QB Byron Leftwich, RB Derrick Ward, TE Kellen Winslow Jr., OLB Angelo Crowell, ILB Niko Koutouvides, K Mike Nugent, P Dirk Johnson.
QB Josh Freeman, DT Roy Miller, DE Kyle Moore, OT Xavier Fulton, CB E.J. Biggers, WR Sammie Stroughter.
QB Jeff Garcia, QB Brian Griese, RB Warrick Dunn, FB Byron Storer, WR Joey Galloway, WR Ike Hilliard, TE Alex Smith, OT Luke Petitgout, DE Kevin Carter, DE Patrick Chukwurah, DE Greg Peterson, DT Jovan Haye, OLB Cato June, OLB Derrick Brooks, CB Phillip Buchanon.
2009 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Offense:
Take a poll asking football fans which team will have the worst offense in the NFL, and the Buccaneers are bound to get some votes. With a quarterbacking corps comprised of Luke McCown, Byron Sandwich and rookie Josh Freeman, it's almost difficult to imagine Tampa Bay not finishing in the bottom five of every offensive category. After all, each of the three signal-callers has a few glaring flaws. McCown has a better arm than Jeff Garcia, but he's too scared to take shots downfield and often opts to check the ball down instead. Leftwich, meanwhile, is immobile and takes too long to release the football. He's consequently sacked way too often. And as for Freeman, he's a mere rookie.
However, despite owning a pretty miserable group of quarterbacks, Tampa Bay's offense should be able to rank in the higher teens in terms of scoring. Though the public believes differently, the Buccaneers have a talented receiving corps, a very good offensive line and a what figures to be a strong running game.
Antonio Bryant and Kellen Winslow Jr. are the two most well-known players on the roster. Bryant became a fantasy MVP last season, catching 23 passes for 435 yards and four touchdowns between Weeks 14 and 16. Bryant, who had 83 receptions for 1,248 yards and seven scores, is known as a player who slacks off and becomes a distraction whenever he's not in his contract year. Bryant was playing for a new deal in 2008. Fortunately, Tampa Bay was able to franchise him, ensuring that he'll give 100 percent this upcoming campaign.
Meanwhile, Winslow was acquired for a second-round pick. When healthy, Winslow is an unstoppable force; he caught 82 balls for 1,106 yards for the Browns in 2007. However, Winslow is injury-prone; in his four NFL seasons, he has missed 20 contests.
Rounding out the receiving corps, Michael Clayton, to the chagrin of Buccaneer fans everywhere, will continue to play across from Bryant. Clayton registered 80 receptions, 1,193 yards and seven scores as a rookie, but hasn't topped 38 catches, 484 yards and one score in the four seasons since. Tampa Bay's front office gave Clayton a 5-year, $24 million contract this offseason. I don't know what sort of drugs were involved in the process, but let this be a lesson to all of you kids out there. If you do coke, crack, LSD or heroine, you may become stupid and throw $24 million at a bum like Clayton. Don't waste your money, kids.
Rookie Sammie Stroughter will start in the slot. Stroughter is an undersized (5-9, 189), but quick wideout who's coming out of a pro-style offense. He'll be effective despite being a first-year receiver. The newly acquired Derrick Ward, meanwhile, will be a great checkdown weapon for McCown; Ward caught 41 balls for 384 yards with the Giants last year.
Speaking of Ward (182 carries, 1,025 yards), he and Earnest Graham (132 carries, 563 rushing yards in 10 games) will have the luxury of running behind five very capable blockers. The Buccaneers are very deep at guard, with Aarron Sears, Davin Joseph and Jeremy Zuttah. There's a chance Sears may not be able to play right away in 2009 because of a concussion he suffered in the middle of last season, but Zuttah has proven that he can be a great substitute. Sandwiched in between the two guards, Jeff Faine is one of the top centers in the league.
There is some concern at offensive tackle, however. Left tackle Donald Penn played well in 2007, but surrendered 8.5 sacks and got called for five penalties last season. Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, meanwhile, yielded six sacks and was whistled for a whopping 10 penalties.
2009 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense:
Ever since Tony Dungy transformed the laughing stock of the NFL to a perennial playoff contender, the Buccaneers have always won with defense. Well, that has definitely changed. It's actually gotten so bad that Tampa Bay may now have one of the worst defenses in the league.
The defensive line is a huge concern, and the days of Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice debacling opposing quarterbacks seem like a distant memory. The team still has the talented Gaines Adams at right end. Adams is entering his third season and is coming off a six-sack campaign. If Adams had any sort of help, I'd say he'd be a lock to register at least 10 sacks in 2009. Unfortunately, that's not the case.
The team as a whole finished with 29 sacks in 2008. Stylez G. White, playing left end, chipped in with five sacks. However, he's nothing more than just a nickel rusher in Jim Bates' new system. Vying for the left end job are the highly ineffective Jimmy Wilkerson and rookie Kyle Moore. Considering that first-year defensive ends seldom thrive in the NFL, this position figures to be a huge hole for the Buccaneers.
Another void in Tampa's defense is in the middle of the defensive line. Chris Hovan is still a force at defensive tackle, but the Buccaneers are going to be really weak versus the run because they don't have anyone capable of playing well next to Hovan. The two candidates for the job are Ryan Sims, who has sucked his whole career, and Roy Miller, a third-round rookie who likely isn't ready to start.
With a bleak pass rush, the secondary figures to suffer. Aqib Talib, who started two games as a rookie, won't be much of a problem. However, Ronde Barber, now 34, was often burnt last season. Barber also doesn't fit Bates' new scheme, so it could really get ugly. Unfortunately, the Buccaneers don't have any capable replacements, as Elbert Mack is currently penciled in at nickel.
The situation is a bit better at safety. Tanard Jackson has done a great job at free safety in his two NFL seasons. Sabby Piscitelli, has just five starts under his belt, however. At least Piscitelli, the new strong safety, actually fits Bates' system.
Jermaine Phillips, who started at strong safety in 2008, will be shifted to weakside linebacker, a move that has fail written all over it. I really don't understand this decision, and I have to wonder why the Buccaneers cut Cato June in the first place. Strongside linebacker Angelo Crowell is talented, but he suffered a knee injury last season. If he can't go, it'll be up to Quincy Black and his zero career starts.
Saving the linebacking corps from a one-star rating is Barrett Ruud, one of the most underrated players in the NFL. Ruud recorded 137 tackles, three sacks and two picks last year. However, Ruud is skipping minicamp and is threatening to hold out because he wants a new contract. I can't blame him; if Tampa Bay's front office gave $24 million to Michael Clayton, then Ruud deserves at least 10 times as much. Ruud is currently making $1.6 million. The Bucs must take care of one of their few talented defensive stars.
2009 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Schedule and Intangibles:
Unlike every other team in the NFC South, the Buccaneers actually won at home prior to the 2008 campaign; they're 68-36 at the New Sombrero since 1996, including 6-2 last season.
Two years ago, the Buccaneers returned a kickoff for a touchdown for the first time in franchise history. Well, when it rains, it pours because Clifton Smith took another kickoff to the house in 2008. In fact, Smith had two special teams touchdowns. Tampa Bay didn't allow the oppositon to score.
Matt Bryant is a great guy who gives back to the community, but he also happens to be one of the league's worst long-distance kickers. Bryant was 27-of-27 from 39 yards last season, but he hit just 5-of-11 from 40-plus, includng 0-of-3 from 50 yards out. In fact, Bryant hasn't hit a 50-yarder in two years. The Buccaneers brought in the strong-legged Mike Nugent to compete with Bryant, but Nugent's accuracy has always been a problem.
Josh Bidwell had another pretty solid year as a punter; he maintained a 44.5-yard average even though he nailed 27 kicks inside the opposing 20.
The Buccaneers are one of the worst teams in the NFL, so I'm just looking at winnable games: Dallas (Week 1), at Buffalo (Week 2), Green Bay (Week 9), at Miami (Week 10) and the New York Jets (Week 14).
2009 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2009 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Analysis: It's hard to imagine the Buccaneers with a terrible defense, but we'll get to watch them struggle to stop everyone in 2009. With a new coach and a new front office, this is a transitional year for the Buccaneers. Josh Freeman will start in 2010, and hopefully by then, Tampa Bay adds some more defensive talent to its roster.
This is the exact first draft Tampa Bay needed in its rebuilding process.
To win in the NFL, you need a quarterback, you need to protect your quarterback and you need to get to the other quarterback.
The Buccaneers filled the first requirement with Josh Freeman, who becomes the much-needed face of this franchise. Tampa Bay already has a stout offensive line, but acquired depth with Xavier Fulton. The defensive front was addressed with Roy Miller and Kyle Moore.
Based on positional value, I feel as though Tampa Bay had one of the better 2009 drafts. The team didn't do much in free agency, but based on the Buccaneers' Draft Weekend, it's apparent that this regime really knows what it's doing.
Grade given on 4/27/09: A+
2009 NFL Draft Picks:
17. Josh Freeman, QB, Kansas State
Whether or not Josh Freeman will bust isn't the issue. The Buccaneers simply didn't have a quarterback or a face of the franchise. This needed to be Freeman. (Pick Grade: A)
81. Roy Miller, DT, Texas
I can't believe I got this pick right in my 2009 NFL Mock Re-Draft. I said that this Buccaneers regime clearly understands positional value. Upgrading and finding depth for the defensive line is really important, and Roy Miller is solid value. (Pick Grade: A)
117. Kyle Moore, DE, USC
Once again, the Buccaneers understand positional value. Defensively, it all starts up front. Kyle Moore is solid value at a position of dire need. (Pick Grade: A)
155. Xavier Fulton, OT, Illinois
The Buccaneers needed some offensive tackle depth. Xavier Fulton is solid value. The Buccaneers really appear to be headed in the right direction under this new regime. (Pick Grade: A)
217. E.J. Biggers, CB, Western Michigan
Corner depth is needed. No value here, but it's the seventh round. (Pick Grade: B)
233. Sammie Stroughter, WR, Oregon State
The Buccaneers needed a speed receiver. The value is right for Sammie Stroughter. (Pick Grade: A)
The Buccaneers were on top of the world. Going into a Monday night battle against the Panthers, they were 9-3. Some of the talking heads on TV were discussing them as a possible Super Bowl contender. Matt McGuire considered debacling me for keeping them out of the top 10. Four losses later, including an inexplicable home defeat to Oakland, Tampa Bay finished 9-7 and one game out of a playoff spot. Now, the head coach is gone; the brilliant defensive coordinator defected for the University of Tennessee after mentally resigning in December; and the core of the team is old. Things don't look bright in Tampa.
Buccaneers sign ILB Bo Ruud
Buccaneers cut DE Greg Peterson
Buccaneers sign P Dirk Johnson
Buccaneers sign WR Mario Urrutia
Buccaneers cut QB Brian Griese
Saints sign WR Paris Warren
Buccaneers cut FB Byron Storer
Buccaneers cut WR Paris Warren
Patriots acquire TE Alex Smith from Buccaneers for undisclosed 2010 pick
Buccaneers sign QB Byron Leftwich
Buccaneers re-sign OT Donald Penn
Raiders sign QB Jeff Garcia
Texans sign OLB Cato June
Buccaneers sign OLB Angelo Crowell
Patriots sign WR Joey Galloway
Buccaneers re-sign SS Jermaine Phillips
Buccaneers re-sign TE Jerramy Stevens
Lions sign Phillip Buchanon
Buccaneers sign K Mike Nugent
Buccaneers sign RB Derrick Ward
Titans sign DT Jovan Haye
Buccaneers sign ILB Niko Koutouvides
Buccaneers re-sign WR Michael Clayton
Buccaneers re-sign S Will Allen
Buccaneers acquire TE Kellen Winslow Jr. from Browns for a 2nd-round pick (2009) and 5th-round pick (2010)
Buccaneers cut WR Joey Galloway
Buccaneers cut RB Warrick Dunn
Buccaneers cut OLB Derrick Brooks
Buccaneers cut OLB Cato June
Buccaneers cut WR Ike Hilliard
Buccaneers re-sign DT Ryan Sims
Buccaneers franchise WR Antonio Bryant
Buccaneers re-sign QB Luke McCown
Buccaneers fire HC Jon Gruden
Buccaneers hire HC Raheem Morris
Quarterback: Whether or not the Buccaneers spend the No. 19 selection on Josh Freeman depends on how much they like Josh Johnson. Jeff "I throw like a girl" Garcia is a free agent, meaning the job is up in the air between Luke "Captain Checkdown" McCown and Brian "I forget what color jerseys I'm supposed to throw to" Griese. Drafted Derrick Williams; signed Byron Leftwich
Wide Receiver: Even if the Buccaneers re-sign Antonio Bryant, they need a legitimate downfield threat for whomever their quarterback is. Jeremy Maclin is a possibility at No. 19. Franchised Antonio Bryant; re-signed Michael Clayton; drafted Sammie Stroughter
Defensive Tackle: Under tackle Jovan Haye failed to register a single sack in 2008. A free agent, Haye doesn't fit new defensive coordinator Jim Bates' system anyway. The Buccaneers have the money to sign Albert Haynesworth. Dafted Roy Miller; re-signed Ryan Sims
Defensive End: Gaines Adams finished his second season with just 6.5 sacks. While there's room for improvement, the concerning thing is that he actually led the team in sacks. Tampa Bay totaled just 29 on the year. It's clear that they need someone across from Adams. Drafted Kyle Moore
Cornerback: Phillip Buchanon, a free agent, doesn't fit Jim Bates' bump-and-run scheme. Ronde Barber turns 34 in April. The Buccaneers will look at a corner early in the 2009 NFL Draft. Drafted E.J. Biggers
Tight End: Jerramy Stevens is a nightmare matchup. You know, the ball doesn't exactly match up with Stevens' hands, resulting in many dropped balls. In all seriousness, Stevens is a decent backup tight end, but the Buccaneers could use a top-notch player at that position instead of a bunch of No. 2 guys. Traded for Kellen Winslow Jr.
Running Back: This isn't the team's biggest need, but the Buccaneers could use a change-of-pace back because Warrick Dunn just turned 34. Earnest Graham, a top-10 back in some eyes (and by "some," I mean two people on the forum) is coming off an injury, while Cadillac Williams is way too much of a risk to be relied upon. If Knowshon Moreno falls to the Buccaneers somehow, don't expect them to hesitate. Signed Derrick Ward
Left Tackle: Getting an upgrade at left tackle isn't a huge priority for the Buccaneers, but Donald Penn surrendered 8.5 sacks in 2008. This has to be a concern. Re-signed Donald Penn; drafted Xavier Fulton
Kicker: Matt Bryant is a great guy who helps out in the community, but the fact remains that he'll be 34 soon, and he hasn't hit a 50-yarder since 2006. Signed with Mike Nugent
2009 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Kellen Winslow Jr., TE, Browns. Age: 26. Traded to Buccaneers
One of the most talented tight ends in the NFL, Kellen Winslow Jr. is a year removed from catching 82 passes for 1,106 yards and five touchdowns. He missed six games with a knee injury last season.
Derrick Ward, RB, Giants. Age: 29. Signed with Buccaneers (4 years, $17 million; $6 million guaranteed)
Derrick Ward averaged 5.6 yards per carry this season and also caught 41 passes. However, his age makes him a risky multi-year signing for anyone. Also, Ward didn't carry the ball more than 20 times in any game in 2008.
Angelo Crowell, OLB, Bills. Age: 28. Signed with Buccaneers
Angelo Crowell is a talented linebacker, who unfortunately may not be able to recover from his chronic knee injuries. If Crowell can get healthy, he'll be dominant for Buffalo once again. That's a huge if, however.
Byron Leftwich, QB, Steelers. Age: 29. Signed with Buccaneers
Byron Sandwich saved his career by playing well in relief of Ben Roethlisberger against the Redskins. He'll be sought after as a solid backup, but nothing more.
Mike Nugent, K, Jets. Age: 27. Signed with Buccaneers
Mike Nugent was drafted in the second round of the 2005 NFL Draft because of his strong leg. Oops. In his career, Nugent is just 3-of-9 from 50-plus.
Niko Koutouvides, ILB, Broncos. Age: 28. - Signed with Buccaneers
Mario Urrutia, WR, Jets. Age: 23. - Signed with Buccaneers
Bo Ruud, ILB, Browns. Age: 24. - Signed with Buccaneers
Dirk Johnson, P, Steelers. Age: 34. - Signed with Buccaneers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 11): $42 million
Jermaine Phillips, SS. Age: 30. Re-signed with Buccaneers
Jermaine Phillips' absence (fractured forearm) was a major reason why the Buccaneers lost consecutive home games at the end of the season to San Diego and Oakland. Even at 30, Phillips is the most dynamic safety on the market. Unless Tampa Bay really wants to blow things up and start over, it'll need to retain him.
Antonio Bryant, WR. Age: 28. Franchised by Buccaneers
Antonio Bryant would be a 4.5- or a 5-star receiver on this list if he weren't such a headache in the locker room. Of course, Bryant worked hard this season because he was in his contract year. If I were trying to sign Bryant to a long-term deal, I'd make it very laden with incentives. Otherwise, I'd be scared that he'd revert to Sloth Mode.
Cato June, OLB. Age: 29. Signed with Texans (1 year, $1.5 million)
The Buccaneers released Cato June because they're transitioning away from the Tampa-2. June is still a very good Tampa-2 linebacker. The Bills could use his services.
Phillip Buchanon, CB. Age: 28. Signed with Lions (2 years)
Phillip Buchanon turned his career around in Tampa. He's become a solid starting corner after looking like a bust early on.
Donald Penn (RFA), OT. Age: 26. Re-signed with Buccaneers (1 year)
Despite starting the season well, Donald Penn allowed 8.5 sacks in 2008. The Buccaneers have a lot of needs, so Penn should be back for one more year.
Luke McCown, QB. Age: 28. Re-signed with Buccaneers (2 years)
Luke McCown played well in relief of Jeff Garcia in 2007, but never had the chance this season. His lacking arm strength really limits him (that, or he refuses to look downfield, opting for checkdowns on every play).
Derrick Brooks, OLB. Age: 36.
No longer an every-down player, but at 36, Derrick Brooks still has some ability.
Warrick Dunn, RB. Age: 34.
Warrick Dunn just turned 34, but he totaled 1,116 yards in 2008. He's a solid third-down back who will find a new home.
Jovan Haye, DT. Age: 27. Signed with Titans
The Buccaneers need an upgrade at Jovan Haye's position. Haye can be a solid rotational player in this league, but his starting days could be over. Haye had six sacks in 2007, but couldn't manage one this year.
Jeff Garcia, QB. Age: 39. Signed with Raiders
Jeff Garcia's had a great career, but at 39, his days of starting are over. Garcia is one of the top potential backups on the market, but if he starts more than two games for your team in 2009, you know you're in trouble.
Michael Clayton, WR. Age: 26. Re-signed with Buccaneers (5 years)
What in the world happened to this guy? As a rookie, Michael Clayton caught 80 passes for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns. Ever since, his seasonal highs are: 38 receptions, 484 yards and one score.
Kevin Carter, DE. Age: 35.
Kevin Carter can still be an OK rotational guy, but I'm not sure how effective he'll be. He turns 36 in September.
Jerramy Stevens, TE. Age: 29. Re-signed with Buccaneers
Despite what some people may think, Jerramy "Matchup Nightmare" Stevens is a bum who doesn't work hard unless he's in a contract year.
Patrick Chukwurah, DE. Age: 30.
Ryan Sims, DT. Age: 29. - Re-signed with Buccaneers
Will Allen, S. Age: 27. - Re-signed with Buccaneers
Joey Galloway, WR. Age: 37. - Signed with Patriots (1 year)
Divisional Rival History: Atlanta Falcons: Michael Vick could never solve the Buccaneers. Matt Ryan lost his first meeting against them, but had better luck the second time around. The Falcons won the re-match at home, 13-10. Carolina Panthers: Domination. Carolina has claimed nine of the past 12 meetings, including an epic debaclation of Tampa Bay on Monday Night Football in early December. New Orleans Saints: This used to be a road-dominated series. Prior to 2008, the visitor had won eight of the last 12 meetings. However, both home teams won this season.
Features to be Posted This Offseason:
2009 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)