Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Jerramy Stevens thought that his time with the Bucs was over when he saw that the team traded a second-round pick to the Cleveland Browns for tight end Kellen Winslow. Those thoughts ended up being brief as Stevens learned quickly otherwise.
"Initially I did (think he wouldn't be back), because I was working out at my gym when I saw that they traded for him, and I said ‘well there goes that option,'" said Stevens. "I was disappointed but then I got home and had some calls on my phone saying that wasn't the case, and I was reassured that I was still part of their picture, and if things worked out as far as contract it could still happen. That was encouraging."
Soon after the trade new general manager Mark Dominik said publicly the team was still interested in re-signing Stevens. That was not lost on the veteran tight end.
"I got that message and it felt good that wasn't an either or situation it was something they wanted to do that hasn't been before, and now we have a chance to do it. It is going to be fun," said Stevens.
After two productive seasons for Tampa Bay, Stevens wanted to hit the open market to get market value for his services. Stevens played two seasons for the league-minimum with the Buccaneers after five years with the Seattle Seahawks. In 2008 Stevens led the Bucs tight ends with 36 receptions for 397 yards and two touchdowns. Returning to his second NFL team was his first choice.
Stevens had always been very appreciative of former head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen for giving him a chance with the Buccaneers to revitalize his career after some hard years in Seattle. Even with the departure of Allen and Gruden, Stevens was excited to return to the Bucs organization.
"I was hopeful that I was going to be back," Stevens said. "This is where I wanted it to be. It was just a matter of getting on the same page as far as a contract. I'm really excited to be back here. This is where I want to make my home."
Stevens knew that the Buccaneers were going in a new direction with the changing of staff and the releasing of a lot of veteran players. The Bucs new offense under offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski is known to run an offense that is conducive to tight ends being featured prominently. Stevens was asked if the new offense appealed to him staying in Tampa Bay.
"Yeah it is. What was more appealing was the excitement, and overall general excitement around the facility about this program and the opportunities going forward," said Stevens. "The new offense is great. It is tight end friendly, so the whole situation is good overall."
With Winslow, Stevens, Alex Smith, and John Gilmore the Bucs have four tight ends that have had degrees of success at the NFL level. Jagodzinski knows that the tight ends are an asset to the offense and he envisions them being big producers for the Buccaneers next season.
"It always has been a big part of this offense," Jagodzinski said. "Kellen does some things with match-ups that we can get that are going to benefit us this year. I think we can put him in different spots and we can move him around to get the match-up we want. He can get in and out of a cut like a receiver. He's good. He's really good. I'm really looking forward to working with him. He's been great. He's been great out at practice asking a lot of questions. Alfredo had him in Cleveland already. He's very familiar with him and how he was coached. I'm excited about him."
Winslow and Stevens are known as pass catching tight ends, and after Stevens was re-signed Dominik talked about the difficulty defenses will face in defending them when they are on the field together. Jagodzinski thinks that those tight ends playing together will open up opportunities on the ground as well.
"We will do that," Jagodzinski said of playing Winslow and Stevens together. "Defenses will have to decide are they going to play (us) in regular personnel with regular defense or are they going to play nickel. If they play regular they're going to have Kellen [or Stevens] on a linebacker. If they play nickel, then they've got the run (to try and stop)."
With Winslow, Stevens, and holdovers Alex Smith and John Gilmore, the Bucs have a set of tight ends that have all had productive NFL careers. Stevens has provided a mismatch for the Bucs offense in his two seasons in Tampa Bay. He caught the game-winning touchdown from quarterback Luke McCown in December of 2007 at New Orleans, and a touchdown in Week 3 at Chicago last season to force overtime. Stevens answered whether he has ever been paired with another great receiving tight end before like he is now with Winslow.
"No I haven't, and I don't think there has ever been a group of tight ends like we have on this team," said Stevens. "I think it is going to cause a lot of problems for defenses, and they saw that when they were planning on making the moves to get him here and bringing me back. I think it will give defenses fits."