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Now that free agency is almost 72 hours old, here is the latest news and inside scoop PewterReport.com is hearing.
DUNN BACK TO TAMPA BAY? Under new general manager Tom Dimitroff and new head coach Mike Smith, Atlanta is going to undergo a painful transformation of the roster in 2008. Out with the old and in with the new.
The deconstruction of the Falcons is currently underway with salary-cap strapped Atlanta jettisoning expensive thirty-something playmakers like tight end Alge Crumpler and under tackle Rod Coleman – this coming on the heels of losing the NFC’s leading sacker last year, defensive end Patrick Kearney, to Seattle in 2007.
On Saturday, free agent linebacker Demorrio Williams, one of the Falcons defense’s top playmakers, left Atlanta for a richer situation in Kansas City. Former University of South Florida star Stephen Nicholas, who enters his second season in the NFL, will be called on to replace Williams.
At running back, San Diego’s Michael Turner is being wooed heavily by the franchise, with owner Arthur Blank leading the way. Should the Falcons sign Turner, and they are the current leaders for his services, that would almost likely prompt Atlanta to release veteran Warrick Dunn, especially with young, speedy Jerious Norwood still on the roster.
Dunn rushed for 5,981 yards and 30 touchdowns in his six seasons (2002-07) in Atlanta, after rushing for 4,200 yards and 17 touchdowns in five seasons (1997-2001) with Tampa Bay. Dunn, who is a great receiver, recorded 259 catches for 2,374 yards and nine touchdowns with the Buccaneers, and 204 receptions for 1,635 yards and six scores with the Falcons.
Last year, Dunn rushed for 720 yards and four touchdowns on 227 carries (3.2 avg.), and posted 37 catches for 238 yards for the Falcons.
Multiple sources told Pewter Report on Sunday morning that Dunn and Bucs head coach Jon Gruden were saying a rather long “hello” to each other at Mike Alstott’s retirement ceremony on Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium. I’m sure they were exchanging greetings and Gruden was not trying to recruit Dunn. No way. After all, that would be tampering.
Gruden has lamented several times how much he did not like seeing Dunn leave for Atlanta in 2002 when the Bucs were salary cap-strapped. He loves Dunn’s ability to run, catch and pass protect, and at age 33, he still has more speed than Michael Pittman, who is not expected to return to the Buccaneers.
Dunn has publicly said that he would like to end his NFL career in Indianapolis playing for head coach Tony Dungy, who drafted the Florida State product in 1997, or the Buccaneers.
BUCS RAIDING BOURBON STREET The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are taking some subtle shots at the biggest threat in the NFC South – the New Orleans Saints. Last year, Tampa Bay brought in defensive end Charles Grant for a visit when he was franchised by New Orleans.
That scared the Saints and prompted the team to pay him a king’s ransom (a reported seven-year deal worth up to $63 million, including $20 million in guaranteed money). Now were there an extra couple of million dollars thrown in because of the Bucs’ strong interest? Perhaps. We’ll never know for sure. But Grant signed his long-term, cap-gobbling deal shortly after his visit to One Buccaneer Place, so there must have been some influence.
By the way, Grant said, “Thank you” to the Saints by responding with 49 tackles – his lowest total since his rookie season in 2002 – and 2.5 sacks.
This year, Tampa Bay has already targeted a couple of Saints, signing away starting center Jeff Faine and showing interest in wide receiver Devery Henderson, a former New Orleans second-round pick, and former Buccaneers running back Aaron Stecker. The Bucs were seriously entertaining the idea of signing the speedy Henderson enough to bring him in for a visit on Friday, but he wound up re-signing with the Saints for one year at a reported $2 million.
Tampa Bay’s interest in Stecker was minimal. The Bucs offered him a one-year, league minimum contract, but the 32-year old Stecker opted to stay in New Orleans for a reported one-year, $1.4 million deal.
After making runs at four Saints players, the Bucs only came away with one – Faine. But it is interesting how aggressive Tampa Bay has been when it has come to going after the players on a division rival.
BUCS NOT AGGRESSIVE IN TRADES With Detroit’s Shaun Rogers and Jacksonville’s Marcus Stroud being essentially acquired for third-and fifth-round picks by Cleveland and Buffalo, respectively, why didn’t Tampa Bay get in the mix for either player? (Editor’s note, Cincinnati had a deal that would have sent a third- and a fifth-round pick to Detroit for Rogers, but that was nixed by the league office for some technicalities. Instead, Rogers was shipped to Cleveland for a third-round pick and backup cornerback Leigh Bodden, who is probably worth a fifth-round pick.)
First of all, the Buccaneers only have five draft picks in 2008. There is a strong indication that head coach Jon Gruden will be drafting a quarterback this year, so that would mean that only four draft picks have the potential of really helping the team as rookies. It is imperative that Tampa Bay hit on those players.
Plus, the Bucs believe that Rogers and Stroud are nose tackles and the team already has two nose tackles it is happy with Chris Hovan and Ryan Sims. So nose tackle was not a great need. The Buccaneers have a strong opinion of Hovan and believe he is one of the franchise’s top 10 players.
At under tackle, the Buccaneers have reportedly given restricted free agent Jovan Haye a one-year tender worth $2.01 million. That means that the Bucs would get a first-round pick for Haye should another team sign him to an offer sheet.
Haye had a strong debut for the Bucs in his first season as a full-time starter, recording 97 tackles, six sacks, four fumble recoveries and one forced fumble. In a free agent market and an upcoming draft that is shallow in three-technique tackles, Haye would likely be sought after if not for the first-round tender.
Tampa Bay is interested in adding an additional under tackle to the mix whether it be through free agency or the draft, but neither Rogers nor Stroud is an ideal fit in Tampa Bay’s defense at under tackle.
BE PATIENT, BUCS FANS Some Bucs fans may be fretting over Tampa Bay's lack of activity in terms of signings in free agency. Armed with $41 million entering free agency, the Bucs had the potential to be one of the biggest players on the outset of free agency.
Much to fans' chagrin, the team has not made a big splash in free agency, signing center Jeff Faine (New Orleans), defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson (Kansas City) and tight end John Gilmore (Chicago).
But keep in mind that left tackle Luke Petitgout wasn't signed until March 6 last year, four days after the start of free agency. Linebacker Cato June wasn't signed until March 17, two weeks after the start of free agency. Tight end Jerramy Stevens wasn't signed until April 29 after the draft concluded. Petitgout helped the Bucs start off 3-1, June was third on the team with 120 tackles, one interception and one forced fumble and Stevens was second on the team in touchdown receptions (four), including the game-winner at New Orleans.
Free agency has just begun and the Bucs will continue to remain active. Stay tuned and be patient.
OTHER BUCS FREE AGENCY SCOOP Several quality free agents remain available for the Buccaneers. PewterReport.com is reporting that tight end Ben Troupe (Tennessee) had a good meeting with the Buccaneers and that the discussions were deemed positive. It is expected that Troupe would still visit with Buffalo, as scheduled, on Monday. Troupe is still in Tampa. It sounds like the Bucs are definitely in the mix for his services. … Although the Bucs did not get in the mix for Antwan Odom (Tennessee) or Justin Smith (Cincinnati), keep an eye on defensive ends Tyler Brayton (Oakland) and Bobby McCray (Jacksonville). Interest in these players from the Buccaneers could heat up. … The Bucs are one of the teams interested in both wide receiver Bryant Johnson (Arizona) and wide receiver Javon Walker (Denver). … There is a lot of misinformation floating around in free agency and PewterReport.com has even been a victim of it as we reported that the Bucs were scheduled to visit with running back Mewelde Moore and defensive end Marques Douglas. That turned out to be info from an agent who was trying to drum up interest in his clients. PewterReport.com can also debunk reports that former Falcons linebacker Demorrio Williams was scheduled to visit with the Buccaneers on Monday, in addition to a false report that former Detroit middle linebacker Teddy Lehman is scheduled to visit Tampa Bay on Monday. Wide receiver Drew Carter, formerly of Carolina, is also not scheduled to visit the Buccaneers, despite published reports.
MORE FREE AGENCY VISITS Keep track of all of the Tampa Bay's visits that PewterReport.com has been able to confirm on the Bucs Free Agency Tracker on the PewterReport.com message boards.
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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