NFC South: James Lee

We’ll conclude our division-wide look at potential free agents with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

All are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents, unless otherwise noted:

Cornerback Ronde Barber, kicker Connor Barth, running back Earnest Graham, defensive tackle Jovan Haye, linebacker Geno Hayes, quarterback Josh Johnson, safety Sean Jones, offensive lineman James Lee, safety Corey Lynch, cornerback Elbert Mack, receiver Micheal Spurlock, offensive lineman Jeremy Zuttah, running back LeGarrette Blount (exclusive rights), receiver Preston Parker (exclusive rights), defensive end Michael Bennett (restricted) and offensive lineman Demar Dotson.

As soon as new coach Greg Schiano gets his staff hired, he and general manager Mark Dominik have to sit down, take a look at the list above and make what could be some difficult decisions. Let’s start with Barber’s future because that’s going to be a hot topic.

Barber played at a reasonably high level in 2011 and the Bucs could look to bring him back with another one-year contract. Of course, it’s also possible that Barber will decide to retire. It’s also possible Barber might want to continue playing, but a new coaching staff could decide to start fresh and give him the same treatment Derrick Brooks got in 2009 and let him walk. If that happens, don’t be surprised if Barber ends up in Washington, where former Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris is now coaching the secondary.

Barber’s status as a Tampa Bay icon makes him the most interesting person on the list of potential free agents. But the list contains plenty of others that will be interesting decisions. Barth and Zuttah seem the most likely to stay. But Schiano, his coaching staff and Dominik are going to have to take a long look at players like Hayes, Lynch and Lee to see if they fit the new system. Jones was a starter last season, but the Bucs may elect to go younger at safety. Graham also is an interesting situation. He can play running back and tailback and has been a dependable player for years. But he’s aging and coming off an injury that put an early end to his 2011 season.

On a side note, defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth currently remains under contract for 2012. But Haynesworth, who was brought in after injuries wiped out the middle of the defensive line in the middle of last season, is scheduled to count $7.2 million toward the salary cap. The Bucs can release him without any cap implications. Haynesworth doesn't have a lot left in the tank and my early impression is that Schiano doesn't seem like the kind of coach that would want the baggage that comes with Haynesworth. Throw in the cap situation and it seems pretty obvious how this one will play out.

Benn, Trueblood out for Bucs

January, 1, 2012
ATLANTA -- As expected, the Buccaneers will be without injured receiver Arrelious Benn and right tackle Jeremy Trueblood in Sunday’s game with the Falcons.

Both players have been declared inactive. Preston Parker and Dezmon Briscoe will get more playing time with Benn out. James Lee is expected to start in Trueblood’s place.

Also inactive for the Bucs are quarterback Rudy Carpenter, receiver Sammie Stroughter, cornerback Anthony Gaitor, defensive end Daniel Te’o-Nesheim and offensive tackle Derek Hardman.

NFC South players not signed for 2012

December, 22, 2011
A lot can change between now and the start of free agency and I sure don’t see any way the New Orleans Saints let quarterback/King Drew Brees walk away. I also think there’s a pretty good chance tight end Tony Gonzalez can return to the Atlanta Falcons if he chooses. Same for cornerback Ronde Barber with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and maybe even Jeremy Shockey with the Carolina Panthers.

But all we know about those guys at the moment is they’re not under contract for 2012. We’ll do much more on free agency as it gets closer but I’ve got the complete list of every NFC South player presently not under contract for 2012.

I’ll list them by team here and we’ll only go with the guys who have at least four years of service and can become unrestricted free agents. We’ll deal with restricted and exclusive-rights free agents at another time.

Atlanta Falcons: Tony Gonzalez, tight end; Reggie Kelly, tight end; Todd McClure, center; Mike Peterson, linebacker; John Abraham, defensive end; Joe Zelenka, long-snapper; Chris Redman, quarterback; Kirk Chambers, offensive line; Kelvin Hayden, cornerback; Brett Romberg, offensive line; James Sanders, safety; Jason Snelling, running back; Kroy Biermann, defensive end; Thomas DeCoud, safety; Harry Douglas, receiver; Brent Grimes, cornerback; Curtis Lofton, linebacker; Eric Weems, receiver.

Carolina Panthers: Jeremy Shockey, tight end; Reggie Wells, offensive line; Derek Anderson, quarterback; Geoff Hangartner, center/guard; Omar Gaither, linebacker; Cletis Gordon, cornerback; Legedu Naanee, receiver; Antwan Applewhite, linebacker; Mackenzy Beranadeau, offensive line; Dan Connor, linebacker; J.J. Jansen, long-snapper; Jerome Felton, fullback; Jordan Senn, linebacker.

New Orleans Saints: John Kasay, kicker; Drew Brees, quarterback; Shaun Rogers, defensive tackle; John Gilmore, tight end; Aubrayo Franklin, defensive tackle; Marques Colston, receiver; Pat McQuistan, offensive line; Courtney Roby, receiver; Leigh Torrence, cornerback; Jeff Charleston, defensive end; Turk McBride, defensive end; Robert Meachem, receiver; Jo-Lonn Dunbar, linebacker; Carl Nicks, guard; Tracy Porter, cornerback.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ronde Barber, cornerback; Earnest Graham, running back; Sean Jones, safety; Connor Barth, kicker; Geno Hayes, linebacker; Josh Johnson, quarterback; James Lee, offensive line; Corey Lynch, safety; Elbert Mack, cornerback; Frank Okam, defensive tackle; Micheal Spurlock, receiver; Jeremy Zuttah, offensive line.

Inactives for the Buccaneers

December, 17, 2011
TAMPA, Fla. -- As expected, Tampa Bay receiver Arrelious Benn (concussion) is inactive for Saturday night’s game with the Dallas Cowboys.

That likely means more playing time for Dezmon Briscoe and Preston Parker.

The other inactives for the Buccaneers are quarterback Rudy Carpenter, receiver Sammie Stroughter, safety Larry Asante, cornerback Myron Lewis, offensive lineman Derek Hardman and offensive tackle James Lee.

Inactives for the Buccaneers

November, 6, 2011
NEW ORLEANS – No major surprises among Tampa Bay’s inactives for Sunday’s game with the Saints.

Here they are: Receiver Sammie Stroughter, cornerback Myron Lewis, linebacker Zac Diles, guard Jeremy Zuttah, tackle James Lee, defensive end Tim Crowder and defensive tackle Frank Okam.

Inactives for the Buccaneers

October, 16, 2011
TAMPA, Fla. -- No big surprise here, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be without two injured starters for Sunday’s game with New Orleans.

Running back LeGarrette Blount (foot) and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (ankle) are inactive. Earnest Graham and Kregg Lumpkin are expected to share Blount’s work load. Frank Okam and Da’Quan Bowers are expected to rotate at McCoy’s spot.

The other inactives are receiver Sammie Stroughter, linebacker Zac Diles, offensive tackle Derek Hardman, offensive tackle James Lee and tight end Luke Stocker.

Inactives for the Buccaneers

October, 3, 2011
TAMPA, Fla. – We just got the inactives for the Buccaneers for their game with the Indianapolis Colts.

No major surprises. Receiver Sammie Stroughter, running back Allen Bradford, cornerback Anthony Gaitor, tackle Derek Hardman, tackle James Lee, tight end Zach Pianalto and defensive tackle Frank Okam are inactive.

Injury updates on Bucs and Colts

October, 1, 2011
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts just put out their final injury reports for Monday night’s game at Raymond James Stadium.

The Bucs don’t have anything all that significant. Linebacker Quincy Black (ankle) is listed as questionable, but participated fully in Saturday’s practice. Tight end Kellen Winslow (knee) is probable and participated on a limited basis in practice after sitting out Thursday and Friday. Backup quarterback Josh Johnson, who suddenly appeared on the injury report with an ankle issue this week, is listed as probable and practiced. The Bucs ruled out backup offensive lineman James Lee (ankle) and receiver Sammie Stroughter (foot).

The Colts have a pretty lengthy and significant injury list, starting with quarterback Peyton Manning, who hasn’t played this season because of a neck injury and won’t play against Tampa Bay. Quarterback Kerry Collins, who’s been starting in Manning’s place, is listed as questionable after suffering a concussion last week. Collins hasn’t practiced all week and the Colts have said they’re prepared to start Curtis Painter.

The Colts listed defensive end Dwight Freeney (ankle) as questionable, but he fully participated in practice Friday and Saturday.

Inactives for the Buccaneers

September, 25, 2011
TAMPA, Fla. -- There are no surprises among the Buccaneers’ inactives.

As expected, linebacker Quincy Black is out with an ankle injury and Dekoda Watson is expected to start in his place.

Receiver Sammie Stroughter, running back Allen Bradford, safety Larry Asante, cornerback Anthony Gaitor, tackle Derek Hardman and tackle James Lee also are inactive.

Checking the injuries that matter most

September, 16, 2011
The injury reports for Sunday are officially out, so let’s take a look at the key injuries around the NFC South.

The Atlanta Falcons have said that defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (knee) and center Todd McClure (knee) will be out Sunday. Defensive tackle Corey Peters, who missed last week with a knee injury, is listed as probable and likely will start with Peria Jerry at defensive tackle. Cornerback Christopher Owens is listed as questionable, which could mean more playing time for Kelvin Hayden.

The Buccaneers have declared reserve defensive back Myron Lewis (ankle) and receiver Sammie Stroughter (foot) out for Sunday. Reserve offensive tackle James Lee (knee) is questionable and did not practice Friday.

The Carolina Panthers are listing right tackle Jeff Otah (concussion) as questionable. That means rookie Byron Bell likely will get the start in his place.

New Orleans cornerback Tracy Porter (calf) is listed as questionable and did not practice Friday. Safety Roman Harper (ankle) and receiver Lance Moore (groin) also are questionable, but they did participate on a limited basis in Friday’s practice. If Porter can’t play, Patrick Robinson likely would start in his place.

Bucs want Trueblood to start

August, 15, 2011
A lot of times, you can tell what a team thinks of a player simply by looking at his contract.

In the case of Jeremy Trueblood, it’s pretty obvious the Bucs would like him to be their starting right tackle. Although he was injured and lost his starting job to James Lee last season, it sure looks like the Bucs want Trueblood back in the starting lineup. He’s been working with the first team through most of training camp.

I just got a look at his official contract numbers and Trueblood is being paid like a starter and also has a chance to increase his pay. The two-year deal the Bucs signed Trueblood to at the start of free agency is pretty interesting. On the surface, it’s worth $8 million and included no signing bonus.

Trueblood is scheduled to make $3.75 million this season and $4.25 million next year. That basically translates into decent starter money for a right tackle.

But the deal is designed so that Trueblood gets rewarded nicely if he reclaims his starting job. Trueblood could earn an extra $2 million. His deal includes playing-time incentives that could earn him up to $1 million. It also includes the possibility of an escalator that would boost next year’s salary by $1 million.

Buccaneers firm up roster

July, 29, 2011
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made several major moves as they get ready to start training camp.

As expected, they made it a point to finalize an agreement with their own most important free agent. They agreed to a seven-year, $52.5 million contract with guard Davin Joseph. They also agreed with offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood on a two-year deal and punter Michael Koenen on a six-year deal.

Joseph is one of the anchors of an offensive line that has a chance to be good, and keeping him was Tampa Bay’s first priority. Trueblood had been the starting right tackle, but got injured last year and wound up losing his starting job to James Lee. Now that he’s healthy, Trueblood should get a chance to compete for the starting job.

Koenen had been with the Falcons, but they decided not to bring him back. In addition to his punting, part of the reason the Bucs wanted Koenen was because he’s also a kickoff specialist.
We’ve talked about potential unrestricted free agents at length and you can see the official list of all of them by clicking here.

But we haven’t done much on restricted free agents. So let’s run through the list of NFC South restricted free agents now. Restricted free agents are players with fewer than four years of service who received qualifying offers before the lockout. Teams have the right of first refusal if a restricted free agent receives an offer from another team. Depending on the tender, they also can receive compensation if a player leaves as a restricted free agent.

Atlanta has two -- cornerback Brent Grimes and receiver Eric Weems. If Grimes leaves, the Falcons get a first-round draft pick. If Weems leaves, they get a second-round choice.

Carolina’s restricted free agents are receiver David Clowney, long-snapper J.J. Jansen and linebacker Jordan Senn. If Clowney leaves, the Panthers would get a fifth-round draft pick. There would be no compensation for Jansen or Senn.

New Orleans has only one restricted free agent. That’s guard Carl Nicks and he would bring a first-round pick as compensation.

Tampa Bay has six restricted free agents. Kicker Connor Barth and tackle James Lee would bring second-round draft picks if they leave. Defensive tackle Frank Okam would bring a fifth-round pick and safety Corey Lynch would bring a sixth-round pick. Cornerback Elbert Mack and receiver Micheal Spurlock come only with the right of first refusal.

Hitting the NFC South hot spots

July, 17, 2011
The NFC South mailbag got pretty full while I took my last bit of time off before training camps open, so let’s go ahead and get to some of your questions.

Jordan in New Orleans wrote to ask if Reggie Bush could be primed for a big season if he stays in New Orleans.

Pat Yasinskas: We’ll go on the assumption that Bush and the Saints work out a way to handle his contract and answer your question. Part of the reason that Bush has never put up the kind of numbers so many people expected is because he has dealt with a variety of injuries during his career. I think he’s a guy who possibly could benefit from the lockout. He’s had an entire offseason to let his body recover and get fully healthy. Let’s say he stays that way. Bush has only played a full 16-game season once in his career. That was 2006, his rookie season. Combine his rushing and receiving numbers from that season and you come up with more than 1,300 yards and eight touchdowns. I expect Mark Ingram to sort of fill the old Deuce McAllister role. In 2006, McAllister and Bush made a nice tandem. Plus, I think Sean Payton has had an entire offseason to come up with different ways to utilize Bush’s talents. I think it’s possible he could put up numbers similar to what he did as a rookie, if he can stay healthy all year.

Dustin in San Diego asks about the possibility of Tampa Bay pursuing Atlanta free-agent tackle Tyson Clabo.

Pat Yasinskas: Not out of the realm of possibility. Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood is a free agent and he lost his job to James Lee last season. I don’t think the Bucs are going to make a huge effort to re-sign Trueblood. Atlanta may try to keep Clabo, but the Bucs might be wise to make a run at him. Clabo would be an upgrade over Trueblood or Lee.

Jason in Winston-Salem, N.C., asks if there’s any chance of the Panthers keeping quarterback Matt Moore.

Pat Yasinskas: I just don’t see it. Cam Newton and Jimmy Clausen are guaranteed roster spots, unless they get injured. The Panthers also have Tony Pike and have talked about signing a veteran to mentor the young quarterbacks. Moore has a little experience, but not enough to really be the true mentor type. I still think Moore can be a decent NFL backup. I just think it’s in his best interest to go somewhere else and get a fresh start.

Jill in Atlanta wanted to know my thoughts on Ricky Bell as a potential member of Tampa Bay’s Ring of Honor.

Pat Yasinskas: I think Bell is someone who should get in to the Ring of Honor in the next couple of years, if the Bucs continue to go in some sort of chronological order. Bell was a little before my time and I was in junior high school in Pennsylvania most of the time he played for the Bucs. But, even from a distance, I remember Bell in the same category as Lee Roy Selmon and Doug Williams, especially in that wondrous 1979 season. That might have been Bell’s finest season and he had several good years. Sadly, his career was cut short by illness and he died in 1984. I’ve talked to several former teammates about Bell and they all say he was a marvelous talent and wonder what he could have done if he had a longer career. I think he did enough to earn a spot in the Ring of Honor.

Brian in Athens, Ga., inquired about the status of Atlanta defensive tackle Peria Jerry.

Pat Yasinskas: I’ve asked that question of coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff several times this offseason. Every time, each of them has given the same answer: they’re expecting big things from Jerry, their first-round pick in 2009. He had a major knee injury early in his rookie season. Jerry came back last season, but was only a situational player with rookie Corey Peters playing ahead of him. Smith and Dimitroff have admitted the plan was to go slowly with Jerry last season. They firmly believe this is the season his knee will be totally healthy and they think he can finally be the player they thought they were getting when they drafted him.

Mike in Chapel Hill, N.C., said he’s read a lot about players working out on their own or in groups during the offseason, but wonders what coaches have been doing during the lockout.

Pat Yasinskas: Excellent question and not much has been written about this. Around the league, coaches were more involved in the draft than in past years. They’ve also spent a lot of time working with personnel staffs to prepare for free agency. I think that’s one bright side of the lockout because coaching staffs and personnel staffs have had more time to get on the same page about who they want in free agency. Beyond that, I’ve heard that coaches have spent a lot of time reviewing the players they already have and thinking about ways to make them better. I’ve also heard coaches have done a lot more advance film work on their opponents for this season.
At a time when everyone seems to be filling up lockout time with various lists of bests, it’s a little refreshing to come across something totally different.

Bill Barnwell has a look at the 25 least valuable players in the NFL. There are only two current NFC South representatives and we’ll come back to those in a moment. That’s because we’ve got to start with the top two guys on the list.

Both are NFC South outcasts. At No. 1 is Cleveland quarterback Jake Delhomme, who spent most of his career with Carolina and was with New Orleans before that. At No. 2 is San Francisco safety Sabby Piscitelli.

Sad to say, I can’t put up an argument for either of those guys not to be in those spots. Delhomme is one of the most genuine and gregarious human beings I’ve ever covered. For a time in Carolina, he was a pretty good quarterback. But sometime before he left the Panthers, Delhomme started taking throwing lessons from Chuck Knoblauch and Steve Sax and he hasn’t stopped throwing interceptions.

Piscitelli? Well, there’s really not a lot to say. People in Tampa Bay once expected him to be the second coming of John Lynch. I’m pretty sure you could go pull Lynch out of the broadcast booth right now, throw a uniform on him and he’d still be way better than Piscitelli.

The two current NFC South players on the list are Tampa Bay offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood (No. 9) and Carolina quarterback Jimmy Clausen (No. 13). I’m not saying Clausen will ever be great, but I think it’s unfair to judge him on last season when he was playing for John Fox. Trueblood? Well, he’s fair game. He lost his starting job last season to James Lee.