NFC South: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

TAMPA, Fla. – On the surface, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are doing their due diligence on Jameis Winston.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
AP Photo/Doug McSchoolerJameis Winston might have played in state, but he's still not an easy sell to the fan base.
They had the Florida State quarterback in for a visit Tuesday. He met with general manager Jason Licht, coach Lovie Smith, ownership and others. That’s the kind of homework you would expect from a team that holds the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.

But I have to wonder if the Bucs had an ulterior motive in bringing in Winston almost two months before the draft. And I wonder if that ulterior motive is why pictures and video of Winston’s visit showed up on the team website. I’m still wondering if that possible motive played a role in Smith saying a few weeks ago that he would have no problem with Winston being the face of the franchise.

Are the Bucs preparing their fans for the selection of Winston?

Ordinarily, fan bases jump up and down when their team holds the No. 1 pick and is about to draft a quarterback. That is especially true when the quarterback played his college football in the same state.

But things are different with Winston. His football talent is unquestionable, but he’s a polarizing figure. A large part of the Tampa Bay fan base still is hoping the Bucs take Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota instead.

That’s because of Winston’s background. While at Florida State, he was accused of (but not charged with) sexual assault. He also had several other off-field transgressions that have left questions about his maturity.

But the early indications are that Winston has won the Bucs over and they’re prepared to draft him. The Glazer family, which owns the team, is very private. But the Glazers still care very deeply about public perception. They want a franchise that fans can fall in love with the way they did back in the glory days of Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp and John Lynch. They need a face for their franchise, and Winston is a charismatic guy.

Maybe the Bucs are being so public with their feelings about Winston because they want to give their fans some extra time to embrace the selection.
TAMPA, Fla. – In the latest sign that drafting Jameis Winston with the No. 1 pick is the most likely course of action, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are hosting the Florida State quarterback on a pre-draft visit.

What’s unusual here is the timing. Potential top draft picks usually don’t make their visits to teams until just a few weeks before the draft. This year’s draft isn’t until the end of April. A team official said the visit was scheduled for now because the Bucs want to be able to devote their full attention to free agency when it begins March 10.

But the Bucs appear earger to get to know Winston. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that ownership (the Glazer family) will be heavily involved in the meetings with Winston. Take that as a sign that the visit could be a final hurdle in deciding whether to draft Winston.

The Glazers generally stay out of football matters, but they have final say over situations as big as this. That’s because they could be paying Winston millions of dollars and making him the face of the franchise.

Although Winston has had some off-field issues, including an allegation of a sexual assault, coach Lovie Smith said at the scouting combine that the club’s research into the quarterback’s background had not produced anything that would eliminate Winston from the team’s draft board.

Smith also has talked highly of Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, and the team is expected to have him in for a visit at some point before the draft. But the early visit by Winston makes it appear more than ever that he’s the leading candidate.
TAMPA, Fla. -- There were reports Monday that said the Buccaneers were trying to trade left tackle Anthony Collins.

I wish them luck on that one. I can’t see anybody giving up anything for Collins after he was one of the biggest free-agent flops in the league last season.

Signed to a five-year, $30 million contract after spending most of his career as a backup in Cincinnati, Collins flopped so badly that he wasn’t even active for the final four games. His run blocking and pass blocking were disappointing and the coaching staff ended up having questions about his attitude and work ethic.

Collins has a base salary of $6 million in each of the remaining years on his contract. I can’t imagine any other team wanting to take on that contract.

The more likely outcome is that the Bucs will have to release Collins. That move would save them $3 million against this year’s salary cap. Collins might not be the only veteran on the hot seat.

Safety Dashon Goldson and punter Michael Koenen also could be casualties. Releasing Goldson would save the Bucs $4 million against the cap and cutting Koenen would free up $3.25 million.
video Our weekly look at clues that might reveal whether the Buccaneers are leaning toward selecting Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota -- or neither -- with the No. 1 pick in the draft:

The rumors started to really fly on Friday. All along, there’s been speculation that the Philadelphia Eagles might try to trade up for the No. 1 pick in the draft to use it on Oregon's Mariota. It all is logical. Mariota played for Eagles coach Chip Kelly in college and would be a perfect fit in Philadelphia’s up-tempo offense. It was pure speculation, I thought.

Until my phone started ringing Friday. Two different members of the Philadelphia media called me to say they were hearing rumblings that a trade was imminent. These are trusted media members and the content of both calls contained the same details.

The Eagles were about to trade quarterback Nick Foles, running back LeSean McCoy and three first-round draft picks to the Bucs for the No. 1 pick in the draft. It sounded believable.

So I called someone within the Tampa Bay organization that would know if something was cooking. He said the rumor was untrue. Meantime, my friends in the Philadelphia media poked around some more with their Eagles’ sources. They got the same response I did. No trade was imminent and no one would say if there even have been any talks between the two teams.

Scrap that rumor -- for now. If something is going to happen, it probably won’t come until much closer to the draft. Deadlines push people to action and the draft isn’t until the end of April. The rumors are likely to continue to circulate.

But for every reason why such a deal would make sense, there are an equal number of reasons why I don’t see it happening.

Let’s start with Tampa Bay’s side of things. Would the Bucs really part with the No. 1 pick instead of using it on Mariota or Florida State’s Winston? I think that might be a stretch. Winston and Mariota might be franchise quarterbacks. The Bucs would be giving up a franchise quarterback and plugging in Foles as the starting quarterback.

That doesn’t make a lot of sense. The Bucs had something close to Foles in Josh McCown and they let him go. They still have something close to Foles in Mike Glennon.

Then there’s McCoy. He’s a great running back. But the Bucs already have Charles Sims and Doug Martin. All indications are the coaching staff and front office are deeply invested in Sims, who they drafted last year. I don’t see the Bucs suddenly giving up on Sims. Plus, I'm not so sure the Bucs want to take on McCoy's big contract.

The three first-round picks would have to be attractive for the Bucs. They have plenty of holes besides quarterback. But this is where the potential deal hits a major roadblock.

With that in mind, let’s flip over to Philadelphia’s point of view. No matter how smitten Kelly is with Mariota, the Eagles might not have the firepower to make such a trade. At the moment, the Eagles have the 20th overall pick in the draft. That’s all they have.

They would have to make another trade first to get another first-round pick for this year. Yes, Philadelphia could offer its first-round picks in 2016 and ’17. But the Bucs can’t sit around and wait for those drafts. Coach Lovie Smith needs to win now.

Besides, giving up three first-round picks, would mean the Eagles would be mortgaging their future on Mariota. Three picks and two players would be a very steep price.

I’m not saying such a deal can’t happen. But let’s file that trade away for the moment and wait for something that’s stronger than a rumor.

Bucs need to keep RB Doug Martin

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25
TAMPA, Fla. – On the surface, Buccaneers running back Doug Martin looks very expendable.

He’s coming off an unproductive season and the coaching staff seems to have big plans for Charles Sims in his second season. The Bucs should be able to get a decent draft pick in exchange for Martin. So why not deal him?

Because it would be a mistake. I’m not sure Martin ever gets back to being the 1,400-yard runner he was as a rookie in 2012. That sure didn’t seem likely last year when Martin gained only 494 yards and averaged 3.7 yards per carry. But some of that had to do with injuries and some of it had to do with poor blocking by the offensive line.

There’s no question Sims is a talent. He might be the feature back next season. But the Bucs still need Martin. In the current NFL, you need two quality running backs. Sims isn’t the kind of back who can handle 25 carries a game.

The Bucs need Martin to handle some of the carries. Yeah, they have Bobby Rainey and Mike James. But those two rarely played when Martin and Sims were both healthy last season. Rainey and James are special-teams players who can fill in at running back in a pinch.

Martin is more than that. When healthy, Martin still can be a productive back, especially if he gets some help from the offensive line.

Even if Sims is the main guy going forward, the Bucs still need Martin as insurance.

Bucs need change in secondary

February, 24, 2015
Feb 24
TAMPA, Fla. – One area of the Bucs that we haven’t talked much about this offseason is the defensive secondary.

It’s time to change that because there’s going to be movement in this area. That’s bound to happen when the pass defense ranks No. 28 in the league. The Bucs don’t need to start from scratch, but they do need to make some tweaks.

Alterraun Verner and Johnthan Banks are a solid pair of starting cornerbacks. Verner graded out as an elite player by Pro Football Focus and Banks blossomed as last season went on. But the Bucs could use an upgrade over Leonard Johnson at nickelback. Johnson was beaten too much in coverage last year. The Bucs need to decide if they’re going to bring back Mike Jenkins, who missed last season with an injury.

Jenkins had been scheduled to start ahead of Banks before the injury. Banks’ development means keeping Jenkins from leaving as a free agent isn’t an urgent matter. But, if Jenkins can be kept at a reasonable salary, it would be nice to have three cornerbacks capable of starting.

There almost certainly will be change at safety. Dashon Goldson is scheduled to make $8 million. It became obvious last year that Goldson isn’t a great fit in the Tampa Two scheme. The Bucs could save $4 million against the salary cap by releasing Goldson and that seems likely.

That leaves Bradley McDougald as one starting safety and he can either free safety or strong safety. The Bucs could fill the other spot through free agency or the draft.
TAMPA, Fla. -- The scouting combine is over and it looks like Jameis Winston has a clear lead on Marcus Mariota as the No. 1 overall pick for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Coach Lovie Smith said he is comfortable after looking into the series of off-field incidents Winston has had. Smith said he can see Winston as the face of the franchise.

That’s largely because there are no questions about Winston on the field. He has played in a pro-style offense and can make all the throws.

"I think with Jameis Winston, even though there are all the off-the-field issues and all of the concerns that you have there -- there are so few concerns when you put on the tape and so few concerns when you talk to him from a football I.Q. standpoint," ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said Monday. "I just don’t think you pass."

The only way I can see the Bucs passing on Winston is if Mariota lights it up in the two months between now and the draft. Mariota threw well at the combine, and his numbers were better than Winston’s in the speed and agility drills. Those are minor victories for Mariota, who played in a spread system in college.

Smith has said Mariota is a consideration at No. 1. But he needs to do a lot to overtake Winston. He needs to continue to interview well. More importantly, Mariota needs to perform well on the field.

He needs to use his pro day to show he can handle a huddle and that he has mastered three-, five- and seven-step drops. If he can do all that, the Bucs might have a difficult choice to make between Winston and Mariota. But that would be a good thing.
During the scouting combine, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tipped their hand for the first time about what they’re going to do with the first overall pick in the draft.

General manager Jason Licht said the Bucs already have a favorite, but declined to reveal who that is. But coach Lovie Smith seemed to connect the dots when he said, rather emphatically, that he would have no problem making Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston the face of the franchise.

That’s much more information than we knew before and it sure sounds like the Bucs are leaning strongly toward Winston. His football skills are unquestioned and nothing changed in that department with his performance at the combine.

From an on-field standpoint, Winston has a big edge on Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. Winston has played in a pro-style offense while Mariota spent his college career in a spread system.

The bigger question, though, had to do with off-field issues. Winston has had several and there was some thought that might scare the Bucs off. But Smith was quick to point out that Winston never was charged in an alleged sexual assault and the coach went on to say he believes in the legal system. Smith implied that Winston’s other off-field incidents were youthful mistakes.

The Bucs already have done a lot of homework on Winston. They’ll continue to do more right up until the draft. But, barring new information or a misstep, it seems like Winston has passed the off-field tests.

Smith isn’t the type to blow smoke. He said he’s fine with Winston. For the moment, all we can do is take Smith at his word.
INDIANAPOLIS – Once, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers declared Mike Glennon the quarterback of the future.

That was last year. More recently, it was looking like Glennon was the quarterback of the past. Not so fast.

If nothing else, Glennon is the quarterback of the present.

“Mike is the only quarterback on our roster,’’ coach Lovie Smith said. “I think that’s where he fits.’’

That comes with a qualifier. The Bucs hold the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and it’s looking like they’ll use it on either Florida State’s Jameis Winston or Oregon’s Marcus Mariota.

But Glennon is in better shape than he was a year ago. He’ll be either a bridge quarterback – starting until Winston or Mariota is ready – or a backup with important duties as a mentor to the rookies. That’s better than last year when Josh McCown was brought in as Smith’s handpicked quarterback. In a bit of a surprise, McCown was released last week and Glennon was kept. Smith explained the logic behind that.

“That has nothing to do with the future,’’ Smith said. “Last year, we had Josh. We brought Josh here to be our quarterback. I wanted to let Josh have an opportunity to play. But that wasn’t a knock against Mike or anything like that. We made the decision early on to release Josh. You guys know what I think about Josh. I think he can still play football. But, going forward, I thought our best chance to win was with Mike right now as our quarterback.

"So where does that put Mike? Mike’s the only quarterback that we have that’s played on our roster. That should tell you an awful lot. We have a new staff also coming in. I let offensive coordinator] Dirk [Koetter] and [quarterbacks coach] Mike Bajakian look at our quarterbacks and see what they thought. We all feel comfortable right now with Mike being on our roster and being our quarterback.’’

“We like Mike Glennon,’’ general manager Jason Licht said. “We want him to be a part of the future. We like Mike Glennon a lot.’’

The future hasn’t arrived yet, but at least Glennon is part of the plan.
A closer look at the areas the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should address in the draft. Today we look at the defensive ends, who are scheduled to work out Sunday in Indianapolis.

Position of need: The Bucs got excellent pressure from the interior last season. They led the league with 18.0 sacks from interior defensive linemen. But the pressure was lacking on the outside as the Bucs ranked 23rd with 14.0 sacks from players lined up at defensive end. Michael Johnson was a disappointment after signing a big free-agent deal. He had only four sacks and the Bucs could be looking to replace him. Although there are some elite pass-rushers, the Bucs likely will have to settle for the second tier because they’re expected to use the top overall pick in the draft on a quarterback.

Three players the Bucs could target in the draft:

Dante Fowler Jr., DE, Florida: The Bucs could get lucky if Fowler slides out of the first round. He’s a quick outside pass rusher with plenty of upside. He had nine sacks in his final college season.

Owamagbe Odighizuwa, DE, UCLA. He did not have a spectacular senior season as he recorded six sacks. But he’s a polished player who has the tools to do more as a pass rusher. He could be available in the third round.

Henry Anderson, DE, Stanford. Anderson is a productive pass-rusher who performed well against some strong competition. He had nine sacks as a senior and 17 for his career. Anderson is likely to be available in the third or fourth round.
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Soon after his family moved from the Domican Republic to the United States when he was six, Josue Matias' father signed him up to play baseball.

The sport was a passion for the father, but not the son. On game days, Josue frequently would "lose" is glove as a way to get out of playing. Invariably, his father would find the glove and Matias would have to play a game he didn’t like.

But Matias found a game he did like a few years later.

[+] EnlargeJosue Matias
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesMost experts project Florida State's Josue Matias as a second-round pick, and a few have him slipping into the first round.
"I started playing football in the third grade and I just fell in love with the sport," Matias said. "That was the end of baseball. I gave it up around eighth grade. My dad was heartbroken, but he had as much fun watching me play football as watching me play baseball, because I was always making plays."

A two-way lineman in high school in New Jersey, Matias focused on playing guard when he got to Florida State. Now, he’s considered one of the best guard prospects in this year’s draft. Matias almost entered the draft last year. He was told he’d be a third- or fourth-round pick, but decided to return for one more college season.

"I thought I needed one more season to secure and show them I’m a prospect for the NFL," Matias said while doing his combine preparation at IMG Academy last week.

That seems to have worked out well. Most draft experts are projecting Matias as a second-round pick, and a few even have him slipping into the first round.

Matias decided to skip playing in the college all-star games because he wanted to focus on getting ready for the combine. He said he thinks his performance at the combine will only help his draft stock and surprise some of the experts.

"I came in and I thought I was pretty good and (the staff at IMG) made me even better," Matias said. "If I told you I made an improvement on just one skill I’d be lying. It’s been a big improvement overall."

Matias could be a prime prospect for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as they try to overhaul an offensive line that was dismal last season. The Bucs are expected to look for an upgrade from Patrick Omameh, and Matias could be what they’re looking for.

"I’d love to go to Tampa Bay," Matias said. "It’s a great place to be, and I think I could make their offensive line better."
A closer look at the areas the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could address in the draft. Today we’ll look at the offensive linemen, who are scheduled to work out Friday in Indianapolis.

Position of need: The Bucs overhauled their offensive line in 2014 and the results were disastrous. The line couldn’t block for the run or the pass and the offense ranked 30th in the league. The quarterbacks were pressured on 34 percent of their drop backs, second worst in the NFL. Another overhaul is needed and at least some of that will come through the draft. Left tackle Anthony Collins was a huge bust last year and almost certainly won’t be back. The Bucs also need an upgrade over Patrick Omameh at guard. But the Bucs likely won’t address the offensive line until the second or third round because they have to take care of quarterback with the top overall pick.

Three players the Bucs could target in the draft:

Cedric Ogbuehi, T, Texas A&M: There are a handful of tackles who could go in the first round. But Ogbuehi isn’t that much of a drop-off from them and he could be available in the second round. He’s polished and could start right away.

Donovan Smith, T, Penn State: He’s coming out of college a year early and that might be a mistake. Smith could have developed into a potential first-round pick if he returned for his senior season. But he could be a good value pick in the second or third round.

Josue Matias, G Florida State: A massive blocker with surprising quickness, Matias could be a second-round target. Matias is NFL-ready after playing for one of the top programs in the country. He would be an instant upgrade over Omameh and has the size and skills to be a solid pro.
BRADENTON, Fla. -- The kid who seemingly was born to play at Penn State almost escaped to the University of Pittsburgh.

It was 2012 and Penn State didn't look like Penn State anymore. Linebacker Mike Hull visited Pittsburgh and was ready to transfer there and put an end to his Penn State legacy. His father, Tom, played linebacker there in the 1970s and Hull had grown up going to games in Happy Valley.

But things weren't so happy in those days. Legendary coach Joe Paterno was fired and then died soon after. The program was getting hit by NCAA sanctions after the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Players were allowed to transfer to other schools without having to sit out a year.

"It was really tough," Hull said. "When everything came down, I was almost in tears. It was a crazy time. I didn't know if I was going to stay or go. On the day before camp, I went to coach [Bill] O'Brien and told him I was still on the fence about Pitt. He told me to sleep on it. I was in camp the next day and I never looked back. Thankfully, I decided to stay."

Hull's career took off after that. He spent 2012 as the fourth linebacker and played extensively on special teams. In 2013, he started at outside linebacker. In 2014, he made the switch to middle linebacker.

Now, Hull is considered one of the top middle linebacker prospects in the draft.

"I like the inside better just because I feel like I can use my instincts a little bit more," Hull said last week at IMG Academy as he was preparing for this week's NFL scouting combine. "I have a good nose for the ball and can go sideline to sideline."

It's not that much of a stretch to envision Hull being selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the draft's second or third round. Incumbent starter Mason Foster is scheduled to be a free agent and indications are the Bucs will let him walk.

The Bucs spent some time talking to Hull at the Senior Bowl and he sees Tampa Bay as a good fit.

"It would be pretty cool to play the Tampa 2 scheme," Hull said. "I like the Tampa 2 drop and I think I can cover pretty well."

Still, Hull is carrying a bit of a chip on his shoulder because some draft experts have questioned him.

"Not big enough, not fast enough, not strong enough," Hull said. "But, hey, we'll see. I think people will be surprised with how athletic I am compared to what they've been saying. We'll see what happens at the combine."
A closer look at the areas the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could address in the draft. We'll get started with a look at the quarterbacks, who are scheduled to work out Saturday in Indianapolis.

Position of need: The Bucs currently don’t have a starting quarterback and all indications are they’ll address that with the first pick in the draft. They cleared the way for that to happen by releasing veteran Josh McCown, who started 11 games last year. McCown was supposed to be a model of efficiency after throwing 13 touchdowns with just one interception in Chicago in 2013. But McCown was erratic in 2014, throwing 11 touchdowns with 14 interceptions for an offense ranked No. 30 in the league.

Three players the Bucs could target in the draft:

Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State: Winston is the early favorite to be selected by the Bucs. He played in a pro-style offense in college and is the most NFL-ready quarterback in this draft. Winston has experience as a pocket passer and could thrive quickly with Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans as his top targets. The questions with Winston come off the field. The Bucs need to decide if Winston is mature enough to be the face of the franchise.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: There are no off-field questions about Mariota. But there are some on-field concerns. He has a low-key personality and might not have the charisma to be a leader. He also has played in a spread offense in college and it remains to be seen if he can thrive in a pro-style offense.

Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA: The Bucs are almost certain to use the first pick on Winston or Mariota because there is a big drop-off in the quarterbacks after that. But Tampa Bay could pull a surprise and use the first pick on another position. In that scenario, Hundley would be the best quarterback available after the first round.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith has a well-deserved reputation for being stubborn.

He earned it in his days as the Chicago Bears' coach by doing things like sticking to the Tampa 2 defense and staying with quarterback Rex Grossman when fans were screaming to get rid of both.

So what the heck happened the other day when Smith released quarterback Josh McCown? He was showing flexibility I didn’t think he had. It’s funny how a 2-14 season can change your thinking.

A year ago, McCown was Smith’s hand-picked quarterback. They had been together in Chicago and there was a comfort level that flowed both ways. Mike Glennon, who had started 13 games in 2013, immediately was pushed to the bench to make room for McCown.

In theory, McCown was supposed to be the savvy veteran who rarely made mistakes. In theory, he was supposed to lead a highly efficient offense while the defense and special teams took care of the rest and the Bucs would contend for the playoffs.

In reality, none of that happened. It wasn’t all McCown’s fault. Things started going wrong in the preseason when offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford had to have a heart operation. Tedford left the team and never returned. Quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo ended up calling the plays and the offense never got into any real rhythm.

It also didn’t help that McCown severely sprained his thumb in the third game of the season. He missed five starts. Although Glennon didn’t play badly in McCown's absence, Smith showed his stubborn streak and went back to McCown after the thumb had healed.

Even when healthy, McCown didn’t play the way he was supposed to. He threw more interceptions than touchdowns and won only one game as the starter.

Still, I thought McCown would be back in 2015. I thought Smith would use him as a mentor for whichever quarterback the team drafts with the No. 1 overall pick -- either Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota. McCown is the kind of guy who could have accepted a role like that.

But it didn’t happen. That’s because Smith is showing flexibility, which isn’t a bad thing. The Bucs need change, and Smith is allowing it to happen.