NFC South: Nick Barnett

Could Lofa Tatupu interest Bucs?

July, 31, 2011
7/31/11
12:51
PM ET
There could be another possibility for the Bucs at middle linebacker.

Seattle’s Lofa Tatupu reportedly has requested his release and it’s been granted. The Bucs have been relatively quiet in free agency and they let middle linebacker Barrett Ruud leave to sign as a free agent with Tennessee.

Tampa Bay has been using Tyrone McKenzie as its first-team middle linebacker early in training camp. But he has only played in three NFL games. The Bucs also have high hopes for rookie Mason Foster.

But asking an inexperienced player to call the signals for a very young defense could be dangerous, and the Bucs might be open to bringing in a veteran. We’ve thrown out Nick Barnett’s name, but indications are he probably is headed elsewhere very shortly.

Tatupu’s presence on the market could intrigue the Bucs. He’s a three-time Pro Bowler and is only 28. Although he came into the league with questions about being too small to play middle linebacker, he answered those quickly. The Bucs generally prefer smaller linebackers with good speed.
If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers don’t re-sign middle linebacker Barrett Ruud, another viable alternative just came on the market.

On his verified Twitter account, Nick Barnett said he’s being released by Green Bay.

“Just met with (general manager) Ted (Thompson),’’ Barnett wrote. “Thanks for the great eight years. Very blessed 2 be a part of such a great tradition and great fans. Happy I was able to be here for the great xlv run. I will always keep a Special place in my heart for this team and city.’’

While Green Bay may be special to Barnett, he’s known that a parting of the ways was likely for months. A source close to Barnett said he’s been monitoring the rest of the league and thinking about possible landing spots. The source said Tampa Bay is one place Barnett would like to get an opportunity.

It’s unclear if the Bucs will make a strong effort to keep Ruud. They drafted Mason Foster in the third round this year and he can play inside. But, with a very young front seven, the Bucs might be hesitant to let a rookie be the quarterback of the defense.

Barnett is 30 and that may be stretching the limits of Tampa Bay’s youth movement. But Barnett is experienced and could step right in and run the defense if Ruud departs.

NFC South free-agency breakdown

July, 25, 2011
7/25/11
3:27
PM ET
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Unrestricted FAs

A look at the free-agent priorities for each NFC South team:

Atlanta Falcons

1. Sign a pass-rushing defensive end: This move has been telegraphed since the draft, when the Falcons jumped up to add an explosive offensive player in wide receiver Julio Jones rather than a pass-rusher. It’s no secret the Falcons want to add an edge rusher who can complement John Abraham in the short term and replace him in the long term. The Falcons showed last year when they signed cornerback Dunta Robinson that they’re not afraid to spend big money in free agency. They’re poised to do it again, and Minnesota’s Ray Edwards and Carolina’s Charles Johnson are two pass-rushers just entering their prime who will be on the market. The Falcons can offer big money and the chance to be the last piece of a Super Bowl puzzle. That should be attractive.

2. Figure out what the offensive line will look like: The Falcons have three starters on the offensive line who are likely to be free agents, and they’ll allow one or two of them to walk. That’s not as scary as it may sound, because none of those free agents is dominant, and the Falcons have stockpiled some promising linemen in the last few drafts. But center Todd McClure is near the end of his career, and left tackle Sam Baker is still a question mark. That means the Falcons can’t afford to let all their free-agent linemen walk. They need to maintain some continuity on the line to make sure quarterback Matt Ryan stays upright. Keeping right tackle Tyson Clabo is the major priority.

3. Re-sign kicker Matt Bryant: The veteran has revitalized his career since coming to Atlanta. He’s come through consistently in the clutch. The Falcons are a team on the verge of great things, and they don’t need to suddenly go young or cheap at kicker. They need a veteran who can help them win some big games.

Top five free agents: Bryant, LB Mike Peterson, T Tyson Clabo, G Harvey Dahl and G Justin Blalock.

Carolina Panthers

1. Re-sign DeAngelo Williams: The running back is sure to be a hot commodity on the open market, but the Panthers can’t afford to let him get away. Yes, Jonathan Stewart looked very good at times last season, and Mike Goodson made the most of his playing time after Williams was injured. But the Panthers don't want to put too much pressure on a young starting quarterback, whether it's Cam Newton or Jimmy Clausen. They need to have two or three strong running backs, and Williams is the most versatile member of the backfield.

2. Make a decision on Steve Smith: Other than the drafting of Newton, speculation about Smith’s future has been the dominant story out of Carolina this offseason. There have been conflicting reports about whether the veteran wide receiver wants to be traded from the only team he’s ever played for. The speculation was a moot point because no trades could be made during the lockout. Now, Smith and the Panthers will have to show their hand. If he truly wants out, the Panthers will try to trade Smith. But they’re not simply going to give him away. Even if he’s unhappy, Smith still might be the best player on the roster. The Panthers aren’t letting him go without getting a good draft pick or a decent player in return.

3. Sign a veteran quarterback: New coach Ron Rivera has said several times that he wants to add a veteran quarterback to serve as a mentor to Newton and Clausen. Heck, he might even need that veteran to start the first few games of the season so Newton and Clausen can catch up on all the missed offseason work. The Panthers want someone who can help the development of the two young quarterbacks. Someone like Marc Bulger or Jake Delhomme could fit, if either is willing to accept a backup role.

Top five free agents: Williams, DE Charles Johnson, LB James Anderson, LB Thomas Davis and CB Richard Marshall.

New Orleans Saints

1. Decide what to do with Reggie Bush. The running back/return man is scheduled to make almost $12 million and count $16 million against the cap. That’s not going to happen, but the Saints have indicated they’d like to keep Bush if they can work out a contract extension that would spread money around. The Saints drafted running back Mark Ingram in the first round, but Bush still could play plenty of roles with this team. Sean Payton has been creative with the ways he’s used Bush, who has been productive when healthy. Last year’s injury problems at running back showed the Saints can’t have enough depth at the position.

2. Make some key secondary decisions. Safeties Darren Sharper and Roman Harper are both potential unrestricted free agents, so the Saints have to make some choices. Sharper’s past his prime and is a free safety. That position now belongs to Malcolm Jenkins. Harper has been the starting strong safety and has been solid. Harper shouldn’t command huge money on the open market, and the Saints would be wise to re-sign him. If they do, they should have one of the league’s better secondaries.

3. Shore up the outside linebacker spots. Scott Shanle is an unrestricted free agent and may or may not return. The other position is up for grabs. Martez Wilson was drafted in the third round, and the Saints have a few other promising prospects at outside linebacker. But this is a veteran team with a realistic chance to contend for the Super Bowl, so it might be wise to go out and get a proven veteran and let the young linebackers develop behind him.

Top five free agents: Sharper, Harper, WR Lance Moore, FB Heath Evans and TE David Thomas.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

1. Re-sign Davin Joseph. The guard is very much in his prime and is strong as a run blocker and pass blocker. Along with Donald Penn, he’s the anchor of an offensive line that may be working in some young players. Quarterback Josh Freeman is the franchise in Tampa Bay, and the Bucs need to do whatever it takes to keep him protected.

2. Decide on a defensive leader. Middle linebacker Barrett Ruud is an unrestricted free agent and may bolt if a decent offer comes from elsewhere. Ruud’s been asking for a new contract for about two years, and the Bucs haven’t given it to him. They drafted Mason Foster in the third round and are high on his potential. But this is a very young defense, and putting a rookie at middle linebacker could be a risky move. Buffalo’s Paul Posluszny is a free agent, and there are reports that Green Bay could be looking to trade or release Nick Barnett. Either of those guys could come in and be an immediate leader on this defense.

3. Spend some money. The Bucs have had one of the league’s lowest payrolls in recent years. Still, they’ve made progress in a youth movement that won’t be abandoned. It might be time to start locking up some young players to longer deals. It might also be time to go out and get just a few free agents to keep the youth movement headed in the right direction.

Top five free agents: G Davin Joseph, LB Barrett Ruud, RB Cadillac Williams, DE Stylez G. White and Maurice Stovall.
We started speculating a bit the other day about possible post-lockout moves by throwing out a scenario in which Green Bay linebacker Nick Barnett could fit with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Let’s build off that and hit another team and another player. Although the Carolina Panthers drafted South Florida defensive tackle Terrell McClain and Stanford defensive tackle Sione Fua in the third round this year, I’m not sure they’re done at that position.

Defensive tackle, a strong point for Carolina in the days of Kris Jenkins and Maake Kemoeatu, has been a glaring weakness the past couple of seasons. McClain and Fua should help, but I see one guy I believe could be a nice fit in Carolina.

That’s Brandon Mebane, who has spent the past four seasons with Seattle. If reports that players with four accrued seasons -- and without a contract for this year -- will become unrestricted free agents, Mebane will be on the market.

Other than McClain and Fua, the Panthers have guys like Nick Hayden, Ed Johnson, Corvey Irvin and Derek Landri. Mebane would be an instant upgrade on any of those guys. Carolina’s in a youth movement, but Mebane could fit the profile. He’s only 26.

He’s been a starter throughout most of his career. At 311 pounds, he plays the run well and he also has shown some ability as a pass-rusher in the past. Mebane had 5.5 sacks in 2008.
Let’s pull out the crystal ball and speculate a bit about what could happen when the lockout ends. Let’s talk about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their situation at middle linebacker.

Barrett Ruud can become a free agent. Although I suspect the Bucs will make an attempt to keep him, I think there’s a good chance Ruud simply might want to move on. He’s been asking for a new contract for several years and nothing ever really came of it. Ruud might want to go somewhere he feels more appreciated. There’s a common assumption the Bucs used a third-round pick on Mason Foster and plan to plug him in immediately as the starting middle linebacker.

That could happen, but I’m going to throw out another scenario and another name: Nick Barnett. He’s currently property of the Packers, but there’s league-wide speculation that Barnett could be released or traded as soon as the lockout ends. He’s coming off a season in which he suffered a wrist injury and played in only four games. He’s expendable in Green Bay, but he could be valuable in Tampa Bay.

Barnett is 30, which falls somewhere between old and young. The Bucs are in a youth movement and throwing Foster into the mix wouldn’t be totally out of character. But making a third-round pick the quarterback of your defense without an offseason to prepare could be a little dangerous. The Bucs are very young on the defensive line and could have some other changes at linebacker.

That’s why it could make some sense to bring in Barnett or a guy like him. Barnett was a second-team All-Pro selection in 2007 and had some very good seasons with the Packers. He could provide some instant stability and leadership for a Tampa Bay defense that’s still looking to catch up to its offense.

Once the lockout is over, keep an eye on this one.

Morris addresses QB trade talk

August, 26, 2009
8/26/09
4:29
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

TAMPA, Fla. -- There could be even another element to the quarterback situation for the Buccaneers.

The team could be looking to trade one of its quarterbacks for a draft pick. Coach Raheem Morris wouldn't confirm an NFL.com report that the Bucs are shopping three of their quarterbacks for a trade, but he didn't deny it either.

"Oh, man, they're Nostradamus," Morris said when asked about the report. "Everybody in this league, all 32 teams around this time start calling front offices. I can't control who calls us. Everybody's interested in everybody's roster and everybody's looking to nit-pick off everybody's roster. Everybody has talent and you're trying to accumulate the best talent on your football team. That's just all that talk is what that is."

But it makes total sense for the Bucs to at least try to find out what the market value might be for Byron Leftwich, Luke McCown or Josh Johnson. They're not about to let go of rookie Josh Freeman, who they call their franchise quarterback.

But that's likely in the future. For now, it appears the Bucs will open the season with either Leftwich or McCown as their starter. They're about even at this point and a potential trade could play into Morris' decision, although the Bucs likely would be able to get only a late-round pick (at best) for any of their quarterbacks.

Leftwich, a former starter in Jacksonville, probably has more trade value because of his experience. McCown has only seven starts. Johnson, a second-year pro, has yet to play in an NFL game and probably wouldn't bring much in a trade.
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