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Here are some things that caught my attention this week:
FAB 1. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won’t be surprised if they lose defensive end Dewayne White in free agency. Because there will be few very good defensive ends available in free agency due to the likes of Justin Smith (Cincinnati), Dwight Freeney (Indianapolis) and Charles Grant (New Orleans) getting slapped with the franchise tag last week, White figures to make a huge chunk of change come March 2.
There will be great demand for his services from NFL teams, but the Bucs aren’t likely to be one of them. When Tampa Bay’s need for pass rushers is at its highest, which is right now, why on Earth would the Bucs entertain the notion of letting one go?
It’s simple. White will get paid more than he’s worth in free agency.
Tampa Bay just dug itself out of a salary cap hell that was created by bad deals. It doesn’t want to return there anytime soon. With $24 million to spend in free agency it would be easy for the Buccaneers to justify overpaying for White, who has just 14 sacks in his five-year NFL career, because they have the salary cap room.
However, the Bucs don’t want to overspend and blow their $24 million this year because of the ramifications that this year’s contracts would have on future years when the free agent class might actually be much better than this year’s mediocre crop. The fact that they won’t overspend this year has been the public mantra of everyone at One Buccaneer Place from Bruce Allen to Jon Gruden to Mark Dominik to Doug Williams. They seem confident that they will back up their talk, too – even if it means passing up on White.
So why don’t the Bucs see the potential in this guy? Well, for starters, potential is the deadliest word in the NFL. The fact is that White just hasn’t proven himself enough in the Bucs’ eyes.
The telling signs of Tampa Bay’s lack of interest in White were the fact that he didn’t crack the starting lineup during his Buccaneers career until the final eight games of the 2006 season – and only because starter Simeon Rice was placed on injured reserve. When White had the opportunity to showcase himself on a down-in, down-out basis, he didn’t make a great impression, recording only two sacks over the last eight games. Last year, White notched five total sacks, but his first three came as a backup.
Personally, I felt like White should have started over Greg Spires in 2005 and ’06, but the last time I checked, the word “coach” wasn’t in front of my name. I have asked several folks at One Buc Place why Spires was still starting over White and the entire building was virtually unanimous. White wasn’t consistent enough to beat out Spires for the starting job.
Keep in mind that this wasn’t a Jon Gruden call. This was a Rod Marinelli and Monte Kiffin call in 2005 and solely a Kiffin call in ‘06. Kiffin repeatedly told me that when White beats out Spires White would win the starting job. It never happened.
The only way White got the right to start was due to Rice’s injury. So how in the world could the Bucs justify paying White millions in “starter money” when he never earned the right to start in five years in Tampa Bay?
There will be significant interest in White because pass rushers are always in demand and NFL teams are always victims of the “grass is always greener” mentality. The thinking is that just because White didn’t start in Tampa Bay doesn’t mean he can’t start for “Team X.”
Sometimes that approach works, such was the case with Chris Hovan, who was discarded by Minnesota and played well in Tampa Bay. Sometimes it doesn’t, such was the case with Derrick Deese, who was cut by San Francisco and didn’t play well in Tampa Bay.
Don’t get me wrong. The Bucs would like to have White back. Tampa Bay will likely make White an offer, but it won’t be the highest offer. It may not even be close to the highest offer. Put White’s chances of remaining a Buccaneer below 50 percent at this stage of the game.
If White goes on to be a double-digit sacker for another team in 2007 the critics of Gruden, general manager Bruce Allen and the front office will be out in full force for letting him go.
FAB 2. While the market for defensive linemen is drying up the free agent safety market remains intact. No team franchised a safety this month, and there will be several viable candidates to choose from.
Atop Tampa Bay’s wish list are Philadelphia’s Michael Lewis and Indianapolis’ Mike Doss, as Pewter Report reported earlier this week in our 2007 Free Agency Preview. The Bucs will likely have to pay a premium price for Lewis, who, along with Seattle’s Ken Hamlin, is regarded as the best free agent safety in this class. However, Doss, a former All-American at Ohio State, would likely come cheaper as he did not finish the 2006 season as a starter.
The Bucs were hoping to land a starter on the defensive line in free agency, thus giving them a lot of latitude and flexibility to dress other needs in the draft. But with the lack of stellar options at defensive line available in free agency, Tampa Bay figures to address its needs at safety in free agency and then concentrate on the defensive line and other positions in the draft.
The 2007 draft is rich with safeties, including LSU’s LaRon Landry, Miami’s Brandon Meriweather, Virginia Tech’s Aaron Rouse, Utah’s Eric Weddle and Wake Forest’s Josh Gattis among others. But if Tampa Bay could land Lewis and Doss in free agency – or at least one of those players – it would lessen the need for the Bucs to draft one in April.
Remember that starters Jermaine Phillips and Will Allen are still under contract and are expected back in 2007. Although their play regressed under new defensive backs coach Greg Burns last year, Phillips and Allen played a big role in helping Tampa Bay’s defense achieve the number one ranking in 2005 when Raheem Morris, the team’s new DBs coach, was onboard as Mike Tomlin’s assistant. The Bucs feel that Morris’ return will get the careers of both young players back on track.
If by some chance Phillips and Allen wind up getting relegated to backup duty in 2007 behind Lewis, Doss or some other safeties, both have been outstanding special-teamers in years past. Having a quartet of Phillips, Allen, Doss and Lewis sounds much more promising than last year’s foursome of Phillips, Allen, Kalvin Pearson and Blue Adams.
FAB 3. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers really didn’t care whether they won or lost the coin flip with the Cleveland Browns over the third overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. Honestly.
Based on information that they have gathered, the Bucs firmly believe that Wisconsin left tackle Joe Thomas will be gone by the time the third pick rolls around. If Oakland or Detroit do not take him, there is a good chance that another team would be willing to trade up and land the All-American stud at either number one or number two.
With Thomas out of the running, the Bucs would then be interested in selecting Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson or a defensive lineman at number four. The first three picks in the draft are believed to be on the offensive side of the ball, which would present Tampa Bay the option of selecting the first defensive player, which could be Clemson’s Gaines Adams, Louisville’s Amobi Okoye, Michigan’s Alan Branch or Arkansas’ Jamaal Anderson.
Don’t buy any of the speculation about Tampa Bay considering drafting Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn or Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson with the fourth pick. It isn’t going to happen, although the Bucs will float the idea out there to try to drum up interest from a team that wants to trade up to acquire their pick.
Although Tampa Bay would like to acquire a running back to complement Cadillac Williams in 2007, it is extremely doubtful that they would invest so much money in another top five pick at the position – especially since Williams was selected with the fifth overall pick just two years ago.
With no quarterback to throw Johnson the ball, and Randy Moss and Jerry Porter still on the team, the Raiders won’t draft the talented Georgia Tech receiver with the first overall pick. Expect the Raiders to draft LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell. He has the arm for Oakland’s vertical passing game.
With Detroit needing help at running back – due to Kevin Jones’ injury – and offensive line – due to the belief of head coach Rod Marinelli and offensive coordinator Mike Martz in a strong line – the Lions will either go with Peterson or Thomas. The buzz since the Senior Bowl has Detroit interested in taking Thomas. Johnson is not really a possibility given the fact that Detroit has drafted a wide receiver in the first round from 2003-05.
Cleveland needs help along the offensive line, at quarterback and at running back. If Thomas somehow gets by Detroit, he would undoubtedly become a Brown. But the more likely pick would be Peterson, who would help Cleveland’s ill-fated running game, or Quinn to shore up their passing game and give the Browns a franchise quarterback. The Browns would likely pass up Johnson because they have more pressing needs and the fact that they spent a number one pick on Braylon Edwards two years ago.
So sitting at number four likely nets the Bucs Johnson or the first pick of defensive linemen, with a crazy, outside chance at Thomas should the draft go Russell, Quinn and Peterson. Not too shabby. This scenario will also save the Bucs anywhere from $5-$10 million over the life of the contract between the third overall pick and the fourth overall pick. If the Bucs were to pick the same player – Johnson – at number three or number four, why not pick him fourth and save the cash?
The added bonus is that the Bucs will move ahead of the Browns in rounds two and four. Why is this so important? Tampa Bay gets to pick the 35th-best player in the draft instead of the 36th-best player and also gets the third overall pick on the second day of the draft instead of the fourth. Sometimes players slide through the cracks on the first day of the draft and there is a premium placed on being atop the second day to grab a steal in the fourth round.
When it comes to the second round, the Browns do need a center given LeCharles Bentley’s condition, which will require him to sit out the 2007 season and perhaps end his career. Depending on how they test, there is a chance that USC’s Ryan Kalil or Boston College’s Josh Beekman will go in the bottom of the first round, leaving just one top center prospect for the taking at the top of the second round. The Bucs are now in position to grab a center (or choose which center they want if both Kalil and Beekman are on the board) thanks to losing the coin flip.
The Bucs wouldn’t have been crying if they had won the coin flip, but they certainly aren’t sobbing that they lost, either.
FAB 4. PewterReport.com has been way out in front of the Jamie Winborn story this offseason. Is it a big deal that a backup linebacker was contemplating buying out of his contract? You bet it is, especially when two of Tampa Bay’s linebackers – 33-year old Derrick Brooks and 35-year old Shelton Quarles – are in the twilight of their careers.
Tampa Bay has a need for future starters when Brooks and Quarles call it quits. Third-year middle linebacker Barrett Ruud is expected to be the team’s middle linebacker of the future, and the way things stand right now, Winborn is slated to become Brooks’ heir apparent.
The fact that the Buccaneers already have a strong candidate for their future weakside (Will) linebacker – the most important linebacker position in Monte Kiffin’s defense – is nothing to sneeze at. That’s why the Bucs are working on a contract extension with Winborn to keep him around for the long haul.
Winborn, who has just one year left on his deal, signed a two-year contract with the Bucs that provided him with an escape clause after one year. Winborn could simply repay his $200,000 signing bonus to void the 2007 season on his contract and become a free agent. He chose not to.
Through numerous interviews with PewterReport.com, Winborn has expressed his desire to stay in Tampa Bay as he is quite fond of the coaches and players, loves the area and thinks he is a great fit in the system. His only gripe was the fact that he used to be a starter and was relegated to the role of a backup in his first year with the Bucs.
Winborn was destined to sit behind Brooks, a future Hall of Famer, on the weakside, but he griped a bit that he didn’t have the opportunity to really compete with and possibly ouster Ryan Nece on the strongside (Sam). If the Bucs give Winborn a hefty raise along with a contract extension, they may feel the urgency to get him on the field in 2007.
That may come at the Sam linebacker spot at the expense of Nece, or the Bucs may consider moving Brooks, who appeared to lose a step in 2006, to the Sam position and insert Winborn into the Will spot. Time will tell. The first step is to see what transpires with Winborn’s contract extension.
FAB 5. Here are some things to hold you over until next time:
• It is curious that Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith tabbed former Buccaneers middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson, a player Smith coached in the late 1990s in Tampa, as his new linebackers coach. Tampa Bay needed a new linebackers coach to replace Joe Barry, yet never considered Nickerson, who was the color commentator for the Buccaneers Radio Network. Instead, the Bucs promoted defensive quality control coach Gus Bradley to the role of linebackers coach after he earned Monte Kiffin’s trust last year and received a glowing endorsement from Barry on his way out of town to become Detroit’s defensive coordinator. If Nickerson turns out to be the next Mike Singletary and lights it up in Chicago as a position coach, some eyebrows need to be raised regarding how Nickerson didn’t even warrant an interview from the Buccaneers.
• If the Buccaneers are looking for a running back in free agency to team with Cadillac Williams over the next few years, they should take a look at San Diego’s Michael “The Burner” Turner, who is slated to become a restricted free agent. The 5-foot-10, 237-pound Turner, a former fifth-round pick out of Northern Illinois, rushed for 502 yards and a 6.3 average last year backing up LaDanian Tomlinson. He scored two rushing touchdowns and also posted a receiving touchdown. Turner has rushed for 941 yards, five touchdowns and a 6-yard average during his three years in the NFL. Turner also averaged 26.5 yards on 36 kickoff returns in 2006, posting six returns longer than 40 yards. Unless he is offered a first-round tender worth $1.8 million, teams will be waiting in line to sign Turner if San Diego offers him a second-round tender worth $1.3 million. Over the last couple of years, teams have made backup running backs like Derrick Blaylock, Lamont Jordan and Chester Taylor very rich starters in free agency. It would be nice to see Turner form a nice one-two punch with Williams in Tampa Bay, but there are a few teams out there that would likely outbid the Bucs for his services and promise him a starting job.
• Why in the world is there such a fuss over Atlanta Falcons backup quarterback Matt Schaub? I like Schaub and think he has what it takes to be a starter in the NFL, but for the Falcons to consider tendering him an offer that would require first- and third-round draft pick compensation is a bit much. Let’s not forget that Schaub has completed just 84-of-161 of his passes (52.2 percent) for 1,033 yards with six touchdowns and six interceptions. That computes to a 69.2 QB rating. Schaub was a third-round pick out of Virginia. The Falcons should consider themselves lucky if a team offers up a first-round pick for him given his spotty and light track record in the NFL. A second-round pick would make more sense.
• It is unclear if the Buccaneers have any real interest in free agent defensive tackle Michael Myers, but they have a great source of inside info on him from new defensive line coach Larry Coyer, who coached him over the last couple of years with the Denver Broncos. With Tampa Bay needing defensive tackles, the 6-foot-2, 300-pound Myers could be targeted in free agency if he gets a strong endorsement from Coyer. He’s not a great pass rusher, evidenced by his 14.5 sacks over his nine-year NFL career, but he did notch two sacks last year, in addition to forcing a fumble and recovering two loose balls for the Broncos.
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