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Bucs on dangerous road with Incognito

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.