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Here are some things that caught my attention this week:
FAB 1. Calvin Johnson mania is sweeping across Tampa Bay, especially after multiple reports surfaced that he ran a 4.33 for personal trainer Tom Shaw in the 40-yard dash last week. Of course that 4.33 doesn’t really count as there weren’t any NFL scouts in attendance. Let’s see what the Georgia Tech star receiver will do at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis next week, or at his pro day workout in March.
Forget the 4.33. If the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Johnson runs in the 4.4s, he cements himself as a top 5 NFL draft pick. If he runs in the 4.3s, then the Oakland Raiders really have to consider him with the top overall draft pick – despite the fact that they desperately need a quarterback more than they need a wide receiver. If Johnson can’t crack 4.5, his stock could actually slip a bit.
Personally, I think his trainer made a calculated mistake by revealing that Johnson ran a 4.33 last week in Orlando. He’s setting the expectation level so high that there is ample room for failure. If Johnson runs a 4.47 at the Combine, it becomes a big story that he’s not as fast as advertised. That’s a negative story that the Johnson camp won’t want out in circulation.
The only way his trainer’s bragging about Johnson’s speed becomes a positive is if he runs in the 4.3s, but that should have been a surprise left for the Combine. Shaw had better have seen Johnson run at least a couple of 40-yard dashes in which he timed around 4.33 or he’s doing his client a disservice.
The wrong start, the wrong step, the wrong form in the 40-yard dash and it could cost him millions on draft day. There’s actually quite a chunk of change from being the first overall pick or the third or fourth overall pick.
There are some Buccaneers fans out there that don’t want to see Tampa Bay draft Johnson; instead preferring the team selects a lineman or a quarterback. It is easy to get sucked into falling in love with a wide receiver like Johnson. Out of all of the positions in football, perhaps no other position is more perfect for a highlight reel than that of the gravity-defying wide receivers. In fact, the most dangerous thing about the wide receiver position can be the highlight reel itself.
Go back and view the highlights of wide receivers like Charles Rodgers and Mike Williams, both of whom were top 10 picks of the Detroit Lions over the past five years and both of whom are considered busts. They made some of the most amazing, acrobatic catches that you have ever seen. Of course, their character was their undoing, but that is not seen to be a problem with Johnson. In fact, that is what makes Johnson the total package of size, speed, ability, production, work ethic – and character.
In a previous SR’s Fab Five, I’ve stated how the Bucs would be in an interesting – and fortunate – dilemma if they had to choose between Wisconsin left tackle Joe Thomas and Johnson. I also stated that it would be hard to turn down a franchise left tackle like Thomas because the only chance to really get one is through the draft. Tarik Glenn, Jonathan Ogden, Tra Thomas, Walter Jones and Bryant McKinnie are all with the teams that drafted them and haven’t sniffed free agency. It’s rare that teams left franchise-type left tackles hit the free agent market.
Elite wide receivers, on the other hand, can easily be had in free agency, and even through trades. Donte Stallworth, a former first-round pick by New Orleans, was traded to Philadelphia last year. Keyshawn Johnson and Joey Galloway, two former first-round draft picks, have already been traded – twice.
Personally, I think the Bucs can’t lose drafting either Thomas or Johnson. Tampa Bay’s offensive line doesn’t boast a single Pro Bowl player and its line is always in need of talented players. But who can’t make the case for Johnson, though? The Bucs have an aging receiver in Galloway, a guy struggling to regain his rookie form in Michael Clayton, a possession receiver in Ike Hilliard, an unproven second-year player in Maurice Stovall and a medical question mark in David Boston.
Johnson caught 178 passes for 2,927 yards and 28 touchdowns in three years despite having a mediocre (at best) quarterback throwing him the ball. You don’t think Johnson could this team immediately and two years down the road when there’s a strong chance that Galloway, Clayton, Hilliard and Boston could be gone?
Johnson scored 15 touchdowns in 14 games in 2006, while Tampa Bay’s pathetic offense scored a total of just 20 TDs last year through 16 games. You don’t think Johnson could be penciled in to add at least five more as a rookie in Tampa Bay?
A talent such as Johnson could make any of the Bucs’ current quarterbacks – Chris Simms, Bruce Gradkowski or Luke McCown – look a lot better. Yes, Tampa Bay needs help along the offensive and defensive lines, but it also needs help putting points on the scoreboard.
The great thing about drafting a receiver is that they only time wideouts are really “taken out of games” in the fourth quarter is when play-callers call running plays to run out the clock and win games. If Tampa Bay falls behind early in games this season as they so often did a year ago, a player like Johnson becomes even more valuable because while Cadillac Williams is on the bench, CJ and Galloway are trying to get the Bucs back into the contest via the passing game.
Even though Tampa Bay desperately needs to upgrade its pass rush, I have yet to see a defensive player worth the third or fourth overall pick in this draft. Perhaps after the combine, Clemson’s Gaines Adams, Louisville’s Amobi Okoye or Arkansas’ Jamal Anderson will elevate himself so he can be in the same discussion as Johnson and Thomas, but they are not there yet in my book and I think that the’s general consensus around the NFL scouting world, too. I’m going back and re-evaluating the tape of those defensive players, but I doubt I will move off my position that if Thomas or Johnson is there when Tampa Bay is on the clock, one of those guys should become a Buccaneer.
You can bet that Gruden is already fantasizing about having Johnson, Galloway, Clayton, Stovall and Hilliard as his wide receiving corps in 2007. Let’s hope those dreams don’t get dashed with the flip of a coin next week.
FAB 2. I was pouring over some of Tampa Bay’s salary cap figures the other day and wanted to see if the team’s cap situation was as out of balance as it was in 2005 and 2006 when I did an in-depth analysis on this very topic. In fact, Pewter Report was the first to detail just exactly how lopsided the team’s salary cap had been with the majority of the top 10 highest-paid players came on the defensive side of the ball.
Parting ways with players like defensive tackle Anthony McFarland helps balance things out somewhat, especially when the team has added first-round draft picks like running back Cadillac Williams and guard Davin Joseph to the Bucs’ millionaires club. But I wanted to see how much things have changed regarding Tampa Bay’s salary cap, if they’ve changed at all.
In terms of 2007 salary cap values (which factor in signing bonuses, roster bonuses and some incentives), here is how this year’s top 10 shakes out (defensive players are bolded):
2007 salary cap values – top 10 DE Simeon Rice $10.45 million CB Ronde Barber $6.8 million DT Chris Hovan $5.1 million DE Greg Spires $4.967 million CB Brian Kelly $4.436 million DT Ellis Wyms $4.15 million LB Shelton Quarles $4.07 million LB Derrick Brooks $3.85 million RT Kenyatta Walker $3.79 million WR Joey Galloway $3.168 million
McFarland actually accounts for $4.196 million worth of dead cap space in 2007, but the Buccaneers still came out ahead by trading him and saving a couple of million worth of cap room.
Heading into the 2006 offseason (and before any contract restructuring), the top 10 Buccaneers salary cap values were as follows (defensive players are bolded):
2006 salary cap values – top 10 LB Derrick Brooks $11.657 million DE Simeon Rice $9.2 million DT Anthony McFarland $8.1 million QB Brian Griese $7.03 million LB Shelton Quarles $5.075 million CB Ronde Barber $4.86 million CB Brian Kelly $3.636 million DE Greg Spires $3.467 million DT Ellis Wyms $3.25 million WR Joey Galloway $2.898 million
Heading into the 2005 season, the top 10 Buccaneers salary cap values were as follows (defensive players are bolded):
2005 salary cap values – top 10 DE Simeon Rice $10.7 million LB Derrick Brooks $9.657 million CB Ronde Barber $5.11 million DT Anthony McFarland $4.7 million CB Brian Kelly $3.636 million RT Kenyatta Walker $3.4 million LB Shelton Quarles $2.575 million FB Mike Alstott $2.393 million RB Cadillac Williams $2.327 million WR Michael Clayton $1.952 million
So what does all this mean? It means that while Tampa Bay has carved out about $24 million in salary cap room to spend in free agency and on draft picks, not much has really changed. The defense still rules the Buccaneers’ salary cap.
But expect that to change this offseason as the Buccaneers are likely to part ways with either Rice or Spires (or both). There has also been some discussion about possibly trading Kelly, and the Bucs will likely approach Phillips, Quarles and Wyms about a restructuring or a pay cut. Quarles could also get caught up in a youth movement and released altogether.
Of course, if Tampa Bay releases Walker this offseason, that doesn’t do anything in terms of balancing the salary cap between the offense and the defense, as he is the offense’s highest paid player.
Now let’s shift gears and talk about base salaries for a minute. Did you know that in terms of base salary, there are only 16 players who will make more than $1 million in 2007? Now that number will grow as the Bucs add some free agents and a first-round draft pick this year, but as it stands right now, there are nine defensive players, six offensive players and one special teamer who will earn at least $1 million this year in base salary (defensive players are bolded). Here’s the list:
DE Simeon Rice $7.5 million DE Greg Spires $4.5 million DT Ellis Wyms $3.9 million CB Ronde Barber $3 million LB Derrick Brooks $3 million CB Brian Kelly $2.6 million QB Chris Simms $2 million RT Kenyatta Walker $1.95 million SS Jermaine Phillips $1.75 million C John Wade $1.43 million RB Cadillac Williams $1.37 million LB Shelton Quarles $1.3 million WR Joey Galloway $1.283 million G Davin Joseph $1.075 million DT Chris Hovan $1 million K Matt Bryant $1 million
Not every Bucs fan is into the salary cap, but for the ones who are, I hope you enjoyed the numbers.
FAB 3. The good news for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is that in 2011, the team will have approximately $120 million in salary cap room, making it the obvious top player in free agency in five years. The bad news? Well, Tampa Bay only has one player – that’s right, one player – under contract for the 2011 season, so it had better be a player and find 52 other guys to sign.
Do you know who it is? Punter Josh Bidwell, who is scheduled to make a base salary of $1.5 million in 2011.
Don’t be alarmed by the news. There’s a good chance that other teams are in the same boat as Tampa Bay with only a couple of players under contract. Hey, the way it stands now, the Bucs certainly won’t be in salary cap hell five years from now. Of course, things will change drastically in the coming years, including the 2007 offseason.
Bidwell won’t be the only Bucs player signed through 2011. There is a good chance that a couple of free agents that Tampa Bay will sign next month will be inked to five-year deals. The same could be said for Tampa Bay’s 2007 draft class as general manager Bruce Allen will try to get as many players signed to five-year deals as possible. You can count on the Bucs’ first-round pick to be signed to a five- or six-year contract.
So once training camp starts and the rookies are signed to their contracts, the Bucs will then have a handful of players under contract for the 2011 season. And hopefully Bidwell won’t feel lonely anymore.
You might be wondering which Buccaneers are signed through 2010, to which I have the answer. Bidwell, cornerback Ronde Barber, tight end Anthony Becht, cornerback Juran Bolden, kicker Matt Bryant, defensive tackle Chris Hovan, right tackle Kenyatta Walker and running back Cadillac Williams are the only current Bucs that have four years left on their deal.
Given their age, it’s doubtful that Barber or Bolden see the final year of their contract. Becht and Walker likely won’t see the final year of their deal, either, although that will likely due to ability rather than age. But again, with an incoming draft and free agent class, there will likely be another handful of players added to this group.
It is just amazing to see how life is really short-term in the NFL. And with proper salary cap management, teams don’t have to be in salary cap hell for long. Just don’t keep spending, make some cuts and do some restructures, and wait until those contracts expire and everything will work out okay.
FAB 4. If you read the December issue of Pewter Report, you would not have seen tight end Doug Jolley’s name on the list of unrestricted free agents in our Future Forecast article. Yet Jolley is indeed a free agent.
The reason is because the final year of his contract (2007) was a voidable year that voided out with playing time earlier in Jolley’s career. So Tampa Bay general manager Bruce Allen basically traded away a sixth-rounder in 2007 for a tight end that only had one year left on his deal. Not a bad deal on the outset, but given the fact that Jolley had just one catch for seven yards all season, trading for Jolley was a bad move.
Don’t expect Jolley to re-sign with the Buccaneers, and if he somehow does, it will likely be a one-year deal for the league minimum. The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Jolley just doesn’t have the size and strength to be an in-line blocker. He’s strictly a pass-catching tight end who hasn’t shown the traits to develop into a good perimeter blocker in the running game or an edge blocker in pass protection.
It is expected that Tampa Bay will make a hard play for New England tight end Daniel Graham in free agency, which, of course, would represent a huge upgrade over Jolley at the tight end position. If Graham were atop the Bucs’ depth chart along with Alex Smith and run-blocking specialist Anthony Becht, there wouldn’t be room for Jolley anyways.
So chalk up a wasted trade by Allen, who has traded for quarterbacks Luke McCown and Tim Rattay in addition to Jolley. It should be noted that none of these trades have worked out spectacularly for the Buccaneers. Allen’s saving grace in the trade department has been acquiring 1,000-yard wide receiver Joey Galloway from Dallas while dealing Keyshawn Johnson to the Cowboys when most NFL observers thought that the Bucs couldn’t get anything for the disgruntled wide receiver.
But given Tampa Bay’s rather poor showing on the second day of the draft, the sixth-round pick that was given up for Jolley would probably have been wasted anyways.
FAB 5. Here are some things to hold you over until next time:
• For those of you who will be pining for Brad Johnson’s return to Tampa Bay if he gets released from Minnesota as expected this offseason, don’t hold your breath. Remember, this is a guy who was released for his lack of arm strength and questionable decision-making (checking down too often and missing open receivers downfield) in 2004. That was three years ago. Do you think his arm strength has actually improved? Why do you think Minnesota head coach Brad Childress will cut him? Johnson was the right quarterback at the right time in Tampa Bay. He won a Super Bowl championship because of his intelligence and grit in 2002. He deserves all the credit in the world for quickly picking up Jon Gruden’s offense and getting it to function over the second half of the season and into the playoffs. But Johnson is past his prime and the way he was benched here in Tampa Bay has undoubtedly – and understandably – soured him on Gruden and the Bucs. He was able to have some immediate success in Minnesota in 2005 when he was inserted into the lineup because he was playing fearless and didn’t have the pressure of being a starter. When he became the full-fledged starter in 2006, he didn’t play well and was ultimately benched. The fans that want Brad Johnson back are probably the same ones who want Mike Alstott to get 20 carries per game – just like the glory days. They also may be the ones who want Tony Dungy to come back and coach in Tampa (although they were the same folks who were driven crazy by all of the 3-4 starts, all the arm-crossing and lack of emotion on the sidelines and the vanilla offenses, too). These are fans that live in the past and can’t move on. When they envision Johnson throwing the ball and Alstott running, they envision 2002 all over again. It’s 2007 people. It’s time to move on.
• I forgot to mention a couple of other Senior Bowl notes in my last SR’s Fab Five, so I saved them for this edition. LSU wide receiver Dwayne Bowe was easily the best wide receiver in Mobile, Ala., likely carrying a late first-round or early second-round grade. I have watched a lot of LSU film over the last couple of years and Bowe leaves the program as its leading touchdown-scoring wide receiver. He broke a lot of Michael Clayton’s LSU records and had a great week of practice at the Senior Bowl, but when I got the chance to interview him at the Senior Bowl I found him to be very aloof, rude and immature. Now I realize I don’t have a title like “general manager,” “head coach,” or “NFL scout” in front of my name. I was but a lowly reporter to Bowe. That’s fine, but it was unexpected, especially at the Senior Bowl. You see, when players get to the Senior Bowl they all have agents who have schooled them to be ultra-polite and ultra-accommodating to anyone who talks to them. These players have been drilled by their agents to treat the entire week like a business interview, which it is. The agents know that there will be plenty of media on-hand and make sure that their clients are out to make a favorable impression. I got a terrible first impression from Bowe, and if he is anywhere close to behaving like he did in front of me to any NFL coaches or scouts, his stock will drop rather quickly and he can kiss any hopes of being a firstr-round pick goodbye. The impression I got from spending five minutes with him? “What a turd. I wouldn’t want this guy on my team, if I’m the Buccaneers.” Very good receiver. Very good fit in the West Coast offense. Poor attitude. Give me Fresno State’s Paul Williams instead in the second round (if the Bucs haven’t already landed Georgia Tech’s Calvin Johnson) instead of Bowe.
• Speaking of first impressions, new Tampa Bay defensive line coach Larry Coyer made a very favorable one on me when I met him at the Senior Bowl. If you listened to the first PewterReport.com podcast you heard that I thought former defensive line coach Jethro Franklin made a very poor first impression on me. Now that I think about it, he reminded me of Dwayne Bowe. The same can’t be said for Coyer, who will also have a much better reception from the players than Franklin ever did. The Bucs have made sure of it, too. I’m not sure if Tampa Bay had to make Coyer, a former defensive coordinator at Denver, an assistant head coach to lure him to One Buccaneer Place or if it has to do with his pay structure. But in talking with head coach Jon Gruden in Mobile, Ala., he made it clear that Coyer was going to walk into meeting rooms with the clout that Franklin didn’t have. “We can’t have enough leadership around here,” Gruden said. From what I took away from my conversation about Coyer, Gruden must be thinking, “If for some reason you defensive linemen didn’t listen to Jethro Franklin – and our paltry sack totals indicate that – you will listen to Larry Coyer. This guy has 42 years of college and pro coaching experience, which is longer than some of your parents have been alive. If you don’t think that’s enough clout for you, oh, by the way, he’s also the assistant head coach of the defense.” I don’t know if those are Gruden’s exact thoughts on the matter, but if I had to read his mind, that’s what I took away from our conversation.
• One of the more depressing aspects of free agency thus far – even though it hasn’t really started yet – is the fact that most of the premium pass rushing defensive ends, namely Dwight Freeney (Indianapolis), Justin Smith (Cincinnati), Charles Grant (New Orleans) and Patrick Kerney (Atlanta) have either been hit with the franchise tag (Freeney and Smith), or are about to be hit with the franchise tag (Grant and Kerney). Tampa Bay had hoped to land one of these stellar edge rushers in free agency so that it wouldn’t have to use a first-round pick on a defensive lineman and focus squarely on Wisconsin left tackle Joe Thomas and Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson. The Bucs knew Freeney was going to be tagged, and knew it was about 50-50 with Smith and Grant. The 30-year old Kerney, who missed seven games due to injury last year, was fourth on the team’s wish list out of those players at the defensive end position (the Bucs are still debating whether Baltimore’s Adalius Thomas is a defensive end or an outside linebacker in their scheme). If these four players are off the market before free agency opens, this will force Tampa Bay to do multiple things: 1) Reconsider keeping Simeon Rice and not trade him 2) Strongly consider selecting a defensive end in the first round of the draft 3) Reconsider Dewayne White’s worth and value and consider making him a last-minute offer before he hits free agency 4) Consider franchising White (the Bucs can afford to do so) and have him play in Tampa Bay one more year to accurately assess his value before signing him to a long-term contract. White doesn’t deserve the franchise tag, but it doesn’t look like there will be enough quality free agents on the market to spend all $24 million on anyways. But if the Bucs are somehow desperate to keep him, they could make White the one-year, $8.3 million offer. After the four players mentioned, White is probably fifth on the list.
• The Buccaneers aren’t expected to get as many compensatory draft picks this year as they have received in the past. Tampa Bay didn’t sign any other players during free agency last year (cornerback Phillip Buchanon and defensive tackle Jovan Haye were acquired during the season) and they only lost free safety Dexter Jackson. Jackson signed a four-year deal worth $7.6 million with the Bengals to be their starter. There isn’t a clear-cut formula on how compensatory picks are dished out by the NFL. It’s a subjective process that weighs how many impact free agents did a team lose to other teams versus how many impact free agents signed during free agency. The process also weighs how heavily the players were compensated and how well they played. Jackson received a pretty decent deal in free agency, but missed some time due to injury. Given the fact that Tampa Bay doesn’t have a sixth-round pick this year due to the Doug Jolley trade, the guess here is that the league will give the Bucs a sixth-rounder – even though the team is hoping for a fifth-rounder.
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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
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