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. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are just days away from having to make some tough decisions regarding their 2006 roster due to the weight of a $19 million overage on this year’s salary cap. While the Bucs will get some salary cap relief from restructuring the contracts of some players, general manager Bruce Allen will undoubtedly have to cut some players to get Tampa Bay into salary cap compliance by March 3.

The team took a big public relations hit from the fans and the local media over releasing fan-favorite safety John Lynch a couple of years ago, along with not re-signing another franchise cornerstone in defensive tackle Warren Sapp. But the sting from those moves was eased with the emergence of new star players like wide receiver Michael Clayton in 2004 and running back Cadillac Williams in 2005, coupled with an 11-5 regular season record and a surprise NFC South championship last year.

Allen and head coach Jon Gruden may figure that they have earned enough “capital” from last year’s 11-5 record that they are comfortably positioned to weather more criticism over some more unpopular roster moves. In the January-February issue of Pewter Report, managing editor Jim Flynn forecasted the possibility of Allen having to part ways with more team icons, such as linebacker Derrick Brooks or defensive end Simeon Rice. I can confirm that neither Brooks nor Rice is safe from being released at this juncture. Although no final decision has been made yet, Tampa Bay is still contemplating parting ways with one of those players, and it appears as if one of those Buccaneers won’t be back in 2006.

Although Brooks, who won the 2006 Pro Bowl MVP award earlier this month, was proactive in his approach to remain with Tampa Bay by hitting radio row at the Super Bowl and telling national audiences (The Jim Rome Show) and local audiences (The Steve Duemig Show) about his willingness to restructure his contract and his desire to retire as a Buccaneer, Brooks didn’t exactly say he would take a paycut. Restructuring is one thing, a pay reduction, which is likely what Allen has in mind, is another.

The Bucs may decide to part ways with Brooks this year because at age 33 (his 33rd birthday is on April 18), they feel that he isn’t the player that he used to be and is on the downward slope of his career. And with a stud weakside linebacker like Carolina’s Will Witherspoon available in free agency this year, the Bucs could conceivably get younger, cheaper and perhaps better at the position by releasing Brooks and signing Witherspoon.

The 6-foot-1, 231-pound Witherspoon recorded 81 tackles, 2.5 sacks, two interceptions (including one that was returned 35 yards for a touchdown) and 12 passes defensed in 2005. In 2004, Witherspoon, a fifth-year veteran out of Georgia, posted a career-high 103 tackles, three sacks, four interceptions and forced a fumble.

It’s too early to determine whether Witherspoon is a future Hall of Famer like Brooks is, but some league talent evaluators have him on par with the likes of Brooks and Chicago’s Lance Briggs right now, and Witherspoon has a promising upside, too.

Another option in free agency at the weakside linebacker spot could be Indianapolis’ playmaker David Thornton, who is not expected to return to the Colts due to Indy’s salary cap constraints.

But there has been some discussion this week between Brooks’ representatives and Allen that could lead to a new deal as early as this week. That restructured deal would give Tampa Bay the salary cap space it needs and ensure that Brooks would retire as a Buc, which he desperately wants to do. But if the current discussions between Brooks’ camp and Allen fall apart, Brooks may face the chopping block. However, that seems unlikely due to Pewter Report’s sources.

Should the Buccaneers elect to keep Brooks, they may decide to part ways with Rice, whose unpredictable attitude has worn out some at One Buccaneer Place. Rice has his moments of productivity, but he also has games where he disappears and occasions to where he gets out of line, such as missing a team meeting last year at San Francisco and getting suspended from the team.

With Dewayne White coming on strong at the end of the 2005 season, he may be ready for a starting role. The Bucs also feel good about practice squad defensive end Andrew Williams, who could emerge as this year’s sleeper on the defensive side of the ball. With Tampa Bay standing to save $2.8 million in salary cap value by trading or releasing Rice this year, the Bucs’ brass might be sensing the time is right to part ways with its 32-year old mercurial pass rusher.

Again, no moves have been finalized, and the discussions about restructuring Allen has with agents like Tom Condon (Chris Hovan, Michael Pittman, Brian Griese and Simeon Rice), Jim Steiner (Mike Alstott) and Ralph Cindrich (Brian Griese) at the Indianapolis Scouting Combine this month will have a major impact on who stays and who goes prior to March 3. But just know that the option of parting ways with either Brooks or Rice this offseason is still on the table.

Other players who are candidates for release are guard Matt Stinchcomb and and linebacker Jeff Gooch, who were both on injured reserve in 2005; running back Michael Pittman, who may be expendable with the progress that Derrick Watson is making behind the scenes; fullback Mike Alstott, due to presence of other fullbacks like Rick Razzano; middle linebacker Shelton Quarles, who could be unseated by Barrett Ruud; and quarterback Brian Griese.

FAB 2. The Buccaneers appear ready to part ways with former starting quarterback Brian Griese prior to March 3, which is the start of free agency. Griese, who carries a $7.083-million salary cap charge in 2006, does not appear to be willing to restructure his deal, according to his agent, Ralph Cindrich, who conducted an interview with Pewter Report managing editor Jim Flynn last Friday on this matter. Griese is due a $2.6-million signing bonus on March 3, and it is highly doubtful that the Bucs will be in position salary cap-wise to pay him that amount.

So that leaves Chris Simms as the Bucs’ starting quarterback for 2006, right? Probably, but while Tampa Bay will likely tender Simms, who will be a restricted free agent in March, a one-year deal that will be in excess of $2 million and come with first- and third-round draft pick compensation, they may not match an offer from a competing club if it is deemed to be too expensive and the team trying to sign Simms to an offer sheet has a high draft pick in the first round.

In other words, Simms is expendable – even if Griese goes – unless he and his agent, Marvin Demoff, can strike a long-term deal with Tampa Bay. The uncertainty over whether the Collective Bargaining Agreement will be extended is greatly influencing the chances of a multi-year contract ever happening.

Despite Simms’ heroics in leading the Bucs to a 5-1 record in the NFC South, he still has a long ways to go before becoming an elite NFL quarterback. Here are the facts the Bucs are considering.

Simms was 191-of-313 (61.1 percent) passing for 2,035 yards with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions and was 6-4 as a starter during the regular season. In the home playoff loss to Washington, Simms completed 65 percent of his passes but threw two critical interceptions and no touchdowns. Factoring in the playoff loss, Simms threw 10 TDs and nine INTs and was actually 6-5 as a starter. Good numbers for a first-year starter, but not exactly Ben Roethlisberger numbers, either.

If a team like Detroit, which picks ninth overall in the first round, or the New York Jets, which picks fourth overall, signs Simms to an offer sheet and the Bucs don’t match the offer, Tampa Bay will be rewarded with a first- and a third-round pick for the fourth-year quarterback. Although the Bucs want to keep Simms and continue to develop him, they will consider letting him go because that would put them within striking distance to get Virginia left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson, a potential top 5 pick whom Tampa Bay covets.

The Bucs are buoyed by the fact they traded for Tim Rattay and Luke McCown last year. Tampa Bay likes both quarterbacks, but it may in fact be McCown who has the bigger upside out of the two. That’s part of the reason why Rattay, despite his experience, was never elevated from the third-string quarterback spot on the depth chart.

Simms only has nine more career starts than McCown does, and while McCown may not have Simms’ rocket arm, he does have better mobility and is a better athlete. The fact that McCown is a personal favorite of Bucs quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett doesn’t hurt the 6-foot-3, 212-pounder’s stock, either.

So if a team should sign Simms away – and the Bucs would probably only let that happen if they were to get a top 10 pick out of the deal – and Griese gets cut, Tampa Bay could be left with Rattay and McCown, which might seem a little scary. But remember, the Bucs traded away draft picks for both Rattay and McCown last year, so they obviously think highly of both players. Tampa Bay would then likely add an experienced veteran to the mix, perhaps a Jon Kitna or Ty Detmer. The chances of this scenario aren’t too great, but don’t rule it out, either, especially for a team that is strapped for cash like the Buccaneers.

Aside from his cannon arm and his NFL-build, the one thing the Bucs really like about Simms is his personality. He has a great deal of charisma about him, and gets along with everybody in the locker room. That’s a trait that neither Griese nor Rattay seem to have.

McCown, on the other hand, is very outgoing and often seen mingling with a lot of players in the locker room during media sessions. But he is also a openly spiritual person in the Trent Dilfer vein, and that might create a barrier with the less-religious players on the team. It has been said that he has been seen with a playbook in one hand and a Bible in the other.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with spirituality whatsoever from either my point of view or the team’s, but it did cause some chemistry problems with Dilfer back in the mid- and late 1990s when the offensive linemen wanted him to join them for some “guy’s night out” ventures that often lead NFL players to nightclubs, bars and even some gentlemen’s clubs.

Needless to say, it will be very interesting too see what shakes out at the quarterback position in Tampa Bay this offseason. The safe money says that Griese is gone and Simms stays – unless a team like the Lions or Jets comes calling with a first- and third-round pick. Then everything changes and either McCown or Rattay is the Bucs’ starter in 2006.

FAB 3. His name wasn’t mentioned among the top five Bucs Best Bets at the running back position in Pewter Report’s Free Agency Preview, which is now at the printer, but it should have been. Who am I talking about? Green Bay’s Ahman Green.

With Michael Pittman’s future with the Buccaneers clouded by the fact that he could become a salary cap casualty or he could buy himself out of the final year of his contract, Tampa Bay will likely want to add a veteran player to back up Cadillac Williams and compete with promising, young runner Derek Watson. In an offseason that could see Shaun Alexander (Seattle), Edgerrin James (Indianapolis) and Jamal Lewis (Baltimore) on the open market, Green picked the wrong year to be a free agent and get hurt.

Green, who is still considered one of the better running backs in the league, despite suffering from knee tendonitis and tearing his quadriceps tendon in the fifth game of the season in 2005, could get lost in the shuffle this March as NFL teams may want to go with healthier options at the running back position. With the Buccaneers having a track record of taking on players who need to restore their image whether it be from underachieving (see Thomas Jones and Brian Griese) or injury (see Ian Gold), Green could be Jon Gruden’s latest reclamation project and a perfect fit for his offense given Green’s background in the West Coast offense.

Green produced 1,000 yards rushing for five-straight years (2000-04), including a career-high 1,883 yards on 355 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2003. His knee and quad injury prevented him from playing in the last 11 games of the 2005 season, and Green finished with 255 yards on 77 yards (3.3 avg.) and no touchdowns. Green’s lack of production in the first five games of the ’05 season could be attributed to poor offensive line play as long-time Packers guards Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle defected in free agency last year.

Green is worth a look for the Bucs, who could point to players like Jones, Gold and Griese using Tampa Bay as a place to rehabilitate themselves, get back on NFL teams’ radars and be the launching pad for their next big deal. Green could be sold on the fact that he could come in as a change-of-pace back for Williams and rack up close to 500 yards rushing and average close to five yards per carry as Pittman did last year. That should catch the attention of NFL teams in 2007 while giving Tampa Bay a valuable veteran backup in 2006.

Green would be a great replacement for Pittman, should he and the Bucs part ways this March. The Bucs wouldn’t miss Pittman’s receiving ability too much as Green has excellent hands, evidenced by his career-high 73 catches for 559 yards and three touchdowns in 2000 and 50 catches for 367 yards and a career-high five touchdowns in 2003.

Should Green be able to get back to full speed in 2006, he would provide Tampa Bay with another player capable of hitting the home run. The 29-year old Nebraska product rushed for a 98-yard touchdown in 2003 and also had a 90-yard score in 2004.

Green could come to Tampa Bay on a relatively cheap deal in 2006 that would have a much higher escalation in 2007. Bucs general manager Bruce Allen has used this contract structure before in deals for Gold and Griese and it safeguards the team from overpaying for a player who is coming off of a sub-par year due to injury or performance. Green, who will unlikely return to Green Bay, is worth the gamble in my book.

Other free agent running backs that fit Tampa Bay’s needs should Pittman not return in 2006 include Chester Taylor (Baltimore) and Maurice Morris (Seattle).

FAB 4. Ahman Green may not be the only player from the Green Bay Packers that the Buccaneers will be considering this offseason. The signing of kicker Billy Cundiff is not only a sign that Tampa Bay may not be able to sign kicker Matt Bryant, it may be a sign that the team prefers not to. The Bucs appear to be targeting Packers kicker Ryan Longwell, who would be considered an upgrade over Bryant despite a down year for Longwell in 2005

Despite the reputation of being a clutch kicker, Longwell was only 20-of-27 (74 percent) in 2005, and struggled with 60 percent accuracy (6-of-10) on field goals between 30-39 yards. However, Longwell displayed tremendous accuracy on kicks from 50 yards or longer, nailing 4-of-5 (83.3 percent) field goals last year. Having a strong leg is one advantage that Longwell has over Bryant.

Bryant did a great job in his only season with the Bucs in 2005, drilling 84 percent of his field goals, including two game-winners against NFC South arch-rival Atlanta. But he did a miss game with a hamstring injury, and has a history of injuries, which is why he has been a journeyman kicker in the league throughout the last four years.

Conversely, the 31-year old Longwell hasn’t missed a game in his nine-year NFL career. He also boasts a career field goal percentage of 81.5, making 226-of-277 kicks in his career. That’s an incredible percentage considering that he’s been in Green Bay throughout all of his career and has had to battle the blustery weather of Wisconsin and the frozen, muddy tundra of Lambeau Field. Imagine what kind of accuracy Longwell could have had in a domed stadium or kicking in a warm-weather climate like Tampa Bay?

Well, he might get to find out. One of the people who is pushing hard for Longwell to come to Tampa Bay is Pro Bowl punter Josh Bidwell, who is best friends with Longwell from their days in Green Bay together. Bidwell also has a good on-field chemistry with Longwell as he serves as the team’s holder for field goals and extra points.

The opportunity to reunite with Bidwell, kick in a warm, kicker-friendly climate in Tampa Bay and avoid paying state income tax in the state of Florida may be enough to lure Longwell to the Buccaneers. Of course, Billy Cundiff didn’t want to hear that.

FAB 5. Here are a few things to hold you over until next week:

• Despite the reports from Pewter Report and the Tampa Tribune doubting that Philadelphia’s trouble-making wide receiver Terrell Owens won’t wind up in Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers have had some discussion within the walls of One Buccaneer Place about whether they should indeed pursue Owens this offseason. Sources that Pewter Report has spoken with bring up two points. First, the Bucs’ interest in Owens would be higher if he was a free agent rather than having to trade a draft pick to the Eagles to acquire his rights. Second, there are some doubts if Owens’ expected good behavior during the first year with a new team would even last a year. Jon Gruden, who undoubtedly would love to have Owens in his offense (but perhaps not his locker room), hasn’t fared well with some wide receivers in Tampa Bay. Keyshawn Johnson, Joe Jurevicius and Tim Brown griped – some publicly and some privately – about their roles in the offense and about playing time, while Keenan McCardell held out over wanting more money in 2004. Pewter Report still maintains that Owens will wind up elsewhere, but can confirm the Bucs do have a serious interest in Owens. Now whether that interest rivals the interest of Denver or Miami remains to be seen. You can bet the Buccaneers have already given former 49ers quarterback Tim Rattay an interrogation about Owens, considering the two were teammates from 2000-04 in San Francisco.

• The news that the Buccaneers will not re-sign right tackle Kenyatta Walker may not be news to Pewter Insider and Pewter Report subscribers, but the fact that Tampa Bay is bracing to lose nose tackle Chris Hovan in free agency could be considered news. The Bucs will make Hovan an offer, but are not in a position to get in a bidding war for his services. Hovan was probably the best defensive lineman last year in terms of consistency and production in the running game, but his lack of pass-rushing skills (he recorded zero sacks in 2005) likely means a low ceiling for the amount of money the Bucs can shell out for their high-motor nose tackle. If a team like Detroit, whose head coach is Hovan’s former position coach in Tampa Bay, Rod Marinelli, comes calling with a bigger signing bonus, it may be hard for the Bucs to retain him. The Lions could jettison 32-year defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson and go with a three-man rotation of Hovan, Shaun Rodgers and Shaun Cody. Tampa Bay would be left with Anthony McFarland, Ellis Wyms, Jon Bradley and Anthony Bryant. Not a pretty picture.

• PewterReport.com was the first and only media outlet to report that the Buccaneers have parted ways with strength and conditioning coach Garrett Giemont. As it turns out, Giemont’s contract was not renewed because of the negative feedback the Bucs’ brass got from the players regarding Giemont, who was seen as a taskmaster. The players preferred the more approachable, player-friendly motivation of Giemont’s assistant strength coach, Mike Morris, who is expected to replace Giemont. There are two ways to be tough, firm and motivate players – one that rubs players the right way, and one that rubs players the wrong way. For whatever reason, Giemont could not get through to some of the players. One player, who wished to remain anonymous, told Pewter Report, “Good riddance” after being told that Giemont would not return. The Bucs are hoping for a better turnout and better results from this year’s offseason strength and conditioning program under Morris’ guidance.

• Expect Boise State left tackle Daryn Colledge to be one of the stars of the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Colledge, whom Pewter Report is a big fan of, is an avid weightlifter and set a ton of weightlifting records (438-pound power clean, 464-pound hang clean and a 665-pound back squat) and the 40-yard dash record (4.93) for offensive linemen at Boise State. He expects to lift well and run well in Indy and build on an impressive Senior Bowl outing to up his draft stock. The 6-foot-5, 298-pound Colledge, who was one of the best interviews I had while in Mobile, is articulate and expressive when he speaks and has an engaging personality. He will interview exceptionally well with NFL teams in Indy and could climb into the second round. Keep an eye on this hard-working and fast-rising prospect, who would look great in pewter and red on Day 1 of the 2006 NFL Draft.


This story is intended to be read by Pewter Insider subscribers only. Sharing of the PI content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers.



Visit BucGear.com today to view and choose from the largest selection of Tampa Bay Buccaneers merchandise in the world.

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: sr@pewterreport.com
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