Wednesday, April 15, 2009

2009 Offseason - Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs head into the 2009 NFL draft with 8 picks, 5 of which are their original selections (rounds 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6). The three additional picks are 7th rounders from Jacksonville, Chicago, and Baltimore. If you remember back to last year when the Bucs traded down in the second round to "curiously" select Dexter Jackson, they picked up the Jags' '09 seventh rounder. They get Chicago's 7th rounder for sending them Dan Buenning, and Baltimore gave the Bucs a late pick when they made Marques Douglas a Raven during the preseason.

The Bucs are missing their own 2nd and 7th selections. The 2nd rounder went to Cleveland as part of the Kellen Winslow trade, and the 7th rounder was traded to Pittsburgh when the Bucs reacquired Sean Mahan.

What are they going to do with those 8 picks? Will they top last year's first rounder Talib, or will it be a Kenyatta Walker-like swing and a miss? Before we get into their picks, let's take a look at the offseason activity so far.

Despite heading into free agency with a league high $64.2 million in cap space, the Buccaneers’ spending spree hasn’t measured up to some fans’ expectations. Maybe it was finishing behind the Redskins in the Albert Haynesworth chase. Maybe it was striking out on Jay Cutler, not once, but twice. Maybe it was bringing back the underwhelming Michael Clayton and guaranteeing him over $10 million in the process. Whether you’re drinking the Kool-Aid or wearing your hater hat, one thing everyone can agree on is that the Bucs are going to look drastically different in ’09.

There are changes at every level, starting with the surprising firings of Bruce Allen and Jon Gruden nearly three weeks after the season ended. The firings themselves may not have surprised some, but the timing certainly did. Nevertheless, the Glazers moved swiftly in making two in-house promotions. Mark Dominik, a Buccaneer employee of 13 years, was elevated to GM, and Raheem Morris went from secondary coach to defensive coordinator to head coach in the span of one month.

The turk’s presence was felt on the field as well. A month after the Dominik/Morris promotions (and a mere two days before the start of free agency), the Bucs released several prominent veterans, including Buccaneer lifer Derrick Brooks. Joining him as ex-Bucs were Joey Galloway, Warrick Dunn, Ike Hilliard, and Cato June. The front office said the moves were not financially motivated but rather due to the fact that the players did not fit their plan for the future. The inexpensive hires and lack of signing bonus money given to free agent signees has increased the whispers of possible liquidity problems the Glazers.

What have the Bucs done so far to restock the roster?

Luke McCown (QB), Ryan Sims (DT), and Antonio Bryant (WR) were re-signed prior to the start of free agency. McCown signed a two year $7.5 million deal and was promised a chance to compete for the starting job. Ryan Sims was brought back for 4 years and $8 million, while Antonio Bryant grudgingly accepted the franchise tag and a $9.884 million salary for the 2009 season.

After the Winslow trade kicked off free agency, the Bucs made the following signings (* = re-sign):

Derrick Ward (RB, NY Giants) – 4 years, $17 mil ($6 mil guaranteed)
Byron Leftwich (QB, Pittsburgh) – 2 years, $7.5 mil
Angelo Crowell (LB, Buffalo) – 1 year, $3 mil
Mike Nugent (K, NY Jets) – 1 year, $ undisclosed
Niko Koutouvides (LB, Denver) – undisclosed
(*) Jermaine Phillips (S) – 1 year, $1.25 mil
(*) Will Allen (S) – 1 year, $1.83 mil ($2.35 mil max)
(*) Michael Clayton (WR) – 5 years, $24 mil ($10.5 mil guaranteed)
(*) Jerramy Stevens (TE) – 2 years ($1.265 mil in ’09, $1.425 mil in ’10)

Phillip Buchanon (CB, Detroit) - 2 years, $8.5 million
Joey Galloway (WR, New England) – 1 year, $1.75 million
Jovan Haye (DT, Tennessee) – 4 years, $16.2 million
Jeff Garcia (QB, Oakland) – 1 year, $1 million
Cato June (LB, Houston) – 1 year, $1.5 million

Where do these guys fit?

After visiting with the Redskins and pondering a return to Pittsburgh, Leftwich signed with the Bucs to compete with McCown for the starting QB job. Ward seemingly takes over as the early down guy for the Bucs, who are expected to lean heavily on the run game with a solid young offensive line and two powerful backs. Winslow could be a huge boost to the receiving game, assuming his knees hold up, and retaining Stevens is a nice move in that area as well. Michael Clayton blocks well. Crowell will join youngsters Geno Hayes, Quincy Black, Adam Hayward, and Jermaine Phillips (yes, Jermaine Phillips) in a preseason battle to see who starts in the two backer spots on either side of Barrett Ruud. The Bucs have high hopes for Hayes, who had his impressive rookie season cut short by a knee injury, and despite getting seeing little action under Monte Kiffin’s reign, the Bucs like what they’ve seen in Black and Hayward. Phillips is going to start the offseason attempting to take over the vacated WLB position. Will he be successful? Will he get his starting safety spot back if the LB experiment fails? Nugent will compete with Matt Bryant for the kicking job.

Where does this leave them heading into the draft?

Well, on the offensive side of the football, the glaring weak spot is speed at receiver; a game changing deep threat. I’d also like to see a true #2 receiver (Torry Holt) brought in, but considering the $ they gave to Clayton, they’re not paying him to be #3. I doubt the mentions of Maruice Stovall, Dexter Jackson, Brian Clark, Cortez Hankton, and Paris Warren strike fear in opposing secondaries. Yeah, help is needed.

I would think they’re set at QB now with McCown, Leftwich, Johnson, and Griese. If Griese ends up being the 4th QB they take to camp, I think his stay is brief. I expect McCown, Leftwich, and Johnson to end up being our QB.

At RB, Ward and Graham lead the way. Cadillac Williams is coming back from yet another (albeit less serious) knee injury and is adamant that he’ll return. The guy has a ton of heart, but he simply can’t be counted on to be a significant contributor. Clifton Smith could see some reps in the backfield, but I’d hate to see our Pro Bowl return man get hurt playing a secondary position. BJ Askew, Byron Storer, and Jameel Cook are currently on the roster at fullback, but I’m guessing Cook is the odd man out. It’s not an urgent need, but the Bucs could look to bring in another back to compete on special teams and man the third tailback spot.

We’re looking good at center with last year’s free agent signing, Jeff Faine. Aaron Sears and Davin Joseph man the guard spots while Jeremy Zuttah and Sean Mahan provide depth on the interior. Donald Penn signed his one year tender and depending on how the collective bargaining agreement situation shakes out, Jeremy Trueblood could be a free agent at the end of the year. The Bucs flirted with Khalif Barnes this offseason but didn’t make any real effort to address the position. James Lee, a G/T backup, is unproven. The Bucs would be wise to spend a selection on a tackle to add depth. With the move to a zone blocking scheme up front, the Bucs do not need to spend a high pick on a lineman (as OC, Jeff Jagodzinski has said *).
"You can do it with lesser talent," Jagodzinski said. "In Atlanta, I had three seventh-round picks, the left tackle, center and right guard, and at one time last year I had a fifth-round at left guard. And Barry Stokes was a free agent. So three sevens, a five and a free agent."
On the defensive side, big questions remain up front. Gaines Adams and Chris Hovan figure to start, but who will join them? Are Ryan Sims and Greg (I refuse to call him Styles G.) White going to be counted on to in a big way? Are Dre Moore and a beefier Greg Peterson going to step up? I like how Jimmy Wilkerson came in and contributed both outside and inside last year. In ’09, he figures to see most of his action of the outside. Still, the Bucs really need to bring in a speed rusher to pair with Adams. I’m not as worried about the lack of urgency in addressing the DT spot because new DC Jim Bates has demonstrated that he doesn’t need first round picks to field effective run stoppers. The move from quicker, gap penetrating tackles to stout run defenders capable of holding up against double teams will be a noticeable change. Those guys can be found on day two of the draft. They don’t need to be 400 pounds, but they do need to excel in supporting the run and collapsing the pocket.

At linebacker, as mentioned earlier, vacancies exist on either side of Barrett Ruud. I see converted safety Jermaine Phillips competing with second year Geno Hayes for the WLB spot and free agent Angelo Crowell, Quincy Black, and Adam Hayward vying to start at SLB. If fully recovered from his knee injury/condition, Crowell could be quite an addition to the LB group. Koutouvides and McCoy (for now) are in the picture too, with Niko figuring to see most of his action on special teams. It’s not a huge area of need, but I wouldn’t mind bringing in a mid round prospect if the right situation presented itself.

I see a big area of concern in the secondary, and that’s the starting CB spot opposite Aqib Talib. The Bucs’ lack of activity when the likes of Leigh Bodden (NE, 1 year, $2.25 million) and Bryant McFadden (AZ, 2 years, $10 million) signed very reasonable deals elsewhere was frustrating to witness. The fact that no attempt was made to retain Buchanon shows that he wasn’t in the plans. Do they really think Ronde Barber, a guy who last year really struggled to play corner in a zone defense, is going to be able to hold down a starting job in a more physical, man coverage scheme? Something doesn’t smell right here. Elbert Mack (undrafted FA from Troy) was a heck of an addition last season, but he’s not ready to be an NFL starter. Torrie Cox is a special teamer if he’s even on the club. We definitely need some help at the position. The Bucs seem ready to give Sabby Piscitelli the starting SS spot, but having Phillips in house should the youngster struggle with the full time role, is a nice fall back plan. I like the guy’s athleticism, but he needs to show more consistency and discipline at the position. Tanard Jackson returns at FS, and Will Allen and Donte Nicholson provide depth. I don't see safety as an area of concern.


How can they put those 8 draft picks to good use?
That’s a story for another time.
(* quote from story by Lori Nickel, June 18, 2006)


  1. You called the QB Josh McCown! That illustrates the problem. Everyone knows it's Luke McKnown...

  2. Thanks Cal. I'll go back and fix that. Funny, but I can honestly say I've never made that mistake before; made plenty of others but not this particular one.