NFL Off-Season/Draft Analysis: Tampa Bay Bucs
Part I: Off-season in Tampa
The NFL Free Agency kicked off with a bang. Well, at least in Tampa. If you recall, last year the Bucs neglected to spend any money in free agency. Their biggest free agent pickup was punter Michael Koenen. They locked him up for 6-years $19.5 mil. Yes, I know that is nothing to get excited about. The Bucs decided to resign their own players and develop their young core. Well that strategy led to a 4-12 record and the 5th pick in this year’s draft.
This time around, with new head coach Greg Schiano, the Bucs came into free agency with more money than any other team and intended to use it. The first move was to get Vincent Jackson. He signed for 5-years $55 mil. They definitely overpaid for him, but teams always overpay in free agency. When you have the most money, you can afford to overpay. The next move was to steal stand out Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks from division rival, the New Orleans Saints. Nicks signed for 5-years $47.5 mil, making him the highest paid guard in the NFL. Again, they definitely overpaid but when you can upgrade your line the way they did, you have to do it. Kudos for weakening the Saints offensive line. The third big move was signing free agent cornerback Eric Wright. He is locked in for 5-years $37.5 mil. Wright has been on two teams in the last two years but he is a much needed upgrade at cornerback. With Ronde Barber aging, and Aqib Talib constantly in trouble with the law, the Bucs were very thin at the cornerback.
The three free agent acquisitions not only fill major holes on both sides of the ball but they also give Tampa flexibility going into the draft. Former LSU cornerback, Morris Claiborne has been the favorite by most NFL draft specialists to be selected 5th over all by Tampa. With the addition of Eric Wright, Claiborne may still be the best selection but he is no longer a need with that pick. With Legarrette Blount’s future with the team up in the air, the idea of Trent Richardson being taken with the 5th pick is becoming more and more likely. Hopefully Blount remains with the team because this is a two back league and if the Bucs can pound teams with both Richardson and Blount they will wear opposing defenses down. They could also take the Patriots approach and trade back for a few picks. Linebackers and depth at defensive tackle are a huge need but there are none worthy of the 5th pick. Trading back could be the best move if it secures two first round picks.
The acquisition of Vincent Jackson is very underrated. Not only is Jackson a tall 6’5″ with tons of speed and strength but he brings much needed experience and production. He’s 29 years old, which means the Bucs should get 3 quality years out of him before he begins to decline a little bit. He can spread the field (Sixth in the league in yards per reception with 18.4 in 2011) and has a history of finding the end zone (Nine touchdowns in 2011).
If Josh Freeman is ever going to become the player many people believe he can be, he needs a legit number one threat. Problem solved. Nicks solidifies the line, so Freeman should be more comfortable in the pocket. If they take Richardson in draft, we will be looking at a brand new Bucs offense next year. Things will heat up as we get closer to the draft and more moves are made in free agency.
Stay tuned for Part II: Off-season in Tampa.