NFC South: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers already lead the league in one category.

Since the start of free agency, the Bucs have given out $74.3 million in guaranteed money to their incoming free agents and the ones they’ve re-signed, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

No other team is even close. Denver is second with $65.5 million in guaranteed money. The Raiders ($51 million) and the Vikings ($50.2 million) are the only other teams to top $50 million in guaranteed money.

But spending big money in free agency doesn’t necessarily translate into success. Last year, four teams (Lions, Dolphins, Colts and Cowboys) spent at least $50 million in guaranteed money in the first month of free agency. The Colts were the only one of those teams to make the playoffs.

Rotation won't slow Doug Martin

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
Even though coach Lovie Smith has said he plans to use a rotation in his backfield, don't go dropping Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin from your fantasy team.

Martin still is going to be the main ball carrier and that means he still will be a fantasy force. Smith and his staff will work Mike James and Bobby Rainey into the rotation, but that’s not going to diminish Martin’s impact.

If anything, not having to handle virtually all the carries, the way he did under former coach Greg Schiano, should help keep Martin fresh. James and Rainey showed they’re capable runners last year when Martin was out with a shoulder injury.

But James and Rainey aren’t quite in Martin's class and that means the rotation isn't going to split up the carries too much. Martin still will get the bulk of the carries and he’s shown he can produce in fantasy and real life.

The Bucs are going to run the ball a lot, maybe even more than they did with Schiano. James and Rainey will help keep Martin fresh. That little bit of rest could help Martin, who carried 319 times and caught 49 passes as a rookie in 2012, be even more productive.
Todd McShay's fourth mock draft Insider is out, and I can't say I'm surprised by what he has the Tampa Bay Buccaneers doing.

Despite a 4-12 record last season, the Bucs have done a nice job of narrowing their needs. They still could use some help on the offensive line, some depth on the defensive line and they might even consider a quarterback with the No. 7 overall pick in the draft.

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The steady parade of quarterbacks into One Buccaneer Place likely isn’t a smokescreen.

Every action we’ve seen out of coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht so far has been very deliberate. That’s why Johnny Manziel's visit Thursday is the latest sign the Bucs might be serious about taking a quarterback in this year’s draft.

They’ve already had visits with Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo and they still could bring in another quarterback or two. On the surface, the Bucs seem to have bigger needs than quarterback.

They seem to have a decent quarterback situation with veteran Josh McCown backed up by Mike Glennon. McCown is scheduled to make nearly $5 million in guaranteed money this season, so he’s not a guy the Bucs want carrying a clipboard.

In the modern NFL, if you draft a quarterback early, you’re expected to play him right away. But maybe the Bucs are thinking about going against that trend. They could draft a quarterback and let him sit for a year behind McCown.

Most mock drafts have the Bucs going in another direction. But I’m not ready to write off the possibility of them drafting a quarterback.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are hosting one of the biggest names in this year’s NFL draft on Wednesday.

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is visiting the Bucs, according to The Tampa Tribune’s Roy Cummings. Manziel becomes the third quarterback known to have visited with the Bucs. The team previously hosted Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo.

I never like to read too much into these visits because teams can bring in 30 players and some of them are nothing more than smokescreens. But it’s pretty obvious the Bucs, who already have veteran Josh McCown and second-year pro Mike Glennon, are at least doing their homework on this year's crop of quarterbacks.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Greg Schiano is gone from One Buccaneer Place, but the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach hasn't been forgotten.

You had to read between the lines only slightly to see the players are happy they now are coached by Lovie Smith. On the second day of the offseason program, five players were brought in to speak to the media. There was a common theme among all five.

"I think (Smith) treats us like men," kicker Connor Barth said. "I think that's the main thing. He said he's going to treat us like men and that's awesome."

None of the players directly said anything negative about Schiano, but the implications were everywhere.

"Me personally, I'm not a rah-rah guy," linebacker Lavonte David said. "Everybody staying calm and everybody keeping their composure, it can turn over to the field where the crowd's going crazy and something bad happens and everybody's keeping their composure on the sidelines. That builds more confidence to overcome (adversity)."

As a former college coach, Schiano had a reputation for being a "rah-rah" leader and stern disciplinarian. The atmosphere has changed with Smith and his coaching staff.

"All of them have the same personality," David said. "It's weird. Nobody's a rah-rah guy. Everybody's just cool, chilled, laid back and ready to get after it."

Wide receiver Vincent Jackson said he respected Schiano's discipline approach, but went on to sing Smith's praises.

"Just a smart man, you can just tell," Jackson said. "Very thought out, very well planned. He does everything with a purpose. Every minute in this building is going to be useful for us and it's going to make us better as men as well as football players.

"It's about treating guys like men, representing the Buccaneers and this organization and the city in the right light. We definitely want to do that on the field as well. We love his message and the tone that he's bringing to this organization."
TAMPA, Fla. -- For the moment at least, Mike Glennon has been relegated to the role of backup quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But that doesn’t mean Glennon has given up on the possibility of reclaiming the job he held for 13 games as a rookie last season.

Upon signing veteran free agent Josh McCown in March, coach Lovie Smith said McCown would start off working with the first team.

“I’m just going to go out there and compete every day and help the team win in whatever way possible,’’ Glennon said Tuesday after taking part in the second day of the team’s offseason program. “Josh has been great so far to me and it’s going to be a great opportunity to work with him every day with a guy that has so much experience like that. But, at the same time just by my nature I’m going to go out there and compete. Whatever my role may be I’m going to do it to the best of my ability and help this team win.’’

Glennon said Smith called him shortly after the Bucs signed McCown and gave him the news.

“He just said, to start out, there’s got to be a person to start that goes out with the first (team) and that person is going to be Josh,’’ Glennon said.

Glennon is the type of guy that’s going to follow the company line. But, reading between the lines of his first comments since being demoted, I got the sense he has a very strong competitive streak.

“I realized that I’m just going to have to continue to work hard and improve myself,’’ Glennon said when asked about his reaction when Smith told him McCown would open as the starter.

Glennon’s taking the right approach and really the only one that makes sense. He’s going to continue to work hard. He could have a great preseason and McCown could struggle. Or McCown could get injured.

“Lovie said it to me and he said it to the team yesterday that the best players are going to play and I don’t think that’s any different for the quarterback position,’’ Glennon said.

It’s not any different for the quarterback position. McCown starts off with the edge as the veteran, but Glennon isn’t ready to concede anything.
Although they have signed veteran Josh McCown and still have Mike Glennon, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have repeatedly said they still might draft a quarterback at No. 7.

In the latest sign the Bucs might be serious, NFL Network reports that Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is visiting One Buccaneer Place on Monday. Bridgewater is widely viewed as one of the best quarterbacks in the draft and could be a top-10 pick.

Just because Bridgewater is visiting the Bucs doesn't mean the team will draft him. But it's a sign the Bucs are doing their homework on all possible scenarios.

Generally, you don't find a franchise quarterback beyond the top-10 picks and the Bucs are hoping they're not in that position in future years. This might be their shot to get a franchise quarterback and they have to know all they can find out about Bridgewater.

Bucs add depth in secondary

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
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 have the seventh overall pick in this year’s draft after going 4-12 last season.

A wide receiver, an offensive guard and anything that would bring much-needed depth to just about any position would make a lot of sense for the Bucs.

Mel Kiper’s fourth 2014 NFL mock draft is out on ESPN Insider today, and his choice isn’t a big surprise for the Bucs. In this mock draft, Kiper chooses what he thinks each team should do, not what it will do.

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I thought Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht made a very nice statement last week when he said he didn't think it was fair to ask fans to be patient.

Licht was talking about why the Buccaneers have been so active in free agency. Coming off a 4-12 season, change is necessary. But I think those who believe the Bucs simply are trying to buy a winning season are off target.

"We're not trying to put a dream team together or a quick fix," coach Lovie Smith said at the NFL owners meeting last week.

Smith's right. What the Bucs have done has been to take a calculated approach toward improving their roster. But it's important to note the Bucs mostly have been adding complementary players to their existing nucleus. Of all the players the Bucs have signed as free agents, I'd say defensive end Michael Johnson and cornerback Alterraun Verner might be the only ones that qualify as core players.

"We're trying to improve our ball club and we addressed some areas. I'm going to piggyback on what Jason said. One of my first statements was that I couldn't wait for the day when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were relevant again. It's all on the same line. There's no rebuilding," Smith said.

No rebuilding, but there definitely is some building going on. The Bucs have added a slew of role players to go along with core players such as defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, linebacker Lavonte David, receiver Vincent Jackson and running back Doug Martin.

"You look at every position and you evaluate every player on your team and see if you need to improve that position," Smith said. "If we think we do need a lot of improvements in a lot of areas I think you do owe it to your fans -- and not just our fans, but everybody who loves the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- to do that. That's what we've done. We're going to do the same thing in the draft. Right now we have the seventh (overall) pick. We could move up. We could move back. We're going to add some more football players that will be new. I'm not afraid of new.”

New can be good. There's no question the Bucs have a better roster today than they did at the end of last season. With the exception of quarterback Josh McCown, 34, their biggest additions have been in their 20s. The Bucs are building to win now but they're also doing it with a goal to stay good for the foreseeable future.

Who will be Bucs' nickelback?

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
ORLANDO, Fla. -- When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers run onto the field next season, they’re going to introduce 12 players instead of the standard 11.

Coach Lovie Smith made that statement Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings. He supported it by saying he views the nickel cornerback as a 12th starter on defense. He also views the third receiver as a 12th starter on offense. But this post is about defense, so let’s stick with talking about nickelback.

The Bucs don’t know who their nickelback will be yet, but Smith shed some light on how he’ll make that determination. On paper, Tampa Bay’s top three cornerbacks are Alterraun Verner, Johnthan Banks and Mike Jenkins. D.J. Moore and Leonard Johnson also could be in line for some playing time.

Although the Bucs of old used to start Ronde Barber on the outside and move him inside for nickel situations, Smith sounded like it’s unlikely the Bucs will follow that route.

“Just think about having to become an expert at two positions,’’ Smith said. “As a general rule, we don’t do that an awful lot. Our No. 1 and No. 2 corner, whoever that is, they’re going to stay outside. Our nickel position is a position in itself. We have a coach, Larry Marmie, that will coach only it and every second he has will have guys in the nickel room being coached at that position.’’
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been busy bringing in free agents. But that’s not all they’re worried about.

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. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith continued to stand by troubled wide receiver Mike Williams during the NFC coaches breakfast at the NFL owners meeting Wednesday morning.

Williams allegedly was stabbed by his brother Sunday. Williams also is facing a misdemeanor charge for trespassing and aggravated battery. There have been suggestions in the media that the Bucs should part ways with Williams. But Smith made it sound like that's not going to happen.

"I don't believe a guy should get a death sentence on one infraction," Smith said. "I made the statement that I'm going to kick someone off the team based on them being a victim from what I was initially told. But, again, you don't get a life sentence on one incident. I look for a pattern. If a player shows a pattern of behavior that we don't feel like is what we want displayed by our Tampa Bay Buccaneers, then more drastic measures come into play. I'm not to that point right now. I haven't had a chance to talk to Mike face to face. I'm going to hold any further comment until I get a chance to talk to Mike face to face."

Williams has talked on the phone with Smith, and the receiver told the coach that his thigh injury was minor. But Smith was careful to say that the fact he's new to the Bucs doesn't mean all his players are starting from scratch.

"I'm not saying clean slate," Smith said. "We take everything into play. But I'm saying everybody has a starting spot and everything you've done is there with you. But, again, if you're on the football team right now you haven't done enough as far as the organization is concerned for you to not be there. We're talking about starting from that spot.

"Everything is factored in. I think the advantage of starting fresh is I'm not going to judge players an awful lot based on what they've done before. If they're on our football team right now and they want to come in and say it's a new day and do things the right way, that's what I'm going to go with. Mike has a court date set (on the misdemeanor charges), but we have to let that all play out into the system a little bit. That's how it is with everybody else in society, so that's the way we're going to do it, too."