Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2014 NFL free agency

Bucs add depth in secondary

April, 4, 2014
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Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith has reached back into his past to add some more depth for the secondary.

Former Chicago safety Major Wright agreed to terms with the Buccaneers on Friday evening.

The move is somewhat curious because the Bucs appear to have starters at both safety positions with Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron. But Goldson has had issues with being fined for illegal hits.

At best, Wright could challenge Goldson for a starting job. But it’s more likely that Wright will play in sub packages and on special teams.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could be adding some depth to their defensive backfield with a player who has strong ties to coach Lovie Smith.

Safety Major Wright arrived in Tampa on Tuesday night and will visit with the Bucs on Wednesday. Wright previously played for Smith in Chicago. But the interest in Wright is somewhat surprising because the Bucs appear to be in good shape at safety.

They have Mark Barron at strong safety and Dashon Goldson at free safety. Although Wright was a starter during most of his time in Chicago, the Bucs could be looking to use him in sub packages and on special teams.
It's time for our periodic check on Tampa Bay's salary cap situation.

With the latest contract (receiver Louis Murphy's) factored in, the Bucs currently stand $11.99 million against the salary cap.

That leaves the team plenty of money to remain active in what's left of free agency. The Bucs will need $3 million to $4 million to sign their draft picks and they'll want to carry a cushion into the regular season in case there are injuries.

But the Bucs still have several million they can spend in the meantime. I still see the possibility of the Bucs signing several more free agents.

Wide receiver and guard are the two most obvious needs, but I can see the Bucs adding depth at just about any position.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been busy bringing in free agents. But that’s not all they’re worried about.

McCoy
McCoy
Coach Lovie Smith admitted during Wednesday’s NFC coaches breakfast the team wants to get All-Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy signed to a contract extension.

“Yes, that is definitely a priority,’’ Smith said. “He’s a guy that we definitely want around for a while, to say the least.’’

That’s pretty obvious. After two injury-filled seasons to start his career, McCoy has emerged as one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. He already is counting $12.7 million against this year’s salary cap. An extension that would make McCoy one of the league’s top-paid defensive tackles likely would average about $13 million a year.

That’s a steep price. But Smith inadvertently made a statement that McCoy’s agents might want to use whenever the negotiations start. Smith said he expects McCoy to only get better.

“Gerald had 9.5 sacks (last season),’’ McCoy said. “That’s hard to do for an inside player and he missed a few. We feel like, even though he’s considered a great player, Joe Cullen will do a great job coaching him and we feel like he can take another step.’’
Lovie SmithKim Klement/USA TODAY SportsCoach Lovie Smith and the Bucs expect to compete for championships starting this season.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- There is a very good reason why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been one of the NFL's most active teams in free agency.

"We thought it would be unfair to ask the fans to be patient with us," general manager Jason Licht said at the NFL owners meetings.

Fire those cannons at Raymond James Stadium and start the parade down Dale Mabry Highway. So far, Licht and coach Lovie Smith, both hired in January, are doing and saying all of the right things. They have signed 11 free agents, highlighted by defensive end Michael Johnson, cornerback Alterraun Verner and quarterback Josh McCown.

"We wanted to go out and sign as many good players as we could this year to help our football team and make it competitive this year, and strive to win a championship this year," Licht said. "Not go with, 'Hey, give us a couple years.' We want to do it as soon as we can. The fans deserve it. I found out in a two-month period that these fans are so passionate in Tampa. So we want players that are just as passionate as the fans."

Those fans should be ecstatic to hear Licht's comments. This is a franchise that hasn't been to the playoffs since the 2007 season, and hasn't won a postseason game since its Super Bowl victory more than a decade ago. The franchise had good intentions in the interim, but the results weren't pretty.

Plans were put in place at various times from the days when Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen tried to win with veterans, to the time when Mark Dominik and Raheem Morris decided to build through the draft, to the days when it looked like Greg Schiano didn't have a plan.

[+] EnlargeAlterraun Verner
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsLanding cornerback Alterraun Verner was part of an aggressive free-agent push by the Bucs this month.
But you can look at what Licht and Smith are doing and you see a firm plan that has a chance to work -- and work quickly.

"As you saw last year with Kansas City, sometimes a little change is healthy and successful," Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer said.

The Chiefs indeed are a good example of a team that turned around its fortunes rapidly. Kansas City was dreadful in 2012, but made the playoffs last season.

For any doubters who say McCown, a career backup, doesn't have what it takes to lead a team to the playoffs, let me remind you that Alex Smith was Kansas City's quarterback last season. I don't see a big difference between Smith and McCown.

Yeah, people can talk all they want about how this is a quarterback-driven league and you need a star at the position to be any good. There is some truth to that. But was Russell Wilson really the best quarterback in the NFL last season?

Of course not. Wilson did some very nice things, but there were bigger reasons why the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl. The defense and the running game had a lot to do with their success.

It's pretty obvious Licht and Lovie Smith are following a plan similar to Seattle's. Smith comes with a defensive background, and he inherited some good talent on that side of the ball. Linebacker Lavonte David and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy already are in place, and you could make an argument that a pass-rusher was the only thing Tampa Bay needed to be a dominant defense. That is why the Bucs signed Johnson, who had 11.5 sacks for Cincinnati in 2012.

On offense, the Bucs have overhauled their line. They parted ways with Donald Penn, Davin Joseph and Jeremy Zuttah, and replaced them with Anthony Collins, Oniel Cousins and Evan Dietrich-Smith. The running game should be in good shape, assuming Doug Martin is fully recovered from an injury that cut short last season.

I look at that and I see a team that might be ready to win now. I see a team with a plan that seems to make a lot of sense.

"Jason and Lovie have a plan, and that plan is that they want to win," Glazer said. "That's why we brought them in. We're all in the same boat. We want to win. They have a clear plan to get there, and that's why they were hired. We believe in the plan. We buy into the plan, and we're going to be supportive of the plan."

A few years back, the Glazers were often accused of not spending enough money to bring success. But recently, they have spent big money in free agency. This offseason, the Bucs went on another spending spree.

Licht and Smith frequently are being declared winners in free agency by the national media. They are also winning the news conferences by saying the right things.

Now, if they can go win some games in the fall, their plan could be a masterpiece.
ORLANDO, Fla. – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers sent out a strong signal that they expect guard Carl Nicks to be healthy for the upcoming season.

The team traded away center/guard Jeremy Zuttah to Baltimore for a 2015 mid-round draft pick on Sunday, a day before the NFL owners meetings begin.

Nicks missed all but two games of last season after dealing with a toe injury and a MRSA infection. Zuttah spent last year playing center, but also has experience at guard. The Bucs previously addressed their center position by signing free agent Evan Dietrich-Smith. The fact the Bucs were willing to trade Zuttah shows they’re confident Nicks will be back for the 2014 season.

The Bucs are looking at Nicks as one of their starting guards. Jamon Meredith and Oniel Cousins are the candidates for the other starting guard spot. But the Bucs still could make a move for a guard in free agency or the draft.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith said the team is not done with free agency. There's a reason for that.

The Bucs still have $13.6 million available in salary-cap space and they still could create more by restructuring contracts or releasing players. Eventually, the Bucs will need to dedicate about $3 million to signing their draft picks and they'll also need to keep some money available to sign players when there are injuries during the season.

But it's fair to say the Bucs still have plenty to room to work with at a time when the free-agent market has calmed down. That's a good thing because there still are plenty of needs to fill.

The Bucs could use a third wide receiver and a third cornerback. They also could use some more depth on the offensive line and at linebacker. I expect the Bucs to be fairly active over the next few weeks. Their offseason program starts in early April and they'll want to have most of their players in place to learn the new systems.

As long as we're talking about the salary cap, let's take a look ahead to 2015. The Bucs already have 50 players signed through 2015. They currently have $116.6 million committed toward the 2015 cap.

Bucs sticking with cap approach

March, 19, 2014
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers changed general managers, but they haven’t changed their approach to the salary cap.

So far in free agency, Jason Licht has been using the same tactics as predecessor Mark Dominik. Licht has avoided using signing bonuses.

That was a Dominik trademark that ran contrary to what most of the rest of the league does. I don’t know if Licht is following orders from ownership or if he simply decided to follow Dominik’s blueprint.

Either way, it’s a smart approach. Signing bonuses can be dangerous because they spread out a cap hit through future years. If a player doesn’t work out, the team can end up with a big cap hit. That’s when you hear about “dead money’’ -- cap charges for players no longer on the roster.

Dominik preferred to pay big salaries in the early years of contracts and avoided back-loaded deals. Thanks to Dominik’s contract structures in the past, the Bucs have almost no dead money this year. The Bucs were in good cap shape throughout the Dominik years and Licht inherited a good cap situation.

The Bucs were able to release cornerback Darrelle Revis and his $16 million salary without a penny counting toward the salary cap. Licht’s been positioning the Bucs the same way with the contracts he’s been giving out. He has included a few roster bonuses, but no signing bonuses.

You can call this approach frugal. I call it smart. The Bucs are taking bigger cap hits early in contracts, but that means they won't get jammed up in later years.

Bucs move on at long-snapper

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
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The Buccaneers appear intent on changing long-snappers after Andrew Economos held that position for the last seven years.

The Bucs signed Jeremy Cain, according to the league’s waiver wire. Cain has a history with coach Lovie Smith. The two were together in Chicago in 2004-05 and Cain also has spent time with the Titans and Jaguars.

The Bucs previously signed Patrick Scales at the end of last season. The Bucs likely will let Cain and Scales compete for the job in the preseason. The signing of two snappers means it’s unlikely Economos will return to the Bucs.

Free-agency review: Buccaneers

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
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Johnson
Most significant signing: The signing of former Cincinnati defensive end Michael Johnson has been the team's biggest move by far. The Bucs came into free agency looking to improve their pass rush and they accomplished that by signing Johnson. He had only 3.5 sacks last year, but had 11.5 in 2012. The hope is that Johnson can give the Bucs double-digit sacks.

Most significant loss: The beauty of this free-agency period is the Bucs didn't really have any significant free agents of their own. They did lose Dekoda Watson (Jacksonville) and Adam Hayward (Washington). Those losses took away some of their depth at linebacker. More significantly, Watson and Hayward were regulars on special teams, and the Bucs have to find players to fill their roles.

Biggest surprise: It was no surprise the Bucs released cornerback Darrelle Revis and his $16 million salary. But it was surprising that the Bucs replaced him with Alterraun Verner at such a reasonable rate (four years, $26.5 million). Verner is not on the same level as Revis, but he should fit very nicely in the Tampa 2 scheme.

What's next? The Bucs have made a lot of moves, but there is still more work to be done. That's what happens when you're coming off a 4-12 season. They need to add some speed at wide receiver and continue to solidify their offensive line.

Bucs looking at CB Mike Jenkins

March, 17, 2014
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Back in 2008, a lot of Tampa Bay fans wanted the Buccaneers to draft cornerback Mike Jenkins.

Jenkins
He was a local product, coming out of nearby Bradenton and playing at the University of South Florida. The Bucs had a need at cornerback that year.

But the team of coach Jon Gruden and GM Bruce Allen had their eyes on another cornerback and used their first-round draft pick on Aqib Talib. Jenkins wound up getting drafted by Dallas.

Now, there is again the possibility that Jenkins could join the Buccaneers. He’s making a free-agent visit to the team Monday. Tampa Bay has Alterraun Verner and Johnthan Banks, but could use a strong third corner.

Jenkins, who spent five years in Dallas before going to Oakland last season, hasn’t had the kind of career many expected. But Jenkins could be a nice role player as the third cornerback in Tampa Bay.

What's next for the Buccaneers?

March, 17, 2014
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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 add more depth

March, 16, 2014
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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.
I’ve got the full contract details on the deal offensive tackle Anthony Collins signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

As previously reported, it’s a five-year deal worth $30 million. But this contract has some twists and turns that could cause the total value to grow.

Collins
McCown
The deal includes $15 million in guaranteed money over the first three years of the contract. Collins has a $4 million base salary and a $2 million roster bonus this year. In each of the remaining years of the deal, Collins’ base salary will be $6 million.

But the most interesting part of this deal comes in the final three years. If Collins meets certain playing-time standards, he can receive escalators of $500,000 in 2016, $1 million in 2017 and $2 million in 2018.

The Bucs took a bit of a leap of faith in Collins, who didn’t become a starter until last year in Cincinnati. But I like the structure of this deal because, if Collins works out like the Bucs hope, he’ll be rewarded nicely.

Speaking of incentives, quarterback Josh McCown also has some incentives in his contract. McCown’s two-year deal is worth at least $10 million. He has a $1 million roster bonus and a $3.75 million base salary for this year and a $5.25 million salary for 2015. But the deal also includes up to $2 million in incentives each year and McCown also has a chance at a $1 million escalator in 2015 if he meets certain playing time standards.
TAMPA, Fla. – At a news conference to introduce the Buccaneers' two newest players, Anthony Collins was seated to Josh McCown's left.

Collins
That was more than appropriate because that’s where Collins will be spending much of his time. Continuing with their full-fledged overhaul, the Bucs signed Collins to a five-year, $30 million contract Thursday. They promptly released veteran Donald Penn, who previously played left tackle. That’s where Collins is going to line up as McCown’s most important protector.

“He is a natural left tackle,’’ general manager Jason Licht said.

But Collins hasn’t followed a natural path to get to where he is. With the Cincinnati Bengals since 2008, Collins has only 25 career starts and he’s bounced between both tackle positions and guard.

“I’m ready,’’ Collins said. “I’ve been waiting for six years.’’

Collins caught the attention of the Bucs with what he did last season. An injury to Andrew Whitworth opened the way for Collins to get seven starts.

“Watching all the tackles this year, he’s the one that jumped out the most to me,’’ Licht said. “It was such a surprise to see a guy thrown into the starting lineup and to actually see their team perform better. That’s not a knock on any player. He has great feet. He has great athleticism and he plays very hard. I don’t want to say he came out of nowhere because everybody’s been aware of Anthony for a long time. But when he got his opportunity, he performed exceptionally. We felt very lucky to get him and I don’t think he’s hit his prime yet.’’

There’s no question the Bucs are doing some projecting with this move. But I think it’s a step in the right direction as they rebuild their offensive line. Penn was getting older and he didn’t have a good season last year. Collins has plenty of upside and he said he is more than ready to protect McCown’s blind side.

“Patience is a virtue,’’ Collins said. “Now is my time.’’

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