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Here are some things that caught my attention this week:
FAB 1. So what is the story on Tampa Bay’s visit with New Orleans defensive end Charles Grant, a free agent who was slapped with the franchise tag by the Saints? As I have mentioned in several SR’s Fab Fives dating back to the Senior Bowl in January and the month of February, the Bucs have been really interested in the premier pass-rusher, who has notched 36 sacks, 15 forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries since entering the league as a first-round pick out of Georgia in 2002.
Once the Bucs realized that Cincinnati defensive end Justin Smith was going to get franchised, the team really turned their attention to Grant, who wasn’t a surefire candidate to get the franchise tag placed on him. But once the market for defensive ends started to heat up at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, the Saints were forced to put the tag on him, much to the chagrin of Grant and the Bucs.
“We didn’t necessarily see it coming,” said Bill Johnson, Grant’s agent. “Early on, we were under the understanding that it wouldn’t happen. But the market for pass rushers started to rear its head and teams started to franchise players. The Saints decided to exercise their right and hang on to him. Charles was disappointed, but you can’t fault the team for it. We were actually hopeful at one point of doing an extension in New Orleans. We talked about if it didn’t get to that point by the end of the year that he was going to be able to get out and explore the environment around the league.
“I can tell you that in my 10 years inside the business, and my partner, Pat Dye’s 21 years of experience – and we have had 12 Pro Bowlers in the last handful of years – that no other client has ever had this much interest in a guy with the anticipation of hitting free agency. He’s an every down defensive end and there is a premium on guys like that.”
The Bucs realize that it is up to the Saints to either sign Grant, trade him or remove the franchise tag this year, but because he has yet to sign their one-year franchise offer sheet, he is free to visit with any club he chooses. As a result, the Bucs wanted to take advantage of this window of time and do some early free agent recruiting for the 2008 offseason by bringing Grant in for a visit.
“He’s still there in Tampa,” Johnson said. “They are taking him out to dinner [on Friday night]. He’s enjoying his visit. He has a lot of respect for the front office and the coaching staff there. I’m pretty sure they have a lot of respect for him. He’s faced them two times per year the last five years. They made a call to him to bring him in for a visit. It’s been a good experience for him.”
Johnson doesn’t know whether the Bucs will try to strike a deal with New Orleans outside of signing him to a franchise offer sheet that would give the Saints Tampa Bay’s first-round pick this year and in 2008 if they refused to match the deal.
“I don’t have any gauge on that,” Johnson said. “Tampa Bay’s tactic is probably to get a jump on recruiting for next year and we’ll jump on the one-year tender. They’ll get a jump on a great player they will be interested in this year and next. Heck, [the Saints] may pull the franchise tag off him, or they may structure a trade. I think the Bucs are just trying to cover all their bases.”
If the Buccaneers are entertaining swinging a trade with New Orleans, which is unlikely at this juncture, it would not involve Tampa Bay’s first-round pick. More than likely, the Bucs would have to surrender their own second-round pick and another pick or player to land Grant.
But the thinking here is that Grant will play in New Orleans in 2007 and that he will be sought after by Tampa Bay to replace Simeon Rice in 2008 when Rice’s contract expires. The fact that he has already met the coaches and front office and toured the new facility could help the Bucs get a jump on the free agency recruiting process and strike one of those famous, 12:01 a.m. deals on the first night of free agency next year.
Tampa Bay loves Grant’s size (6-foot-3, 290 pounds), experience and playmaking ability. After doing a detailed comparison study, Johnson said that Grant is one of the elite defensive ends in the league regarding his playing time and production.
“Out of the whole defensive end universe, he’s second or third in on-field percentage; so he doesn’t come off the field,” Johnson said. “He’s second in tackles and second or third in solo tackles and forced fumbles. He makes plays and he doesn’t come off the field. There aren’t many of those guys out there.”
The Bucs’ early homework will pay dividends. Expect Grant to become a Buccaneer in 2008 with a faint hope for 2007.
FAB 2. With about five weeks to go before the 2007 NFL Draft, there are some developments within the top 3 picks that will affect the Buccaneers, who are picking fourth overall behind Oakland, Detroit and Cleveland. According to Pewter Report’s insiders, the Raiders will either draft LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell or Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson with a slim chance that Oakland takes Wisconsin’s Joe Thomas.
Almost all of the sources I spoke with are convinced that the Raiders will take Russell and opt not to trade Randy Moss to Green Bay for quarterback Aaron Rodgers. But if that deal went down, it could pave the way for Oakland to draft Johnson, much to the Bucs’ chagrin.
The move doesn’t make sense for the Raiders, or the Packers. Why would Green Bay want to deal Rodgers, a third-year quarterback whom they drafted in the first round in 2005 and paid a sizeable signing bonus to when they really don’t even know if he can actually play or not? Rodgers has appeared in only five NFL games with zero starts while completing 15-of-31 passes for 111 yards with one pick and no touchdowns.
Why would Oakland want an unproven player like Rodgers, who doesn’t have the big arm that Al Davis craves? Rodgers may thrive in a West Coast offense, but doesn’t figure to be a good fit in Lane Kiffin’s vertical offense – the kind of offense Davis favors.
With Brett Favre likely only having one more season in Green Bay, the Packers would be left empty-handed if they dealt Rodgers. It just doesn’t seem reasonable to make this trade, especially when a malcontent like Moss would be coming to Green Bay where he fake-mooned the Lambeau Field crowd a few years ago.
So let’s say Oakland takes Russell, now what does Detroit do? I’m hearing some major buzz about Detroit wanting to trade down with Miami. The reason? Lions coach Rod Marinelli wants to draft either Clemson defensive end Gaines Adams or Louisville defensive tackle Amobi Okoye. Neither is the second-best player in the draft and trading down would net the Lions an extra draft pick or two.
However, either Adams or Okoye is expected to be at number nine when the Dolphins pick (most likely Okoye). Marinelli wants to improve Detroit’s pass rush and is looking for an impact defensive lineman. The Lions won’t draft Joe Thomas, nor will they draft quarterback Brady Quinn or running back Adrian Peterson.
The good news for Tampa Bay is that Detroit is not believed to be interested in trading down with Atlanta, which has the 10th overall pick. The Lions believe that is just too far to trade down and that the premier pass rushers could be gone by then. The Falcons are rumored to be interested in trading up to land Johnson, a hometown favorite.
Atlanta general manager Rich McKay hasn’t met a first-round receiver he hasn’t liked when it comes to the draft, using a first-round Bucs pick to draft Reidel Anthony in 1997, trading two number one picks for Keyshawn Johnson in 2000, and the drafting Michael Jenkins and Roddy White with the Falcons in 2004 and 2005.
As for Peterson, he’s all but a lock for the third overall pick with Cleveland. The Browns need him and want him and won’t want to trade down.
So where does that leave Tampa Bay? It leaves them with perhaps with the most incredible situation imaginable – the chance of drafting either Thomas or Johnson. I’ve debated the Bucs’ draft day dilemma should this occur before in a previous SR’s Fab Five, so I won’t bog down this column by rehashing old analysis.
But now you can see why we’ve reported that the Bucs were nearly downright giddy when they lost the coin flip to Cleveland at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. Tampa Bay will have its choice of the top two players on its draft board at the fourth spot and pay them much less than they would have had to had the Bucs been picking third overall.
And I’ll remind you that the real coup of the coin toss loss may come in the second round where Tampa Bay will be picking 35th overall, one spot ahead of Cleveland. With the Bucs and Browns both needing centers, Tampa Bay will have the inside track to land either USC’s Ryan Kalil or Boston College’s Josh Beekman, although one of those players could be off the board by the time the Bucs pick in the second round.
FAB 3. Speaking of first-round picks, it is interesting to note that the Buccaneers are stockpiling former first-rounders, adding four more to the mix this offseason with the signings of wide receiver David Boston, left tackle Luke Petitgout, defensive end Kevin Carter and cornerback Sammy Davis.
Of course, some of the former number one picks who are currently on the Buccaneers and were drafted by another team haven’t lived up to their first-round billing. I’m talking about players like Davis and tight end Anthony Becht, who in retrospect, wouldn’t have been drafted in the first round at all based on their pro production.
Here’s a look at the first-round picks on Tampa Bay’s current roster (offensive players are bolded):
DE Kevin Carter (1995, St. Louis) WR Joey Galloway (1995, Seattle) LB Derrick Brooks (1995, Tampa Bay) DE Simeon Rice (1996, Arizona) WR Ike Hilliard (1997, NY Giants) WR David Boston (1999, Arizona) LT Luke Petitgout (1999, NY Giants) DT Chris Hovan (2000, Minnesota) TE Anthony Becht (2000, NY Jets) CB Phillip Buchanon (2002, Oakland) CB Sammy Davis (2003, San Diego) WR Michael Clayton (2004, Tampa Bay) RB Cadillac Williams (2005, Tampa Bay) G Davin Joseph (2006, Tampa Bay)
So what does this tell us? Well, considering that out of all 14 first-round picks on the team, only five are over the age of 30, the Bucs have some young talent. Maybe not Pro Bowl-caliber talent, save for players like Brooks, Rice, Galloway and possibly Williams, but this team has the talent to do better than 4-12 in 2007.
Of course Tampa Bay will add another first-rounder in the draft this year, pushing that number to 15. And who knows – should the Bucs strike a deal for defensive end Charles Grant, a former first-rounder in 2002, Tampa Bay could have as many as 16 former first-round picks on its 2007 roster.
It is interesting to note that Tampa Bay actually has four first-round wide receivers on its team (Galloway, Hilliard, Boston and Clayton) and is considering adding another one in Georgia Tech’s Calvin Johnson. Tampa Bay now has three first-round picks on its defensive line (Rice, Hovan and Carter), and may add another one with Grant or Clemson defensive end Gaines Adams or Louisville defensive tackle Amobi Okoye.
The Bucs have two first-round picks along the offensive line (Petitgout and Joseph), and may add another one in Wisconsin left tackle Joe Thomas.
Tampa Bay will clearly have the talent to contend for the playoffs next year if its playmakers stay healthy. But it is up to the players to play as well as can be expected and the coaches to make sure they play up to their abilities.
FAB 4. The word coming out of One Buccaneer Place regarding the acquisition of Jake Plummer has some interesting facets to it. I sense that the Buccaneers organization is approaching the Plummer situation with a great deal of patience. If Plummer doesn’t play in Tampa in 2007, and it doesn’t look like that will be the case, the team could opt to trade him, but is not opposed to holding onto him in 2007 and dealing him in 2008, either.
The bottom line is that the Buccaneers hold all the cards, they know it and so does Plummer. By all the cards, I mean they essentially control where Plummer plays next year. The only thing Plummer controls is whether he plays or not – but even that is not entirely up to him. You see, if Plummer files the necessary retirement paperwork with the NFL, the Buccaneers can actually reject it.
That’s right. If the 32-year old quarterback wants to retire, the Buccaneers have to accept his retirement paperwork before he can be officially retired. Now that’s what I mean by holding all the cards.
Of course, Plummer has the right to never suit up again in the NFL, but should he go that route, he would then owe the Buccaneers approximately $7 million worth of bonuses that he received from the Broncos while signing four contracts/extensions with Denver over the past four years.
There is a reason why Plummer hasn’t filed the retirement paperwork with the NFL yet and probably won’t. Even if general manager Bruce Allen didn’t express the fact that he has the right to reject Plummer’s paperwork, Plummer should know that given Allen’s track record for holding assistant coaches to their contracts – generally speaking – instead of allowing them to interview for coordinator positions, Allen means business and will likely retrieve the $7 million worth of bonuses the Bucs are entitled to if Plummer doesn’t report.
Allen won’t comment on player contracts, but the guess here is that Allen wants Plummer to have the mind frame to play so that he would accept being traded to another team, such as Houston, where he could be reunited with former Broncos offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who is the Texans head coach. If Plummer doesn’t have the mind frame to play in either 2007 or 2008, the Bucs will lose their 2008 seventh-round draft pick to Denver and then hone in on Plummer’s $7 million.
FAB 5. Here are some things to hold you over until next time:
• The Buccaneers have already had private workouts with New Mexico linebacker Quincy Black, Kent State cornerback Usama Young and Hampton linebacker Justin Durant. They are also interested in Missouri defensive end Xzavie Jackson, and are expected to have a visit with Kansas State return man/wide receiver Yamon Figurs, too. When Figurs, who has been talked about for months in this space and has been featured in PewterReport.com’s 7-round Bucs Mock Draft, is drafted by Tampa Bay remember that you heard it here first.
• Tampa Bay offensive line coach Bill Muir put Wisconsin left tackle Joe Thomas through a personal workout at his pro day. If Thomas is there at number four, he could very easily become a Buccaneer – despite the fact that the Bucs just signed Luke Petitgout. Tampa Bay could have Petitgout mentor Thomas and help bring him along at a regulated pace instead of just throwing the rookie left tackle into the fire in Week 1 of his rookie season.
• In other pro day news, Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin was scoping out defensive ends at both Florida and Clemson. Kiffin was checking out the Tigers’ Gaines Adams, who dazzled scouts with his workout, and the Gators’ Jarvis Moss and Ray McDonald – in addition to safety Reggie Nelson. The Bucs were also in attendance at the UNLV workout to see Rebels cornerback Eric Wright.
• After the Bucs signed defensive tackles Lance Legree and Kenny Smith, the agent for Michael Myers, who played for Larry Coyer in Denver, contacted Tampa Bay to try to schedule a visit but was apparently rebuffed. The Bucs may look at San Francisco defensive tackle Anthony Adams, who is not playing in the right system out there. Adams was Pewter Report’s Bucs’ Best Bets at he defensive tackle position in 2003. The Bucs were close to drafting him in the second round, but the 49ers drafted him a few spots before Tampa Bay selected. That left the Bucs with Louisville defensive end Dewayne White, who was Tampa Bay’s second-round pick.
• Finally, don’t be alarmed that the Bucs haven’t signed either Ken Hamlin (Seattle) or Mike Doss (Indianapolis), both of whom are the two “name” safeties out there in free agency. Doss is still recovering from a torn ACL and won’t pass any team’s physical right now. There are also some lingering health issues regarding Hamlin, who played last year despite missing 10 games with a fractured skull that occurred when he was jumped and beaten out in public in 2005. And for those of you who are still saying, “Why haven’t the Bucs signed Cato June?” or any other “name” players, I’ll remind you that free agency has only been going on for two weeks. Players will continue to get cut and traded between now and the preseason. It’s still early. Be patient. Besides, anybody who is a “name” player like June who hasn’t been signed yet is either asking for too much money or isn’t living up to their advanced billing. Both could be said of June. If June becomes a Buccaneer, which does not appear to be imminent, I hope it's as a strong safety as opposed to an outside linebacker. I liked his speed and ballhawking skills as a safety at Michigan, and I wouldn't mind him being the eighth man in the box in Tampa Bay's defense. I just wouldn't want him as a regular part of the Bucs' front 7. He's undersized, not physical enough and strays too often from proper technique, in my opinion.
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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: firstname.lastname@example.org