market that is under the age of 29 (New England’s LeGarrette Blount is 29 and Forte is 30). Ivory turns 28 on March 22 and is coming off three straight seasons with the Jets in which he rushed for at least 820 yards, including a career-high 1,070 yards and seven touchdowns on 247 carries (4.3 avg.).
Morris is the last power back in free agency, but his production has been in steady decline since rushing for 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns on 335 carries as a rookie in 2012. Although he has never missed a game with the Redskins, Morris does have 1,078 career carries in four years, which is a lot. He rushed for just 751 yards and one touchdown on 202 carries last year, and Morris’ longest career run is 48 yards. He certainly wouldn’t replicate Martin’s production in Tampa Bay if he was signed by the Bucs to be his replacement.
Players like San Francisco’s Reggie Bush, Green Bay’s James Starks and Arizona’s Chris Johnson are more complimentary backs like Sims, and that’s not really what Tampa Bay would need to replace Martin.
Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott – Photo by: Getty Images
A quick look at the 2016 NFL Draft reveals that there are only a handful of workhorse backs available this year, and a slew of complimentary, change-of-pace backs, which the Bucs already have in Sims.
Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott could wind up being the only running back to carry a first-round grade this year. With back-to-back seasons with at least 273 carries for 1,800 yards with a combined 41 touchdowns, the 6-foot-1, 225-pound Elliot has the ideal blend of size, speed and power – although he will likely measure closer to 5-foot-11, 220 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine next week.
Elliott will likely be drafted in the top 20, and a blazing fast 40-yard dash time in the 4.3-4.4-range could boost his stock into the top 10. With the Bucs having pressing needs on defense at defensive end and cornerback, Tampa Bay does not want to spend its first-round pick on a running back to replace Martin.
The second running back to come off the board should be Alabama’s Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, who helped lead the Crimson Tide to a national championship with 395 carries for 2,219 yards (5.6 avg.) and 28 touchdowns last year. Henry is a massive running back at 6-foot-3, 242 pounds. His heavy workload at Alabama combined with his big frame could cause him to wear down quickly in the NFL as he invites contact and absorbs a good deal of punishment.
Henry is a powerful, downhill runner that breaks a lot of tackles, and it will be interesting to see how he times in the 40-yard dash. Former NFL big backs like Brandon Jacobs and Ricky Williams ran in the 4.5-range, while Blount ran a 4.7. If Henry’s 40-yard dash time is in that realm he could be a late-first-round pick, especially for a team like New England or Carolina, who like power backs.
Arkansas RB Alex Collins – Photo by: Getty Images
One running back that could be around near the top of the second round when Tampa Bay is on the clock is Arkansas’ Alex Collins, who happens to be my favorite running back in this year’s draft class. The 5-foot-11, 215-pound Collins is the closest thing to Elliot – or Martin – in this year’s draft class. He’s got quick, sudden feet, instant acceleration, good speed and power galore.
Aside from Herschel Walker and Darren McFadden, Collins, a junior entry, is the only other rusher in SEC history to rush for 1,000 yards in his first three seasons, finishing his Razorbacks career with 3,703 yards and 36 touchdowns on 665 carries (5.6 avg.). A bigger version of DeAngelo Williams in his prime, Collins rushed for 1,577 yards and 20 touchdowns on 271 carries (5.8 avg.) as Arkansas’ feature back without Jonathan Williams, whom he split carries with in 2013 and ’14. Williams, a senior and a candidate for the third round after rushing for 2,321 yards and 16 touchdowns in his Razorbacks career, suffered a season-ending foot injury in August and was unavailable this season.
Collins had 17 games with over 100 yards rushing, including 10 last year. He rushed for 173 and a career-high five touchdowns on 16 carries (10.8 avg.) against Tennessee-Martin in a 63-28 victory. Collins, who hails from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. also had some great showings against some of the SEC’s elite defenses.
He rushed for 105 yards and a score in a 54-46 four-overtime victory against Auburn, 130 yards and three touchdowns in a 28-3 win against Missouri, 141 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-14 win at LSU, 151 yards and a touchdown in a 28-21 overtime loss against Texas A&M, 154 yards and two scores in a 24-20 victory at Tennessee.
While he was held to just 26 yards on 12 carries in a 27-14 loss at Alabama, Collins did rush for 108 yards in a 53-52 overtime win at Ole Miss that featured one of the craziest runs you’ll see to convert a fourth-and-25 situation near the end of the game. Check out Collins’ highlights from his junior season below to see that play and several other amazing runs.
Collins ended his college career in grand style as he was the Liberty Bowl MVP with a career-high 185 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries (8.0 avg.). I was at that game cheering on my alma mater, Kansas State, which had no answer for Collins, who also had a 73-yard kick return against the Wildcats, in a 45-23 loss to Arkansas. While K-State’s defense lacks the athletes found in the SEC it was still impressive to witness Collins’ speed, power and determined running style in person. As the highlight video will attest, Collins juked and barreled through several Wildcats defenders in his final game as a Razorback.
With six runs of 50 yards or more in his career, including a pair of runs that topped 80 yards, Collins would be an ideal candidate to replace Martin in the draft if it came to that. PewterReport.com still believes that a deal can get done prior to the start of free agency, although we’ll know more after the face-to-face meetings between the Bucs and Dunn in Indianapolis.
If Martin hits free agency, the chances of him remaining a Buccaneer slide down to 50-50 at best and the pool of ideal candidates to replace him isn’t deep. But I like Collins the best out of the available options.
FAB 2. BUCS HAVE FAMILIAR OPTIONS AT SAFETY POSITION
While much of the discussion this offseason is upgrading the defensive end and cornerback positions in Tampa Bay, the Bucs will also need to address the safety position. The team currently has only three safeties under contract for 2016 – veteran Major Wright and unproven youngsters in Kimario McFadden and Gerod Holliman.
As PewterReport.com reported on Thursday, the Bucs have some interest in possibly re-signing starting free safety Chris Conte, who was fourth on the team in tackles with 78 along with two forced fumbles and two interceptions, if the price is right. Bucs general manager Jason Licht will talk to Conte’s agent in Indianapolis next week at the NFL Scouting Combine to see where they stand in terms of contract demands.
Conte signed a one-year deal worth $1.5 million last year and is an unrestricted free agent, in addition to Keith Tandy, who was a sixth-round pick in 2012 and has primarily been a backup and special teamer. It is unknown whether the Bucs will attempt to re-sign Tandy.
Tampa Bay’s starting strong safety, Bradley McDougald, is a restricted free agent, and it is believed that he will likely get a one-year tender offer from the team as he didn’t develop as quickly as the Bucs hoped last year after recording 88 tackles, which ranked third on the team, along with four pass breakups and two interceptions.
Ex-Bucs safeties coach Mikal Smith – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
While he is the lone experienced safety on the team, it is not a lock that Wright, who is slated to earn $1.75 million in 2016, makes the 53-man roster. Wright was signed in 2014 due to his history with former Bucs head coach Lovie Smith, who drafted him in the third round in 2010 while in Chicago. With no interceptions in either of his two seasons in Tampa Bay, the team is seeking an upgrade in talent and playmaking ability.
The conundrum the Bucs face is that the safety position was poorly coached over the past two years by Mikal Smith, Lovie’s son, who is not a very good coach. In fact, two NFL sources at the Senior Bowl told PewterReport.com that Mikal Smith, who is currently out of football, wouldn’t have had an NFL assistant coaching job if his father hadn’t hired him.
All of Tampa Bay’s safeties combined for just six interceptions over the past two years, which is an embarrassingly low total and certainly justified Smith’s dismissal. The Bucs certainly need more takeaways from their safeties.
So how much better could players like Conte, McDougald and Tandy become with better coaching? That’s something the Bucs front office is curious to see happen under new defensive backs coaches Jon Hoke and Brett Maxie. Hoke actually coached Wright in Chicago from 2010-13, so that could help Wright’s cause in Tampa Bay if he liked him – or hurt his cause if he didn’t.
The same could be said of Conte, whom Hoke coached in Chicago from 2011-14. Even if both Conte and McDougald are re-signed the Bucs will likely add a couple of safeties to the mix through free agency and/or the NFL Draft to compete for the right to start.
Conte and McDougald aren’t the only familiar options to the Buccaneers in free agency at the safety position.
New defensive coordinator Mike Smith coached Cincinnati safety Reggie Nelson after Jacksonville made him its first-round pick in 2007. Nelson had seven interceptions in his three years in Jacksonville, including five as a rookie, but didn’t really mature and blossom as a player until going to the Bengals in 2010.
Bengals FS Reggie Nelson – Photo by: Getty Images
While in Cincinnati, Nelson recorded 23 of his 30 career interceptions, including a career-high eight picks last year. That led to his first Pro Bowl berth at the age of 32. Nelson will be 33 this year, and while his age is not ideal, several safeties have been able to play at a high level into their late thirties, including the likes of Rod Woodson, Charles Woodson and Tampa Bay’s own, Ronde Barber.
Nelson was a durable starter in Cincinnati, missing just three games in six years, but none over the past two seasons. He could definitely help the Bucs secondary from a playmaking perspective as he averaged nearly four interceptions per year with the Bengals.
The 5-foot-11, 210-pound Nelson played collegiately at the University of Florida and hails from Melbourne, Fla. He may wish to return to his home state to finish his NFL career, and that could help Tampa Bay’s efforts to sign him at a discounted rate if Smith, head coach Dirk Koetter and Licht are interested in Nelson.
Nelson, who had six tackles and a pass breakup in a 14-13 win over the Bucs two years ago at Raymond James Stadium, had a base salary of $4.1 million last year. I’m guessing that if he comes down significantly from that number that the Bucs may be interested, despite his age. Licht saw firsthand how impatient the Glazers are last month when they fired Lovie Smith. Getting an experienced playmaker at the safety position – even as a stopgap – could help the Bucs for the short term, especially if the Bucs plan on starting a rookie cornerback acquired through the draft.
The Bengals’ other safety, George Iloka, is the player Cincinnati is more interested in re-signing given his age and upside. Iloka turns 26 on March 31 and has Kam Chancellor size at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds. If he hits free agency, Iloka will likely make a fortune and expects to be sought after by Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer, who was Cincinnati’s former defensive coordinator.
But Iloka doesn’t have the production that Nelson has. The Boise State product has 189 tackles, 20 pass breakups, five interceptions, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in his career, but had just 47 stops, four pass breakups and one interception in 12 games last year. Nelson, who will get paid less due to his age, had the better year in Cincinnati last year.
Of course, if Licht wants to continue building the Bucs with young players, another familiar face is Cleveland’s Tashaun Gipson, who was acquired by new director of player personnel John Spytek when he was Cleveland’s director of college scouting (2010-12). Gipson was discovered by Spytek and the Browns scouts during the draft process and was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2010 out of Wyoming.
Browns FS Tashaun Gipson – Photo by: Getty Images
The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Gipson will turn 26 in August and has 240 tackles, 22 pass breakups, 14 interceptions, including two for touchdowns and one forced fumble in his four-year career in Cleveland. Gipson earned a Pro Bowl berth in 2014 with a career-high six interceptions, including one against Tampa Bay in a 22-17 win over the Bucs. But his play fell off last year as he recorded just two picks.
If the Bucs feel better coaching and a better supporting cast around Gipson could get him back to his 2014 form he could be a free agent steal. Gipson is a ballhawk who has averaged four interceptions per year over the past three seasons. Gipson signed a one-year deal worth $2.356 million with Cleveland last year as a restricted free agent, and after a lackluster 2015 campaign he could be had for a similar figure again this year.
Licht and Lovie Smith wasted millions of the Glazers’ money with overpaid free agents like Michael Johnson, Josh McCown and Anthony Collins, who underperformed in 2014 and were released after just one year. Conte, Gipson and Nelson would likely come cheaper than the likes of Iloka, Philadelphia’s Walter Thurmond, Kansas City’s Eric Berry and San Diego’s Eric Weddle, and for a value-conscience general manager like Licht, that’s important.
FAB 3. BENJAMIN COULD BE TARGETED AS BUCS RETURN SPECIALIST
Free safety Tashaun Gipson is not the only Browns standout that new Bucs director of player personnel John Spytek was responsible for bringing to Cleveland. Spytek also selected wide receiver Travis Benjamin in the fourth round of the 2010 draft class, and the former Miami star could be one of the sleepers in this year’s free agent class.
The return of Vincent Jackson, Louis Murphy and Kenny Bell from the injured reserve list gives Tampa Bay’s wide receiver corps such a boost that the Bucs may not have to invest in the position this year, but the team should be interested in adding the unique abilities of the 5-foot-10, 175-pound blazer, who possesses 4.36 speed. With new Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter wanting more explosive plays in Tampa Bay’s passing game, Benjamin’s skill set would look good in red and pewter.
Browns WR Travis Benjamin – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Benjamin totaled 109 catches for 1,683 yards (15.4 average) and 10 touchdowns in his four years in Cleveland, including 68 receptions for 966 yards (14.2 avg.) and five touchdowns – all career-highs – last year. The fact that Spytek was in part responsible for drafting Benjamin is an important tie that could help the Bucs lure him in free agency if it sees the same value he brings as I do.
After catching passes from a multitude of mediocre quarterbacks in Cleveland over his career, including Brian Hoyer, Josh McCown and Johnny Manziel, one would think that Benjamin would salivate over the opportunity to play with up-and-coming star quarterback Jameis Winston, who is fresh off his first Pro Bowl and a 4,000-yard rookie season. Benjamin, who hails from Belle Glade, Fla., would probably relish the chance to return to his home state after spending four years in Cleveland, which is known for its harsh winters.
The Bucs have seen Benjamin’s developing talent in person over the last two years. In 2014 coming off an ACL injury he suffered the year before, he caught two passes for 52 yards in Cleveland’s 22-17 victory over Tampa Bay. In last year’s preseason loss to the Browns, Benjamin had four receptions for 39 yards and returned a punt 53 yards for a touchdown at Raymond James Stadium.
In addition to being a potential challenger to Bell and Murphy as a slot receiver, special teams is really where Benjamin’s immediate value would be. At the University of Miami, Benjamin averaged just 5.5 yards per punt return, but did have a 79-yard touchdown. He also averaged 23.2 yards per kick return for the Hurricanes.
Benjamin has fared much better in the return game in the NFL. He’s averaged 26 yards per kick return (18 kick returns for 468 yards), including an 86-yarder touchdown in 2014. The wiry-built receiver also has returned 68 punts for 857 yards (12.6 avg.) with three touchdowns covering 78, 79 and 93 yards in his Browns career.
Tampa Bay’s return game is stagnant and primary return specialist Bobby Rainey was lackluster in that role last year. He’s also an unrestricted free agent and may not return in 2016.
Browns WR Travis Benjamin – Photo by: Getty Images
The Bucs have Bell, who had a 99-yard kick return for a touchdown for Nebraska, as a return specialist candidate, in addition to newcomer 5-foot-9, 175-pound Bernard Reedy, who played under Dirk Koetter and Mike Smith in Atlanta. More shifty than fast, Reedy, a native of St. Petersburg, Fla. returned a punt 66 yards for a touchdown at Toledo, in addition to three kick return touchdowns, including one covering 91 yards. All of those touchdowns came during his junior year in 2012.
Adding Benjamin would give the Bucs a player that is a proven return specialist at the NFL level, as well as a young, developing receiver that is able to stretch the field vertically. It will be interesting to see if Tampa Bay agrees, and also what price Benjamin fetches on the free agent market.
FAB 4. BOYKIN COULD FILL VOIDS AT NICKEL BACK, RETURN GAME
Each year I have certain favorite draft prospects that I would like to see in Tampa Bay after scouting them in college.
Some of those players eventually make it, such as Michael Johnson and Larry English, who were two defensive ends I liked in the 2009 NFL Draft (and turned out to be mediocre pros). While others don’t, such as defensive tackle Aaron Donald and receiver and return specialist Tyler Lockett, both of whom I campaigned for over the last two years.
One of the players I really liked in the 2012 draft was Georgia cornerback Brandon Boykin. The 5-foot-10, 182-pounder had three interceptions in each of his last three seasons for the Bulldogs, in addition to returning 32 punts for 180 yards (5.62 avg.), including a 92-yard touchdown, and 100 kickoffs for 2,660 (26 avg.) with four touchdowns, including two from 100 yards.
CB Brandon Boykin – Photo by: Getty Images
Despite having 4.4 speed and great athleticism that he showcased on offense with an 80-yard touchdown run against Boise State and five catches for 71 yards and two scores lining up at wide receiver, Boykin fell to the fourth round in part because of a fractured fibula he suffered at the Senior Bowl. He was selected by Philadelphia where he spent three years before being traded to Pittsburgh last year.
In his four-year NFL career, Boykin has recorded 146 tackles, 37 pass breakups, eight interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, five forced fumbles, two sacks and a fumble recovery. Boykin only saw limited playing time in Pittsburgh for the first half of the season before head coach Mike Tomlin finally came around to playing him after Antwon Blake was being routinely targeted and taken advantage of. Boykin finished the season strong with 25 tackles, five pass breakups, one interception, one sack, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery as Pittsburgh’s nickel cornerback.
The nickel cornerback spot is one that has seen very little production with just two interceptions from the position over the past two years – Leonard Johnson in 2014 and Alterraun Verner in 2015. Despite a high salary and low production, Verner is slated to return this season to compete at both nickel and cornerback, but he’s not a lock to make the 53-man roster.
Adding a player like Boykin can not only help the Bucs out in that capacity, but he could also be a competitor in the return game. Boykin returned 54 kicks for 1,242 yards (23 avg.) in his first two years in the NFL.
Pittsburgh is interested in re-signing Boykin. Now that Chip Kelly is gone in Philadelphia, vice president of football operations Howie Roseman, who helped draft Boykin in 2012, is back in power after being stripped of his personnel authority by Kelly last year. The Eagles might be another suitor in free agency.
I’d like to see the Bucs join in the bidding as Boykin would add athleticism, competitiveness and playmaking ability to Tampa Bay’s secondary and special teams.
FAB 5. SR’s BUC SHOTS
• New Bucs director of player personnel John Spyteck is not only familiar with the likes of Browns safety Tashaun Gipson and receiver Travis Benjamin from his days in Cleveland. Spytek also helped draft right tackle Mitchell Schwartz in the second round. The 6-foot-5, 320-pound Schwartz is poised to hit free agency and will be one of the more sought after offensive linemen.
Bucs RT Gosder Cherilus – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The Bucs may not have a pressing need at right tackle with Demar Dotson and Gosder Cherilus on the roster, but Dotson turned 30 last year, and is entering the final year of his contract. Cherilus will be 32 this summer, has chronic knee issues and is also in the last year of his contract.
If the Bucs wanted to take a step towards solidifying their offensive line for years to come with a younger player at right tackle, the 26-year old Schwartz wouldn’t be a bad option. Reserve offensive tackle Kevin Pamphile is slated to move to left guard when Logan Mankins eventually retires, so the team needs another young tackle.
Schwartz made $2.356 million in the final year of his contract in Cleveland and could triple that amount per year when he hits free agency. The Bucs are flush with salary cap room with $49 million, according to OverTheCap.com.
• Although no final decision has been made, it doesn’t look like cornerback Sterling Moore is part of the team’s plans moving forward. Moore, 26, signed a one-year deal worth $1.525 million last year and entered the starting lineup in the middle of the season as the cornerback carousel spun in Tampa Bay all season. But by the end of the year, Moore’s play had dipped, and he’s regarded more as a depth cornerback rather than an ideal starter.
So why not re-sign Moore? We’re hearing there were some chemistry issues last year that may be behind the team’s desire to move on. Moore wasn’t a bad apple in his only season with the Bucs, rather he just wasn’t an ideal fit.
The Bucs are lacking a lot of enthusiasm for re-signing cornerback Mike Jenkins, but aren’t ruling it out. The team brought in former Miami cornerback Brice McCann, who was released earlier this week, but he’s viewed more of as a potential candidate for depth rather than to start if he is signed.
• The Buccaneers probably won’t be re-signing defensive tackles Henry Melton and Tony McDaniel – both of whom are unrestricted free agents. Both Melton and McDaniel were solid, but not spectacular. The 29-year old Melton made $3.75 million last year after signing a one-year contract. The 31-year old McDaniel signed a one-year deal worth $1.5 million last August after being cut from Seattle.
Bengals DT Brandon Thompson – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Melton had 30 tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in a reserve capacity last year, although he did start one game against Atlanta after Gerald McCoy suffered a broken hand. McDaniel posted 25 tackles and one sack last year as a backup nose tackle.
The Bucs want to get younger – and thus cheaper – in the reserve ranks at defensive tackle where Akeem Spence and Will Gholston are heading into contract years. Keep an eye on Cincinnati defensive tackle Brandon Thompson, who was coached by new Bucs defensive line coach Jay Hayes.
Thompson is a big, 6-foot-2, 315-pound run stuffer out of Clemson where he notched just 4.5 sacks in four years. He has just three sacks in four years with the Bengals, but has accumulated 53 tackles as a reserve lineman. The Bucs need another nose tackle in the mix as both Clinton McDonald and Spence are coming off season-ending injuries.
Thompson, who is coming off an ACL injury he suffered in the Bengals’ season finale, will likely come cheap – likely around $1 million per year – but won’t be ready until training camp. Yet he could be a good pick up that is familiar with what Hayes wants out of the nose tackle position.
Due to his quickness, Thompson, 26, has also seen time at the three-technique defensive tackle spot, replacing Pro Bowler Geno Atkins in the starting lineup two years ago. Although he didn’t record any statistics against Tampa Bay in Cincinnati’s 14-13 victory in 2014, he helped cause center Garrett Gilkey to commit four penalties and botch a couple of snaps.
• I’m also hearing that the Bucs will likely part ways with fullback Jorvorskie Lane, who suffered a gruesome broken leg last year against Chicago. Lane, 29, is an unrestricted free agent after signing a one-year deal worth $585,000 last year. The team will likely address the fullback position this offseason by signing a veteran and also with a rookie during Day 3 of the 2016 NFL Draft or with an undrafted free agent.
Kansas State’s Glenn Gronkowski, the younger brother of New England Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski, is the highest-rated fullback in this year’s draft with a fifth- or sixth-round grade. Wisconsin’s Derek Watt, the younger brother of Houston Pro Bowl defensive end J.J. Watt, and Northwestern’s Dan Vitale carry similar grades.
Georgia’s Quayvon Hicks blocked for Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb, and carries an undrafted free agent grade, as does Georgia Tech’s Patrick Skov and Michigan State’s Trevon Pendelton.
• Although we no longer have the weekly PewterReport.com Chats on Friday, our staff will be hosting several PR Chats this offseason with the first one following the NFL Scouting Combine and prior to the start of NFL free agency in early March. Look for an announcement in next week’s SR’s Fab 5 for the day and time of that free agency PewterReport.com Chat.
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd 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 enjoys 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: firstname.lastname@example.org
I miss the Chat Room. Scott this Fab 5 was so-so; I know others will disagree. Most of all of this was about back ups because that’s what all these players are that were mentioned. Martin should not be overpaid. McCoy was overpaid, but still found a way last year to play even with a broken hand. Way too Martin history of Martin and his injuries and there are quite a few. We definitely saw that he lost a step last year. I think the line improved so much that he did have plenty of holes to run through. Martin is worth 5 million and that’s it a year. We need another OL to be prepared to replace Mankins; Cherius and Doitson are fair and would love to see an up grade there. Safety’s are a disaster and I would draft one in the 4th or 5th round. What’s the status on all the player’s who were on IR. Are they now healthy? A breakdown would be nice. What’s your projection as to English, Bowers making it to camp?
Horse, I disagree about Martin. While he had some holes, he repeatedly made yardage after contact (I think he led the league), and juked tacklers out of their shoes. He’s worth 6 Million, but not 7 million.
I agree about the chat room!!! Please bring it back PR. I don’t know what to do on Friday’s now. I agree that Martin lost a step. He didn’t have the finishing speed and was caught from behind too much. Our offense lacks speed as Evans was caught from behind too (when he held on to the ball.
pay Martin!! There are over 1400 reasons to do so.he knows the system and protects well.
Here’s a mind blowing concept; Guarantee Martin 12 million over 4 years and add performance incentives for each year that could earn him 7 million. If he gets the same amount of yardage he did this past year for the next four years; he’s worth 7 million. If he gets injured or performs poorly you’re only paying 3 million each year.
I know a lot of you will disagree but if we lose Martin in FA and Elliot has a 4.3 forty then we should draft him. I know we have a lot bigger needs but this kid is a game changer. I watched him play his entire college career and he reminds me of A Peterson. We need to draft best player available and not need. With a 4.3, Elliot will be best player available at 9th pick. Elliot basically won Ohio state its national championship 2 years ago and almost won them another last year. He rushed for 1800 yds and 23 TDs last year alone. When Ohio state lost its 2nd string QB, Elliot took over and rushed for 220 yds and 2 TDs in 20 carries against Wisconson, 230 yds and 2 Tds in 20 carries against Alabama, and 246 yds and 4 TDs against Oregon. He avg 232 yds and 2.6 Tds against 3 of the top 10 teams in the nation in 2014 when they needed him most. The kid is a beast. We made the mistake years ago on passing on AP to draft G Adams because of position need. Dont make the same mistake again.
Great point about AP and Gaines Adams. I forgot all about that but it’s a similar situation of taking need over BPA and what the results can be. They’re even the same positions we’re discussing: RB and DE. Well done.
Good Fab 5 SR. Here are my thoughts:
Fab 1: We shouldn’t overlook the BPA if that’s E. Elliott just because we badly need a pass rusher. Case in point, we needed a WR more much more than a DT two years ago so we took Evans over Donald. Two years later the Rams used Donald to beat us even though we had Evans. We don’t want the Giants or any other team drafting after us to take Elliott and beat us with him the next time we play that team. I agree A. Collins is a great RB, but I also agree with you that he’s not in the same class as D. Martin and E. Elliott. So the way I see it, if Elliott runs under a 4.5 in the 40 at combine (Dougie ran a 4.55), Elliott would make us a slightly better team, re-signing Dougie we would stay the same and with A. Collins we’d be slightly worse (although we would have managed the cap well I suppose). We’d be more well rounded if we took a pass rusher and Collins in a later round, but would we better overall if that pass rusher isn’t as good a player as Elliott? Personally I’d rather table this discussion until after the combine at least because I don’t truly know how fast Elliott is yet, along with many other players. I only factor the Combine about 5% or 10% in their total evaluation, but since in my mind many in this draft class haven’t really separated themselves from one another compared to other years how they do at the Combine may make more of a difference.
Fab 2: I’d like to add R. Nelson via FA. I liked him coming out of UF and I don’t know why the Jaguars ever got rid of him. I also agree that safeties can play well deep into their 30’s. You forgot to mention J. Lynch :-).
Fab 3: I doubt T. Benjamin would want to come here to be featured as a special teamer after being the #1 WR option this past season. I would think he’s looking to build on last season and follow Golden Tate’s career path: Sign with a team where he can be the #2 WR and get paid like one, still return kicks and possibly slide into the #1 spot if the featured #1 WR is frequently hurt (Megatron). I see the Ravens, Chargers or even staying put in Cleveland as more likely options.
Fab 4: I remember watching Boykin at Georgia and the Eagles but I don’t feel that strongly about him one way or the other.
Fab 5: The same goes for Schwartz. As for what you’re saying about S. Moore, that’s the only logical explanation for why they wouldn’t want to re-sign him. I don’t know if I agree with not bringing him back for that reason while giving other lousy CB’s another shot, but at least it makes sense on some level. I’d love to upgrade the FB position. The only guy I watched play that you mentioned was the younger Gronk, but to me he was not a great blocker, but a good and agile receiving option for the FB position. I’d rather have a FB that was a better run and pass blocker than receiver or runner.
I think the young Watt may be both a runner/pass catcher and a run/pass blocker.
I appreicated the article. There are a whole bunch of talent that could improved the team-go Bucs
This Fab 5 doesn’t give us Bucs Fans much hope for the future let Martin walk if price isn’t right? I have heard posters claim its because of Stocker and the improvement of the line etc but that’s inaccurate, Martin breaks and bounces off tackles on a regular basis look at his yds after contact. Martin came off a couple of injuries that slowed his game down a bit for two seasons. The talk of getting a rb to replace Martin who is already a 1,400 rusher tells me why this organization consistently loses when they have that kind of game plan, to even mention over the hill rb’s a Chris Johnson who played well for 8 games last yr is again laughable. Let Sterling Moore go who was our best in the secondary? That makes sense! I could write a book on what’s wrong with the Bucs and the plan they have for the future, but I need to get back to work.
Jon I can’t believe it , but I could not agree with you more! Keep Martin!! However, remember this is a team that let Michael Bennett walk off to the Seahags for nothing. I could write a 40 year history of what’s wrong with the Bucs. I won’t, but here is the skinny version. We have had stupid owners who hired stupid back office managements who hired stupid coaches (with a ew exceptions of course).
I agree. For the bean counters to quibble over Martin’s salary is myopic and absurd when the Bucs have this much room under the cap. Martin isn’t just a quality starter or even a top 10 back, he’s the best running back in the league according to Pro Football Focus and the Associated Press. He’s the kind of special player you can’t expect to replace by just drafting someone or looking for a cheaper free agent who’s almost as good. Do the Bucs really think we wouldn’t notice that they’re skimping us at the same time they’re raising ticket prices? Do we really not deserve to have the best players in the league unless they come dirt cheap?
Martin had a lot better year than Murry.
Well I personally don’t mind seeing the Bucs let Dougie see his worth. He’s not worth 8 million a year period. Don’t care what he did last year, I look at the whole picture and he was terrible the previous two years.
AS for drafting Elliot, I all for that if we trade back, but you do not draft a runningback in the top 10 unless he’s special. WHile Elliots stats are good, I’m just not big on read option running backs. I almost don’t like them as much as I dislike read option QB’s. How many of Elliot’s yards were from the DE leaving a gaping whole while diving at the QB?
Running out of the read option and out of a pro offense is a little different.
I am not saying Elliot isn’t good, just not worth a top 10 pick. Especially with next years class being that much better. I am all for Lamar Miller. Again as long as you don’t overpay, but he’s young and much faster than Doug.
AT Safety, Conte played pretty well and a similar one year deal should be in order. Major write can hit the road with Jenkins. I mean if they are seriously considering Signing Jenkins again, they all need their collective heads examined. That guy shouldn’t be allowed within 20 miles of one buc place hes so terrible.
Not sure why they don’t resign Sterling Moore, I think he played the best by far out of what we had last year, but if there was a chemistry thing going on, then so be it.
I see a lot of guys looking to be cut, but we need depth as well so this should be an interesting off season. The Bucs NEED to be involved in free agency, I don’t care how bad our luck was. We have way too many holes to fill.
Cg-Consider the fact Martin came off a ankle and shoulder injury in 2013 might have been reason for his low production
Agreed Jon, but that’s the thing, he’s had to injury riddled seasons that made him about as useful as Stoker. haha Doug doesn’t block on third down because he’s not in there. I’m simply talking value here and a guy that is a 2 down guy is not worth 8 million a year. If they could get him at 6 I’m all for it, and give him some good guaranteed money with some incentives. I do love his after contact ability though as there was many times he created his own yardage last year. This is a tough one, but I guess with all of our cap room it shouldn’t be. Maybe I’m just splitting hairs here.
A couple of his runs are from DE crashing but most runs are cut and go’s. Here are some highlights.
With 50 mil under cap and by cutting Carter, Turner and EDS they will save 13 mil acc. to CBS Sports take that money and resign Martin who is a top 5 play at his position, remember Buffalo let Lynch walk see what happened?
because we are so involved with the way the Bucs write their paychecks I ask this is 33 yr old injured most of last yr Wr Vincent Jackson worth 13 mil this yr? I bet if you say yes you will se why Martin is worth the contract
You’re making some damn good points Jon and I can definitely see resigned Doug with these cuts being made. Although I’m not sure any of those guys will get cut, maybe Carter, but I don’t see them cutting EDS. I wish they would because the guy is terrible but they might keep him for depth.
martin is not a speed back he gets caught from behind everytime, if he had real speed he would have scored against washington he is a good running back but is not speedy, 5 mil tops take it or leave it
Stone1 your point is stupid and irrelevant who cares if he isn’t a speed back I can name 5 hall of fame Rb’s that weren’t the fastest guy, he is second in league in rushing and your saying well he isn’t a speed back? c’mon think before speaking, sigh
the article called him a speed back buddy
Losing Martin only makes sense if we draft Elliott or trade for Murray. I agree that Benjamin CAN bring what we hope Bell can. Make Bell earn his reps and ultimately prepare him to succeed VJ after this season. I think we should be targeting Mack the former Browns C not Schwartz. We have a perfectly fine RT on a cheap contract for one more season so upgrading C should be the bigger priority given the DTs that Carolina have. Agree Reggie Nelson should be a target given his price, talent and familiarity with FL weather. Add Fairley and Hardy to this list and we will have had quite the offseason.
I wouldn’t touch Hardy. He has shown his inability to fit into a team concept. As for draft…..BPA…always. Never stretch for need.
If we are not going to bring back Melton and McDaniel, I read somewhere that DC Mike Smith is said to prefer a big tackle at the nose. If that’s what he wants, then DT Damon “Snacks” Harrison, New York Jets, 26 is the guy! If this round mound of throw down makes it to FA, they should go after this guy because he’s a load – a nasty fast on his feet load.
With O-Lines having to contend with Snacks up front, McCoy gets double digit sacks – guaranteed! Oh yeah, remember to keep lots of sandwiches handy, Snacks is 6-4, 350lbs and has justifiably earned his nicknamed. lol.
Damn it mac I want him simply based on his nickname at this point.
Bring back the CHAT ROOM!!!
2nd that motion!!!
Great SR5 Scott. Lot of insights and Alternative new Bucs to ponder. If we screw up and lose Martin I am partial to Zeke Eliot, being an OSU alum, but lets hope we sign Doug before we have to make those kind of decisions. Agree with Mac (as usual) Snack Harrison is a Beast and no doubt would add to McCoy’s sack total. Off subject, is Noah Spence a viable option??
Just when I started to get comfortable with the notion of DE Noah Spence to the Bucs at 9, Cowboys DE Randy Gregory has been suspended for the first 4 games of 2016 for violating the NFL substance abuse policy. He has a history of pre-draft drug use as does Spence.
I’m sure circumstances are different, But just the notion that this could happen gives me pause.
I’ve not taken him off my mock board yet, but some analyst who had Spence going to the Bucs at 9 have now moved away (Jeremiah, Miller, Kiper, etc.). Will be interesting to see where PR is in their next mock!
I like Martin. He hits it hard, finishes runs, protects well and his receiving has improved. But it’s not all about him. It’s about the ‘tandem back’ team he was part of that was tops in the league. And, with our QB play – combined with a returning OL that will be better, Martin is a big part of the whole – but a ‘part,’ not the whole. That makes him replaceable – would prefer not, but as the offence widens his role narrows. Pay him accordingly, but no more … we drafted him, put up with two years of underperformance, the occasional fumble and average speed. If there’s such a thing as hometown discount, the Bucs have earned it.
Appreciate the feedback on Spence, Mac. It seems like he has become the flavor of the month since the Senior Bowl and Mayock’s endorsement. I’m always a bit leary when unknowns with baggage become instant contenders.
I sure don’t want to let a Pro Bowl player hit the exit, creating another major need and then have to use a premium draft pick to replace what we already had. Us looking to find fault with #22 is almost as comical as listening to Patriots fans complaining that they were out-coached in the AFC Championship game.
Should’ve picked up his 5th year, oh well. It’s actually not a bad idea drafting a back in the 1st, or 2nd round every 4, 5 years. With the rookie wage scale you’re getting a premium back relatively cheap for the best years of his career. Martins got four years of ware, 2 serious injuries already. Why pay him 8 mill a year, when you can get a younger, cheaper more explosive player in the 1st, or 2nd round, that’s cap friendly for the next 5 years? Not like running isn’t a game changing position. As other posters have pointed out, when Dougie breaks open, he’s usually caught from behind. He won’t be getting faster during his next deal.
I have resisted commenting on the Doug Martin Issue because I’m ambivalent. Doug will sign with the Bucs or he will walk. The Bucs have good options and Doug will get the number he is looking for.
Scott Reynolds has reported that Jason Licht will sit down with the player rep for Doug at next week’s Combine in Indy. Reynolds believes Martin wants a deal similar to the five-year, $42 million contract signed by RB DeMarco Murray last offseason. The Bucs would rather not overpay for Martin who has been inconsistent over his term with the Bucs. They have openly said that Martin won’t be getting the franchise tag and local beat writers think he’ll hit the open market.
At that Combine meeting, my opinion is that Doug will sign to remain a Buc, but the Bucs will pay more than many of us expect. Three factors – the new HC wants him back, the Bucs have the money, and Doug wants to be here – grounds for a compromise. Some of my PR brethren think 7.5 to 8mil is too high. That may be so, but it’s not because of the Murray contract or comparison to any other RBs. It’s because the market has simply gone up.
The NFL has signed contracts with the TV networks for Thursday night football, sold games in Mexico City and London, paid Goodell 34.1mil and is rife with new revenue. When that happens, the NFL is under contract by way of the 2011 CBA to share that revenue with the players.
As a result, the franchise tags have gone up (11.5mil for RB), the Cap has gone up to 155 million and many NFL teams are rife with cap space – o ur Bucs have 49.3mil (OTC). So get ready for this Buc fans. The Bucs are not only going to have to pay Doug more, they’re going to have to pay every free agent we sign more!
Even so, the Bucs do not have to pay what Doug wants. While the Bucs have 49.3mil, the Raiders have 74.2mil in cap space. They have said that RB Latavius Murray is not that guy and will be looking to replace him. And while Doug may love Tampa, he was born and raised in Oakland, California. They saw Doug in 2012 up close and may want to bring a prodigal son home and have the resources to easily make it happen!
I’ve said all of this to say what. I’m ambivalent about Doug’s contract. The Bucs knew when they didn’t pick up the 5th year option that this might occur. Now it’s Show Time. The Bucs are way more aware of the value of the marketplace than anything I’ve said here. Both the Bucs and Doug now have to make a decision either of which I’m OK with!
Don’t let anybody fool you; we have a Franchise QB; something we haven’t had since Doug williams. the priority now is to keep him protected and give him weapons to move down the field and score. We can find adequate RB’s to help and there is no need to panic and overpay a RB who has been injured more than 50% of the time. I want Doug to stay here, but not if it is going to disrupt the pay scale balance. Demarcus Murray got greedy and should have stayed in Dallas because if he bombs like he did last season he is cut. I thought Philly was crazy to pay him all that money and so did the owner since the Coach who had all the power was fired.
Scubog, you and I see eye to eye on this and for the same reasons.
Every time this team tries to get cheap with one of its quality players it smacks them right in the chops.
We had a solid WR (can’t ever remember his name but he used to play with the Jags to) who was damn good but not great.
We wouldn’t pay him and he eventually went to San Diego and it left us with a hole for years.
Letting a top 5 RB walk out your door because you don’t want to pay him market value when you are lush with cap money is simply absurd.
He might be overpaid this year but probably not the next and definitely not three years down the line.
If it wasn’t for the NFLPA, these players would still be playing for 100K a year tops and the owners would still be crying about not making any money.
drdneast: Are you thinking about Keenan McCardel? I don’t think the question of Martin signing here or elsewhere has anything to do with being frugal or fiscally irresponsible. It’s like the car show, “What’s my Player Worth? The market value will be set and that’s what teams will pay. I actually think the Bucs might be willing to pay # 22 more than what other teams would be willing to pony up. They all see the potential pitfalls of signing the Demarco Murrays and getting little in return. My opinion is that we have a chance to keep one of the better RB’s in the NFL on the roster without using a draft pick or taking a chance on another teams cast-off. I hope he doesn’t fall victim to the Curse of the Scubog Game Jersey. I already have a closet section full of player jerseys who were early departures.
Funny, Horse, but John Elway was a franchse QB for years but never won a Super Bowl without a real good running back.
Once the Broncos shut down the Panthers running attack, their “franchise” QB turned back into the sulking moron he always was.
I don’t know who posted the remark about Marshawn Lynch, but he hit the target dead on.
Fundamentals in football never change.
drdneast; I’d like us to first accompolish a 9-7 season before the words super Bowl is even brought up. Market rate for a RB is also based on consistency based on 3-4 seasons.
The problem with letting Martin walk is that it means we have another (make that: ANOTHER) hole to fill on this Swiss cheese team. Letting him go see his value and then making him a slightly better offer makes sense for both sides – it’s all about the guaranteed money anyway…just keep that limited.
Thank you EastEndBoy. Exactly.
Scudog, it was Keenan McCardell. Thanks. Never can remember his name for some reason.
drdneast, I’m not saying we shouldn’t pay Martin his due; we just have different opinions of what that might be. He’s a good running back and 5 mil range is good enough. There’s some 24-25 other starting players at various positions, plus a dozen good backups that also need to be rewarded. The cap money goes faster than you might think. I’m for one always wanting to keep a small nest egg in case a very good player has a spout with his coach and we grab him for a low round draft pick or trade.
Great article as usual. Thanks PR.
The Martin thing will work itself out, and he will be a buc next year. I like the idea of Boykin as the nickel. I’ve liked him for a few years now. Think we need to keep Sterling Moore, but if there are some issues, then maybe he does need to go. Benjamin would be a nice slot wr, but I think a better one that no one is mentioning would be Percy Harvin. I know he comes with baggage, but he also comes with excellent playmaking ability and a cheap contract. Bucs please take a chance on him.
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