SR’s Fab Five appears weekly on PewterReport.com
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Here are five things that caught my interest this week:
FAB 1. There is a rumor going around the NFL that Buccaneers defensive end Greg Spires is seeking a $9 million signing bonus. Of course his agent is the notorious Drew Rosenhaus, who is a hard-bargainer, and that doesn’t help matters too much for Tampa Bay. If the whispers of a $9 million signing bonus are true, it is doubtful that the Bucs could afford to bring him back.
While Spires is technically under contract in 2005 and is scheduled to earn $3 million, there is a provision that will allow him to become a free agent in March unless he gets an extension. So in essence, he is a free agent regardless who needs to be re-signed.
Spires is coming off a breakthrough year in which he recorded career highs in tackles (86), sacks (eight) and forced fumbles (three). The Bucs would love to have him back and Spires has expressed a strong desire to return, but as usual, it will boil down to money.
While I am not sage enough to know what the Bucs’ magic number signing bonus-wise is for the team to want to strike a deal on an extension, I know it is not $9 million. Spires is worth re-signing, but it has to be for the right price because he will be 31 years old prior to the start of the 2005. Pewter Report will attempt to contact Rosenhaus at the Senior Bowl and discuss the Spires situation in person to find out if this rumored figure is indeed true.
If Spires can’t be re-signed, the Bucs will likely draft a defensive end and move third-year player Dewayne White, who had a breakout season of his own in 2004 with six sacks, into Spires’ left end position.
FAB 2. While Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Bruce Allen and head coach Jon Gruden have been criticized by some for a “win now” mentality instead of building the team over the long haul, that may be changing. Coming off a successful draft in 2003 and armed with 18 picks in the upcoming 2005 NFL Draft, Allen and Gruden will use the draft to add core players to the Buccaneers for the future.
They’ll need to do just that because the way Tampa Bay’s roster is comprised right now, there isn’t much of a future to talk about. The Bucs only have 18 players who are under contract past the 2006 season on their roster. Two years isn’t a long time, folks.
And of the 18 players who are under contract past the next two years, a handful of them might not even last that long. Here’s the list of the Buccaneers who are under contract past 2006 and the year in which their contract expires.
FS Will Allen 2008
FB Mike Alstott 2008
LB Derrick Brooks 2009
WR Michael Clayton 2009
LB Marquis Cooper 2008
LT Derrick Deese 2009
CB Mario Edwards 2009
RB Charlie Garner 2009
LB Ian Gold 2010
LB Jeff Gooch 2009
CB Brian Kelly 2008
DT Anthony McFarland 2008
FS Jermaine Phillips 2008
LB Shelton Quarles 2007
DE Simeon Rice 2007
RT Todd Steussie 2009
LG Matt Stinchcomb 2008
DE Ellis Wyms 2009
Of the players on this list, the only ones that appear to be “locks” to make the team in 2006 are Allen, Clayton, Cooper, Kelly, Phillips and Wyms. If Brian Griese restructures his contract in a favorable manner, you could probably add his name to the list, too. But that’s only seven players – including Griese – that one could honestly say who have a good chance of being Buccaneers in the next three years.
Alstott will either be a salary cap casualty this spring or next. Brooks’ last year in Tampa Bay could be in 2005 as his salary cap value will swell to over $11.6 million in 2006. Although Deese’s contract isn’t up until 2009, his level of play has dipped and it’s doubtful he lasts in Tampa Bay past 2005, much less 2006.
Edwards has a $1.6 million roster bonus due prior to the start of free agency this spring and a cap value of $3.3 million in 2005. That may force the Bucs to cut him. While he was an upgrade over Tim Wansley as a nickel back, Edwards, whose strength is playing man-to-man coverage, struggled to grasp the concepts of the Bucs’ zone defense.
Who knows how Garner’s rehab will go and how much he’ll produce in 2005 when he’ll be 33. It’s not a safe bet that Garner will be around in 2006 when his cap number jumps up a bit to $2.6 million.
The Bucs will be forced to restructure Gold’s contract or cut him loose this offseason. His cap value climbs from $833,000 in 2004 to $2.8 million in 2005. Making $715,000 in 2005, Gooch is a bargain until 2006. Then his cap value skyrockets to just over $2 million. He’ll be 33 then and will likely be forced to take a pay cut or get cut.
McFarland hasn’t proven he can be an effective under tackle yet, and with his salary cap value rising to $4.7 million in 2005 and $6.2 million in 2006, he will need to step up his game quickly or he’ll have to find work elsewhere.
Although the contracts for Quarles, who is 33, and Rice, who will be 31 in February, aren’t up until 2007, the 2005 season may be their last. Quarles figures to hit the Bucs’ salary cap for ov er $3.5 million in 2005 and that number rises to $4.5 million in 2006. While Rice is untouchable this year, he won’t be next year and the Bucs could receive good trade value for him while he is still a good player.
Steussie was a complete bust in free agency last year and the Bucs will unload him the first chance they get, which could come as early as June 1, 2005. Stinchcomb was mediocre at best in his first year in Tampa Bay in 2004 and has a salary cap value of $1.1 million. He isn’t even a lock to make the team in 2005, let alone in 2006.
Of course any players the Bucs re-sign, or any key free agent additions this offseason will only push upwards the number of players Tampa Bay has under contract beyond 2006. And obviously, the handful of draft picks that make the team this year will also be included in that number. But it is still a bit eerie knowing that as of right now, only about six or seven Buccaneers on the roster will likely be around in three years.
FAB 3. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers need to upgrade their 29th-ranked rushing attack this offseason and there has been a great deal of speculation that the team may be considering using its first-round pick on a running back. Auburn’s Carnell “Cadillac” Williams will be on hand for Jon Gruden and the Buccaneers-coached South squad at the 2005 Senior Bowl. Williams’ presence at the Senior Bowl might give him an edge over Texas’ Cedric Benson and his Auburn teammate, Ronnie Brown, because he will be running Gruden’s plays live and in person before the coach’s eyes this week.
Although Brown is a better fit for Tampa Bay’s offense because of his size-speed ratio, ability to run, catch, lead block and pass protect, the advantage he may have had over Williams in terms of his draft stock with the Buccaneers may be gone now that he apparently has declined the Senior Bowl’s invitation. If he doesn’t show up in Mobile, Ala., Brown won’t have the opportunity to spend a week in Gruden’s meeting room and with the Bucs coaches on the practice field showcasing his wares. Instead, he will have to rely on his game film and hope that Williams doesn’t impress enough at the Senior Bowl to overtake him as the second-ranked running back in this year’s draft.
Throughout his Auburn career, Brown has logged 513 carries for 2,707 yards and 28 rushing touchdowns while splitting carries with Williams. Brown has also caught 58 passes for 668 yards and two touchdowns at Auburn.
During his senior campaign, the 6-foot, 230-pound Brown rushed for 913 yards on 153 carries, scoring eight rushing touchdowns. The most impressive feat may be that he had only 15 yards of negative yardage in 2004.
Brown produced 100-yard rushing games against Mississippi State, Louisiana Tech, Arkansas and Mississippi this year. He also logged 34 catches for 313 yards and one touchdown in 2004.
Some critics have said that Brown hasn’t proven that he could carry the load. That’s bull. Although Brown had just 95 carries for 446 and five touchdowns in 2003, while hauling in eight passes for 80 yards, he was Auburn’s feature back in 2002 when Williams missed half the season with a broken leg. Brown rushed 175 times for 1,008 yards and 13 touchdowns – primarily through the last seven games of the season. He also hauled in nine catches 166 yards one touchdown.
Brown became the starting back when Williams went down at Florida. Against the Gators, Brown had 22 carries for 163 yards and two touchdowns and a 54-yard touchdown catch against Florida. He followed that up with 95 yards rushing and two TDs against LSU, 224 yards rushing and three scores, 124 yards and a touchdown against Georgia, and 184 yards and two touchdowns on 37 carries in the Tigers’ 13-9 Citrus Bowl win over Penn State in 2002.
Williams will look to up his stock at the Senior Bowl and build on a career that saw him rush for 3,831 yards and 45 touchdowns on 741 yards in his career. He is not the accomplished receiver Brown is, but has caught 45 passes for 342 yards and one touchdown at Auburn. However, his quickness does make him a factor on special teams. Williams has returned 28 punts for 302 yards (10.8 avg.) and 29 kicks for 609 yards (21 avg.).
In 2004, Williams led the Tigers with 1,165 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns. While he is a strong runner for his size (5-foot-11, 205 pounds), he lacks Brown’s power, evidenced by his 71 negative rushing yards last year). Still, Williams produced five 100-yard rushing games this year, including 122 yards and two scores against Mississippi State, 101 yards and a score against Georgia and 100 yards rushing and a touchdown at Tennessee.
Williams had a more productive season in 2003, rushing for 1,307 yards on 241 carries and scoring 17 touchdowns. He produced landmark games against Tennessee (36-185-1), Arkansas (35-150-1), Mississippi State (15-161-6), Louisiana-Monroe (7-113-2), Mississippi (20-103-1) and Alabama (26-204-2).
Before breaking his leg in 2002, Williams had racked up 170 yards and two scores against Vanderbilt on 20 carries and a career-high 202 yards and two touchdowns on 40 carries against Syracuse.
With both backs bringing exceptional skills to the table, it’s hard to imagine the Bucs going wrong selecting either one in the 2005 draft. Either Brown or Williams could help Tampa Bay’s running game. But if Brown doesn’t show at the Senior Bowl and isn’t able to make a personal impression on the Bucs scouts and coaching staff – it’s advantage Williams … unless the Cadillac can’t get his motor going in Mobile, Ala. for some reason.
FAB 4. The addition of senior assistant Aaron Kromer should help the Buccaneers offensive line. Offensive line coach Bill Muir has some health concerns, so the addition of Kromer could pay big dividends if Muir’s career in Tampa Bay ends next year along with his contract.
But general manager Bruce Allen and head coach Jon Gruden have made shoring up the Bucs’ coaching staff a common practice and a way of staying ahead of the game. Last year, Tampa Bay helped its special teams by adding assistant special teams coach Ron Middleton to the staff to help Richard Bisaccia. While Martin Gramatica never came out of his slump, the Bucs’ kickoff return unit dramatically improved, as did the punt and kickoff coverage units.
Allen and Gruden were also wise enough to promote Raheem Morris to assistant defensive backs coach when defensive backs coach Mike Tomlin did not sign a contract extension he was offered last year. That way, if Tomlin did not re-sign with the Bucs after the 2004 season – he still hasn’t and is a free agent – the Bucs would have a backup plan in Morris. Team insiders tell Pewter Report that they would be shocked if Morris doesn’t get the defensive backs job if Tomlin leaves for Miami to become the defensive coordinator, a position he interviewed for last week.
Allen believes that the strength of the Buccaneers is its coaching and he is taking preventative measures to make sure that the staff remains a strength.
FAB 5 Here’s a couple of items to hold you over until next week:
• One last note on defensive end Greg Spires, who appears to be heading towards free agency. Just about every notable defensive lineman who has left Tampa Bay has seen his career slump elsewhere since defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin came to town in 1996. From Regan Upshaw to Marcus Jones to Chidi Ahanotu to Steve White to James Cannida to Warren Sapp, there has been just one defensive lineman who has left the Bucs and actually produced a better season statiscally. That player? Tyoka Jackson, whose career took a step up in St. Louis, yet he didn’t crack the starting lineup. If Spires does leave Tampa Bay he needs to be warned that the grass has historically not been greener for most defensive linemen who have gone elsewhere.
• It appears as if the Buccaneers are prepared to let Dwight Smith test the free agent market. Smith is a good – not great – cornerback, and a good – not great -safety. But the fact that he can effectively play both positions as well as special teams increases his value. But what is his value? Tampa Bay will likely let the open market decide as it did when Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly were re-signed during free agency rather than before it.
• Want to know why former Bucs quarterbacks coach Stan Parrish was let go? Aside from the fact that he personally vouched for slacker receiver Marquise Walker, who was Tampa Bay’s first pick (a third-rounder) in the 2002 NFL Draft, I really don’t know if there was anything else to it. I read this interesting tidbit about Parrish in my Powercat Illustrated magazine, which is a Kansas State sports publication similar to Pewter Report, and it made me want to throw up. It turns out Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders, who hails from Wichita, Kan., was set to go to K-State if then-head coach Stan Parrish had offered him a scholarship. Parrish was quoted by saying that Sanders was “too small and a step too slow.” All Sanders did was rush for an NCAA-record 2,628 yards and win the Heisman Trophy in 1988, which happened to be Parrish’s last season at K-State before getting fired. It’s obvious that Parrish cannot evaluate talent, and it was no surprise that when Walker was an instant bust in 2002 that he was fired a year later.
• With Tampa Bay general manager Bruce Allen expected to meet face-to-face with Brian Griese’s agent, Ralph Cindrich, at theSenior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., a restructured contract extension for Griese could come as early as this week.
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