- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Desperate for fans, victories and a No. 1 wide receiver, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers might have purchased all three in one very expensive package.
The Buccaneers opened free agency with one of the boldest moves in franchise history. They’ve agreed to terms with former San Diego receiver Vincent Jackson on a five-year deal worth more than $55 million.
At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, Jackson is more than just a big receiver. Throughout his career, he’s shown surprising speed and an ability to get open down the field. If he can bring all that to Tampa Bay, things suddenly could look better for a franchise that ended last season on a 10-game losing streak and has seemed to lose its connection to fans in recent years.
But the move to sign Jackson should help silence critics that have accused the Glazer family, which owns the Bucs, of being cheap and not wanting to win. Jackson was considered one of the top five free agents and the premier wide receiver and that’s why the Bucs are making him one of the highest-paid players in franchise history. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy's five-year contract could be worth up to $63 million, but only if he hits all incentives and escalators.
Team co-chairman Joel Glazer said in January that the Bucs would spend whatever it takes to win going forward and the team backed that up by going all out for Jackson as soon as free agency opened.
Jackson instantly gives the Bucs a drawing card. That’s something desperately needed in a town where you see more people wearing replica jerseys of Evan Longoria, of baseball’s Rays, and Steven Stamkos, of hockey’s Lightning, than you see wearing Josh Freeman jerseys.
Jackson’s presence could help the Bucs sell tickets at Raymond James Stadium, where only two home games have been sold out in the past two seasons. Fans might have reason to show up because Jackson is more than just a name.
As a football player, he seems like the perfect complement for Freeman, the quarterback who struggled mightily in his third year. The front office and Greg Schiano’s new coaching staff believe Freeman has all the skills to be a franchise quarterback, but was held back by his supporting cast last season.
Jackson, 29, should help tremendously in solving that. He’s shown the ability to get open downfield, something Tampa Bay’s receivers failed to do last season. Jackson averaged 18.4 yards per catch last season and that should make him the focus of opposing defenses.
The Bucs have made it clear they’re building this team around Freeman. They’re not done yet. ESPN’s John Clayton reports the Bucs also are talking to New Orleans guard Carl Nicks. If the Bucs are able to add the All-Pro Nicks to an offensive line that already includes Davin Joseph, Jeremy Zuttah and Donald Penn, Freeman suddenly could have excellent protection. There also are rumblings the Bucs may be interested in Atlanta linebacker Curtis Lofton and a few role players on defense. After that, all the Bucs might need is a running back. But it’s a pretty safe bet the Bucs will add that in free agency and the draft.
They’ve already tipped their hand and shown they’re willing to spend and they want to win. There’s no guarantee it will all work, but fans no longer can say the Glazers won’t spend money.