During Friday’s NFC South chat, I got a couple of persistent questions from Tampa Bay fans.
One had to do with why the Bucs traded away their best cornerback (Aqib Talib) in the middle of the season. I’ve answered that multiple times and I’ll do it in a nutshell here. Although talented, Talib was probably the most prone to trouble the Bucs since the great Tyji Armstrong in the 1990s. Talib’s contract was scheduled to expire after the season and there was no way he was going to be on a team coached by Greg Schiano next year. The Bucs had a fourth-round draft pick dangled in front of them by New England and they wisely grabbed it. Talib still had one game remaining on his four-game suspension and as a repeat violator of the NFL’s personal-conduct policy, he was one mistake away from being banned for an entire season or permanently.
Talib’s departure and Tampa Bay’s lack of quality depth at cornerback also has brought up another question that got a lot of play right after the draft and it’s surfacing again: Why didn’t the Bucs draft cornerback Morris Claiborne?
Seriously, there are people out there questioning Tampa Bay’s draft, which might have been the best in the NFL this year?
Let’s think about this a little before we go into more depth on the cornerback situation. If the Bucs had drafted Claiborne, they wouldn’t have strong safety Mark Barron. More importantly, they also wouldn’t have running back Doug Martin and linebacker Lavonte David, who are at least being mentioned as candidates for the Offensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Think back to the draft. When it started, the Bucs were holding the No. 5 overall pick. When they were on the clock (and Claiborne still was on the board), they traded down to No. 7 and they added a fourth-round pick, which may turn out to be one of the great draft moves ever if Martin, David and Barron continue to produce like they have.
Adding that fourth-round pick set off a series of events that landed Martin and David in Tampa Bay. The Bucs had a second-round pick, No. 36 overall, but they feared Martin wouldn’t last that long. They packaged picks and jumped back into the first round and got Martin.
Then, the Bucs used the acquired fourth-round pick and their third-round pick (No. 68 overall) to move back into the second round and get David at No. 58.
The Bucs got three guys that have been starters since Day One. They should only continue to get better and should be core players for the next five years or so.
You’d prefer Claiborne over that?
Yeah, I know Tampa Bay’s immediate cornerback situation isn’t great. Eric Wright has been banged up and there was a FOX Sports report that he could be facing a suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
That’s forced the Bucs to play E.J. Biggers and Leonard Johnson lots more than they probably wanted to play them. Rip on Biggers and Johnson all you want, but let’s take a look at how what they’ve done compares to what Claiborne has done in Dallas.
Johnson has three interceptions and Biggers has one. Claiborne has one interception. According to Stats Inc., teams have completed 61.5 percent of their passes on which Claiborne has been targeted. The same survey says teams have completed 47.1 percent of their passes against Biggers and 44.8 percent of their passes against Johnson. Claiborne also is ninth in the league in touchdown passes allowed with four.
Oh, by the way, did you happen to catch Claiborne’s recent outing against Philadelphia? He was flagged five times, including one penalty that negated an interception by a teammate.
Yeah, Biggers and Johnson aren’t going to the Pro Bowl and the Bucs are likely to continue to struggle with pass coverage the rest of this season. But you can’t solve all your problems at once.
The Bucs elected not to draft a cornerback early this year and the word is Schiano wasn’t sold on Claiborne’s tackling ability, which is kind of an important item for a coach like Schiano. But the Bucs walked out of the draft with solid starters, maybe potential stars, in Barron, Martin and David.
They can address cornerback in next year’s draft or free-agency period.