NFC South: Mike Williams

TAMPA, Fla. -- This is what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' situation at offensive guard has come to.

The team will consider taking a chance on something that once caused as much trouble in an NFL locker room as the MRSA outbreak the Bucs dealt with last year.

The Bucs had Richie Incognito in for a visit Monday. Team officials were adamant that they simply were doing their due diligence on a free agent.

"I'm going on the facts right now," coach Lovie Smith said. "The facts are we're bringing him in for a visit. So, guys, there's nothing else for me to talk about or tell you from there. We evaluate all prospects. He's a prospect and we're looking at him."

But the fact the Bucs are looking at Incognito is a move that smacks of desperation and danger. You don't waste time (and risk negative publicity) bringing in a player with as much baggage as Incognito unless you plan to sign him.

Last season, Incognito was involved in one of the bigger scandals in recent NFL history. A league investigation determined that Incognito, then with the Miami Dolphins, engaged in persistent harassment of teammate Jonathan Martin, as well as other teammates and a member of the Dolphins' staff. The NFL's investigation showed Incognito used racial and homophobic slurs. He was suspended for the final eight games of last season and the Dolphins let his contract expire after the season.

Until Monday, no other NFL team had shown any interest in Incognito. There's a reason for that. The guy is toxic.

So why are the Bucs, who ran receiver Mike Williams out of town after his legal issues, suddenly interested in a guy who came out of the NFL investigation looking so bad? Remember, the Bucs have been making a lot of noise about how they want to once again give their fans a team they can love. Last I checked, Incognito didn't qualify as a lovable guy.

The reason for stooping so low is simple: The Bucs are horrible at guard. They've been starting Oniel Cousins and Patrick Omameh, and the fact they're even talking to Incognito shows they're not happy with at least half that tandem.

At this time of year, any guard who can play already is on a roster. Except for Incognito. He has never been great -- he played in one Pro Bowl during his nine-year career -- but he's better than anything the Bucs have. And no matter how the Bucs might like to present themselves, this shows that winning matters more than anything else.

"As long as he can help us win, that's all I'm concerned about," said defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, one of the team leaders. "If there's a problem, then we'll deal with it accordingly."

The problem is, the Bucs shouldn't be in such dire straits in the first place. They had an entire offseason to get their guard situation set. They didn't and now they're forced to go down a dangerous road with a player who already tore up the locker room in Miami.

People can change, but past behavior can also be an indicator of future behavior. Signing Incognito could be a threat to a locker room that's full of young, impressionable players.

"Would I have a football player on our football team that I thought would mess up our team chemistry?" Smith asked. "The answer is no, simple as that. But I can't assume that's the case. To me, as you go through the process, you look and you talk face to face with everybody that's available. That's what we're doing. You think I'm going to bring someone here that's going to hurt what we have in our locker room? No. But I need to see that. I can't go on hearsay. I need to see that for myself."

I wouldn't call the NFL's report hearsay. I'd call it fact. Incognito bullied a teammate until he walked away from the team, and it's tough to put a positive spin on that.

"I would like to talk to him myself," Smith said. "If you know my history, I believe in second chances. ... I'm not holier than thou. I'm going to give everybody the benefit of the doubt until I have information that tells me otherwise."

Second chances are nice. But the bottom line here is Incognito wouldn't be under consideration for a second chance if the Bucs just had better guards.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the seventh overall pick in this year’s draft after going 4-12 last season.

A wide receiver, an offensive guard and anything that would bring much-needed depth to just about any position would make a lot of sense for the Bucs.

Mel Kiper’s fourth 2014 NFL mock draft is out on ESPN Insider today, and his choice isn’t a big surprise for the Bucs. In this mock draft, Kiper chooses what he thinks each team should do, not what it will do.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith continued to stand by troubled wide receiver Mike Williams during the NFC coaches breakfast at the NFL owners meeting Wednesday morning.

Williams allegedly was stabbed by his brother Sunday. Williams also is facing a misdemeanor charge for trespassing and aggravated battery. There have been suggestions in the media that the Bucs should part ways with Williams. But Smith made it sound like that's not going to happen.

"I don't believe a guy should get a death sentence on one infraction," Smith said. "I made the statement that I'm going to kick someone off the team based on them being a victim from what I was initially told. But, again, you don't get a life sentence on one incident. I look for a pattern. If a player shows a pattern of behavior that we don't feel like is what we want displayed by our Tampa Bay Buccaneers, then more drastic measures come into play. I'm not to that point right now. I haven't had a chance to talk to Mike face to face. I'm going to hold any further comment until I get a chance to talk to Mike face to face."

Williams has talked on the phone with Smith, and the receiver told the coach that his thigh injury was minor. But Smith was careful to say that the fact he's new to the Bucs doesn't mean all his players are starting from scratch.

"I'm not saying clean slate," Smith said. "We take everything into play. But I'm saying everybody has a starting spot and everything you've done is there with you. But, again, if you're on the football team right now you haven't done enough as far as the organization is concerned for you to not be there. We're talking about starting from that spot.

"Everything is factored in. I think the advantage of starting fresh is I'm not going to judge players an awful lot based on what they've done before. If they're on our football team right now and they want to come in and say it's a new day and do things the right way, that's what I'm going to go with. Mike has a court date set (on the misdemeanor charges), but we have to let that all play out into the system a little bit. That's how it is with everybody else in society, so that's the way we're going to do it, too."
ORLANDO, Fla. -- While saying they view -- for the moment at least -- wide receiver Mike Williams as a victim in a recent off-field incident, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers said they would rather not be in the news for all the wrong reasons.

Williams was stabbed Sunday. His brother has been charged with assault. Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer said incidents like Williams’ detracts from all the good things the team does.

“As an organization the last couple of years we have put a real emphasis on off-the-field activities and what we expect of our players," Glazer said during the NFL owners meeting. “We expect nothing but the highest standards, and we’re going to stick to that. We want to be an organization the community is proud of. We have a lot of good players doing a lot of great things, and what this does or what any bad incident does is overshadow all the hard work of all the other players. There are 50-some odd players doing great things, and we’d rather that be the focus."

General manager Jason Licht said coach Lovie Smith has talked with Williams, and the injury to his thigh was minor. Smith told a Tampa television station that he views Williams as a victim and has no plans to release him.

“Right now until we learn more, we’re going to give him the benefit of the doubt," Licht said. “I said (in February) that I’d like to not see him in the headlines. But we’ll take it case by case here until we find out the full details."
ORLANDO, Fla. -- With Tampa Bay wide receiver Mike Williams in the news after being stabbed, people around the NFL are keeping an eye on the situation.

One person with a special interest is Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone, who coached Williams at Syracuse. Williams' college career didn't end well. He was suspended for academic impropriety and later quit the football team.

"I've always had a lot of respect for Mike," Marrone said during the AFC coaches breakfast Tuesday morning. "I thought Mike was a heck of a football player. We had a lot of conversations. There were a lot of good things that were going on. I got a lot of calls before the draft and I told those guys that Mike would do well. We've been disconnected obviously from when he left to his time in Tampa. But I liked Mike. I really did. I wish him well. Yesterday, I talked to [Tampa Bay general manager] Jason [Licht] just to see if he was OK. Obviously, I care about Mike."

Williams was stabbed in the thigh. He was treated at a local hospital and released. The Buccaneers have said they're still gathering information about the incident.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht said he hasn't talked to Mike Williams since the wide receiver was stabbed Sunday.

"We've reached out to Mike," Licht said. "We've yet to hear from him. From what I understand, he's been treated and released, so that's a good start. We're trying to gather all the facts we can.

"Obviously, our primary focus is making sure that he's OK. I know he's been treated and released. I just want to make sure that he's OK and that's our main concern."

Licht said he knows few details of the incident in which Williams was stabbed. Williams has had off-field problems before and Licht previously said it was important for Williams not to make headlines away from the football field.

"Disappointed just that we had a player in that situation that could have been seriously injured," Licht said.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Just about a month ago, Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht said he wanted wide receiver Mike Williams to stay out of the headlines.

Well, Williams is once again the center of attention. Williams was stabbed over the weekend. The injury wasn’t serious, but the incident could have an impact on Williams’ future with the team. This isn’t the first time Williams has had off-field trouble.

Although Williams has $6.4 million guaranteed remaining on his contract, the team could make a statement by releasing him. Coach Lovie Smith doesn’t like off-field distractions and Williams may be one.

There already has been speculation the Bucs could draft wide receiver Sammy Watkins in the first round and that’s likely to get stronger.

I’m at the NFL owners meeting and will try to catch up with Licht and Smith to see if they’ll comment on Williams’ future.

Projecting a lineup: Offense

March, 21, 2014
Mar 21
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been one of the league's busiest teams in free agency. That means the roster will have a new look.

Factoring in the new additions, let's take a look at what the starting lineup currently looks like starting with the offense:

Quarterback: Coach Lovie Smith has made it pretty clear that veteran Josh McCown is his starter. McCown would have to have a horrible preseason and Mike Glennon would have to light it up to have a shot at starting.

Running back: Doug Martin is the main guy here, but Smith has said he wants to spread carries around. That means Mike James and Bobby Rainey will be getting playing time.

Wide receiver: Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams are the incumbent starters, but there's not much behind them. That's why this is a position where the Bucs are still going to make moves.

Tight end: The Bucs signed Brandon Myers as a free agent and he's the early favorite to win the starting job. Tim Wright did some nice things as a rookie last year, but he's not much of a blocker.

Offensive tackles: The Bucs have made it clear that free-agent pickup Anthony Collins is their starting left tackle. That means Demar Dotson will stay at right tackle.

Offensive guards: Assuming Carl Nicks is healthy, he's the starter at one guard position. But the other spot is wide open. Jeremy Zuttah, Jamon Meredith and Oniel Cousins could be candidates for the starting job, but the Bucs might not be done at this position.

Center: The Bucs signed free-agent Evan Dietrich Smith from Green Bay and his arrival pushes Zuttah to guard.

What's next for the Buccaneers?

March, 17, 2014
Mar 17
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers continued their free-agent frenzy Sunday by signing two players that are likely to fill roles as backups.

The Bucs signed former New England linebacker Dane Fletcher and former Cleveland guard Oniel Cousins.

Fletcher has been a backup middle linebacker and special-teams player for New England and is likely to play behind Mason Foster. Cousins was a part-time starter in Cleveland and he could factor into Tampa Bay’s overhaul of the offensive line. The Bucs previously released veterans Davin Joseph and Donald Penn and signed tackle Anthony Collins and center Evan Dietrich-Smith.

Cousins could get a chance to compete with Jamon Meredith and Jeremy Zuttah at guard.

The first wave of free agency is over and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been very active. They’ve filled a lot of needs, but the Bucs aren’t done yet.

Looking at the roster, I still see a fair amount of needs. Let’s take a look.

Wide receiver. The Bucs flirted with Emmanuel Sanders before he signed with the Denver Broncos. The Bucs need to add a speed receiver to go with starters Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams.

Return man. The Bucs need to get better on special teams. Veteran Devin Hester, who has ties to coach Lovie Smith, remains available as a free agent.

Cornerback. Even after signing Alterraun Verner, there still is a need here. The Bucs need a strong third corner to go with Verner and Johnthan Banks.

Guard. The Bucs have added guard Oneil Cousins, center Evan Dietrich-Smith and tackle Anthony Collins as they go about overhauling their offensive line. With Dietrich-Smith’s arrival, Jeremy Zuttah could move from center to guard. But Cousins has spent much of his career as a backup and the Bucs might want more of an upgrade at this position.

Outside linebacker. Jonathan Casillas was re-signed and he’s an option on the strong side. But the Bucs need depth and they’d be wise to bring in someone to compete with Casillas.

Buccaneers on the hot seat

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
New coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht have made it pretty clear the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going to have significant turnover this offseason.

That's what you would expect from a new regime taking over a team that went 4-12 last season. Smith already has singled out the offensive line for not playing up to its pay grade last year and he and Licht have talked about how there's going to be competition across the roster.

With that in mind, let's take a look at five guys that could be on the hot seat. I'm talking about guys that could be released and guys that will have to fight for their positions.

Tackle Donald Penn. His cap figure (more than $8 million) is the highest of any lineman. Penn, who turns 31 in April, is not getting younger and the Bucs could be in the market for an upgrade at left tackle.

Guard Davin Joseph. He's just behind Penn with a $6 million cap figure. Joseph didn't have a great season last year and his age, 30, could work against him.

Defensive end Da'Quan Bowers. He won't be a salary-cap casualty and will make it until at least training camp. But it's pretty obvious the Bucs are going to be adding some defensive ends. The light really has to come on for Bowers to be on the opening-day roster.

Middle linebacker Mason Foster. He's been fairly ordinary and it remains to be seen if he's a fit in the new defensive scheme. At very least, Foster will have some competition in training camp.

Wide receiver Mike Williams. His off-field activities have been in the headlines and that hasn't made the new regime happy. Williams has $6.4 million in guaranteed money owed to him over the next two seasons. But it's not like Williams is a superstar and the Bucs might be willing to dump him and take the cap hit.

Bucs unhappy with Mike Williams

February, 21, 2014
Feb 21
Coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht made it clear they're not happy with the off-field troubles of Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Williams.
"Mike needs to prove he won't make headlines off the field, so let's start with that,'' Licht told reporters Thursday at the scouting combine in Indianapolis.

Williams faces misdemeanor charges of criminal mischief and trespassing and has an arraignment scheduled for Monday. But Williams was in the headlines again soon after Licht's statement. This story details how Williams' parties bothered his neighbors.

"We're disappointed in some of the off-the-field issues that have come up, and we just aren't going to put up with it," Smith said. "It's as simple as that."

Does that mean the Bucs are ready to release Williams? It wouldn't be a prudent salary-cap move because Williams would count $6.4 million against the cap. But I wouldn't be very surprised if the Bucs decide to take the cap hit and part ways with Williams.

Sometimes you have to take lumps against the cap to send a message to the rest of your team.

Sammy Watkins a fit for Bucs?

February, 10, 2014
Feb 10
It remains to be seen what, if any, fallout there will be for Tampa Bay wide receiver Mike Williams, who faces a couple of misdemeanor charges.

The Bucs still owe Willams $6.4 million in guaranteed money ($1.2 million for this year and $5.2 million for 2015). That alone makes it unlikely the Bucs will simply cut Williams.

But I’m starting to see some mock drafts that have the Bucs taking a wide receiver in the first round. In this mock draft, has the Bucs taking Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins. It’s the same pick in this mock draft by Charlie Campbell.

If Williams’ job is in jeopardy, Watkins would be more than a logical fit. But I think it’s possible the Bucs could target Watkins even if they’re keeping Williams. Even before Williams’ season was cut short by a hamstring injury, it became very obvious depth at wide receiver was an issue. Kevin Ogletree was supposed to be the third receiver, but he couldn’t hold onto the job.

The Bucs need a third wide receiver. Adding Watkins to Vincent Jackson and Williams would give them a strong trio. But Watkins eventually could end up being much more than a third receiver. Jackson isn’t getting any younger and we’ve already mentioned that Williams’ future could be tenuous.

Drafting Watkins would give the Bucs a much brighter future at wide receiver.

Mike Williams on the hot seat?

January, 30, 2014
Jan 30
TAMPA, Fla. -- Had coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik stayed with the Buccaneers, wide receiver Mike Williams might have been on his way out of Tampa Bay.

That’s according to this eye-opening report by Scott Reynolds of Pewter Report. The previous regime had serious concerns about Williams’ dedication to football and his lifestyle away from the field.

Reynolds reports that Williams was fined more than $200,000 last year for missing or being late to meetings and rehab sessions for a torn hamstring that forced him to miss the second half of last season. The report also says that Schiano and Dominik were worried that Williams was partying too much and they were prepared to release him if things didn’t change.

Schiano and Dominik are gone, but that doesn’t mean that Williams is off the hook. It’s easy to say that Williams will get a new start with coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht, but that might not be accurate.

There are other people in the organization that were well aware of the concerns of Schiano and Dominik. Word will get back to Smith and Licht -- if it hasn’t already. Smith and Licht seem like no-nonsense guys.

The bottom line here is that Williams has to straighten up and fly right. If he doesn’t, Smith and Licht easily could do what Schiano and Dominik were contemplating. Williams is a good, but not great, receiver. Cutting him would have virtually no salary-cap implications. It would be very easy to part ways with Williams if things don't change.
TAMPA, Fla. -- New Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith comes from a defensive background. But Smith and the new general manager are going to have to spend the majority of their offseason building the offense.

With the exception of adding a pass-rusher, I don’t see a lot of big needs on defense. I look at the offense, however, and see needs just about everywhere.

There are only three or four sure things on offense. Doug Martin is set at running back, and Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams are set as the wide receivers, although the Bucs would be wise to add some depth at receiver. You might be able to include guard Carl Nicks on this list, but only if he’s fully recovered from a bout with MRSA and a toe injury that kept him out most of last season.

Aside from those three or four spots, nothing is a given. Smith had some praise for quarterback Mike Glennon at his introductory news conference. But Smith stopped well short of saying Glennon will be his starting quarterback.

I liked some of what I saw out of Glennon in his rookie season, and think he could be good with a strong supporting cast. But, at this point, I think the Bucs should at least bring in someone to compete with Glennon.

Speaking of competition, the Bucs need to add some at tight end. They might have stumbled onto something with Tim Wright, but they still need a blocking tight end.

Speaking of blocking, I don’t know that any spot is safe on the offensive line. That unit did not play well last season, and several offensive linemen are carrying large salary-cap figures.

The bottom line is that Tampa Bay’s offense is going to look a lot different than last season, when Williams and Martin missed most of the season with injuries. That won’t be a bad thing.
Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final power ranking: 27
Preseason power ranking: 22

Biggest surprise: Tim Wright came to training camp as an undrafted wide receiver from Rutgers. He ended up as the starting tight end. That happened because a series of injuries left the Bucs in desperation mode at this position. But let’s give Wright some credit for quickly emerging as a legitimate threat in the passing game. He still has room for improvement as a blocker, but the Bucs might have found something special in Wright.

 Biggest disappointment: Entering the season, the Bucs thought this would be the year that Josh Freeman firmly established himself as a franchise quarterback. That didn’t come close to happening. Freeman was late for several team functions and that put him on coach Greg Schiano’s bad side. It didn’t help as Freeman struggled in the first three games. The Bucs turned to rookie Mike Glennon and eventually released Freeman.

Biggest need: The front office and coaching staff made a conscious decision to let defensive end Michael Bennett, who led the team in sacks in 2012, walk as a free agent. The thinking was that Da'Quan Bowers was ready to emerge as a pass-rushing force. But Bowers never emerged and Tampa Bay’s pass rush wasn’t very good. Rookie William Gholston showed some promise as the season went on, but the Bucs still need to upgrade the pass rush in the offseason.

Team MVP: There really are only two candidates -- defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David. McCoy was outstanding, but I’m giving the nod to David. In his second season, David developed a knack for making big plays. People compared him to Derrick Brooks as soon as he was drafted by Tampa Bay. I thought that was a little premature, but I’m starting to think David can be the second coming of Brooks.