Host Paul Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) are joined by two other NFL Nation reporters to discuss the big game.
Kevin Seifert (NFL Nation writer) takes us behind the multi-step process that goes into the pregame checking of football inflation, and the impetus behind the league allowing quarterbacks to play with their own footballs. He also chats briefly about the Super Bowl's head referee, Bill Vinovich, and what we might be able to expect from his mixed crew.
Jeff Legwold (Denver Broncos reporter) shares his thoughts on covering the Super Bowl after having been in the press box of each championship game since Super Bowl XXVIII in Atlanta in 1994.
Be sure to watch NFL Nation TV live on ESPN.com this Friday at 1 p.m./10 a.m. PT as we catch up with Legwold and ESPN Insider's Mike Sando, who will fill us in on the Hall of Fame selection process that will occur this weekend.
Also, be sure to give the show's podcast a listen following each taping.
Listen to this week's podcast here.
Host Paul Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) will be joined by EPSN NFL Insider Kevin Seifert and Jeff Legwold (Denver Broncos reporter).
Seifert, who has covered the world of NFL officiating with aplomb, will break down the process of inflating and inspecting footballs and how officials are involved in the process. He’ll also give us a scouting report on the officials assigned for Sunday.
Legwold, who covered the Broncos in last year’s Super Bowl, will then give us a day-by-day breakdown of the week and how teams attempt to stay focused with so many outside distractions.
Also, the crew will discuss the Pro Football Focus project that examined how many above-average players each NFL team was from contending for this year’s Super Bowl.
Viewers are encouraged to log in and ask the panelists questions as well as contribute in the chat feature.
NFL Nation TV will have a second show this week on Friday at 1 p.m. ET, 10 a.m. PT.
But it’s just as important as either of those two things. The Bucs need to take care of one of their own. They need to sign linebacker Lavonte David to a contract extension.
David’s under contract through the end of the 2015 season, but the Bucs would be wise to wrap him up as soon as possible. It would be dangerous to let David get anywhere close to free agency because he is a cornerstone on which the Bucs are trying to build.
It won’t be cheap. Based on what other top linebackers make, David should command somewhere around $7 million per season. The Bucs would be smart to get a deal done with David before he plays another season and drives the price tag up.
Coach Lovie Smith frequently calls David the best outside linebacker in football and he might be right. David is so good and so dependable that people tend to take him for granted and that’s why he has yet to be selected for the Pro Bowl.
Fans outside of Tampa don’t know who David is and that’s unfortunate. But teams around the league know all about David. If he were to become a free agent, teams would be jumping over one another to try to sign him.
The Bucs can’t afford to let that happen. Despite a 2-14 first season, you get the sense that Smith is building something good. He’s modeling the defense after what it was in the franchise’s glory days.
Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is a lot like Warren Sapp. David might be the second coming of Derrick Brooks. McCoy and David are the nucleus and that’s not a bad start.
The Bucs already signed McCoy to a long-term extension. Now, it’s time to take care of David.
Rumors already are flying that Kelly is prepared to trade up in the draft to get Mariota. He might have to move all the way to No. 1 and the Bucs hold that pick. But I wouldn’t go predicting a trade between Philadelphia and Tampa Bay just yet.
The No. 1 overall pick is worth 3,000 points. Philadelphia currently holds the No. 20 pick, which is worth 850 points. You can add up the value of all of Philadelphia’s picks in this draft and it still wouldn’t come close to 3,000.
The Eagles would have to make multiple moves to even get into an area where they could tempt the Bucs. Philadelphia probably would have to get at least one more first-round pick in this year’s draft and include next year’s first-round choice. Veteran players also could be part of the deal, but they usually don’t carry a lot of weight in these situations.
The Bucs would be wise to listen to any and all offers because they could get a huge bounty for the top pick. But, no matter how much Kelly wants Mariota, he might not have the resources to make it happen.
In this ESPN Insider story , Kiper has re-graded the 2014 draft and has given the Bucs a different grade.
Evans had 68 catches for 1,051 yards and 12 touchdowns as a rookie. He and Vincent Jackson gave the Bucs a very good tandem at wide receiver, despite some spotty play from the quarterbacks. Evans should be good for a long time to come.
Let’s review the rest of Tampa Bay’s 2014 draft class:
Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins: A second-round pick, Seferian-Jenkins had his rookie season interrupted by injuries. He had 21 catches for 221 yards and two touchdowns while appearing in nine games. When he was healthy, Seferian-Jenkins showed signs he can make an impact as a pass catcher.
Running back Charles Sims: A third-round pick, Sims missed the first half of the season with an ankle injury. Once he started playing, he shared time and carries with Doug Martin. Sims carried 66 times for 185 yards and also had 19 catches. The coaching staff is very high on Sims, and he could end up as the starter next season.
Guard Kadeem Edwards: A fifth-round pick, Edwards is a project. He didn’t make any impact before having his rookie season cut short by an ankle injury.
Tackle Kevin Pamphile: Another fifth-round pick, Pamphile got some playing time late in the season and could be a key backup next season.
Wide receiver Robert Herron: A sixth-round pick, Herron saw only limited playing time after struggling with drops in training camp and the preseason. But Herron has elite speed, and the Bucs are hoping he can contribute as a receiver and return man.
Bajakian had been the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at the University of Tennessee since 2013. Prior to that, he did stints as the offensive coordinator at the University of Cincinnati and Central Michigan. Bajakian also worked as an offensive quality control assistant for the Chicago Bears from 2004 through 2006. Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith was Chicago’s head coach during Bajakian’s time with the Bears.
Bajakian takes over for Marcus Arroyo, who the team previously announced was not returning. Arroyo joined the Bucs as quarterbacks coach in 2014, but ended up as the offensive play caller after coordinator Jeff Tedford had heart surgery in the preseason. Tedford did not return to the team and Arroyo called plays all year. The Bucs ranked 30th in total offense.
Bajakian could end up playing a very important role. The Bucs hold the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and could use it on Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston or Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.
They have the first overall pick, and conventional wisdom is that they will take either Florida State's Jameis Winston or Oregon's Marcus Mariota. But the Bucs will be looking to come away from the draft with more than just a quarterback.
Coming off a 2-14 season, the Bucs have plenty of other needs. Let’s take a look at what positions could be targeted later in the draft (if they aren’t addressed in free agency).
Defensive end: Much like Collins, Michael Johnson had a very disappointing first season with the Bucs. But you can blame Johnson’s lack of productivity on injuries that bothered him all season. The Bucs could part ways with Johnson or take a chance that he can be much better if he’s healthy. Either way, the Bucs need to add an outside pass-rusher. Jacquies Smith (6.5 sacks) was a pleasant surprise last season, but the Bucs need more than that from their pass rush.
Middle linebacker: Mason Foster can become a free agent and early indications are that the Bucs aren’t going to go crazy to try to keep him. Foster’s season was filled with injuries, and he’s not a great fit in the Tampa 2 defense, where the middle linebacker is asked to drop into coverage frequently. The Bucs could find a better fit in the third or fourth round.
Guard: The offensive line was a mess last season, and the Bucs have indicated there will be significant changes. In addition to a new left tackle, there likely will be movement in the interior. Logan Mankins is set at one guard spot. But the other starting spot was held by Patrick Omameh last season. The Bucs will be looking for an upgrade over Omameh.
Cornerback: You never can have enough good cornerbacks. The Bucs are in decent shape with Alterraun Verner and Johnthan Banks as the starters. But they could be in the market for an upgrade over Leonard Johnson at nickelback.
Bajakian also had interest in the Central Michigan head coaching position, a source told ESPN, but ultimately he opted for the NFL offer.
Bajakian coached for five seasons at Central Michigan: as offensive coordinator from 2007 to 2009 and quarterbacks coach in 2002 and 2003. On Thursday morning, CMU coach Dan Enos resigned to become offensive coordinator at Arkansas.
Bajakian also has ties to Bucs head coach Lovie Smith. Bajakian was an offensive quality control coach with the Chicago Bears from 2004 to 2006 when Smith was the Bears' coach.
Bajakian, who was the Vols' offensive coordinator the past two seasons, had spent the previous eight seasons as an assistant under Butch Jones at Tennessee, Cincinnati and Central Michigan.
"We'd like to thank Coach Bajakian for his two years at Tennessee and his efforts in helping us rebuild this storied program," Jones said in a statement released by the university. "We wish him much success with his goal of coaching in the NFL."
Tampa Bay ranked 25th in passing, 29th in points scored and 30th in total offense while stumbling to a 2-14 record last season.
“Dirk is running our offense, but what Dirk would say is that he’s running our Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense that we’re putting together, and it hasn’t been run before," coach Lovie Smith told reporters at the Senior Bowl on Wednesday. “We’re going to put all of our ideas together with that."
Smith said Koetter has a history of being flexible and playing to the strengths of his personnel.
“I think you can go back to everybody’s history and see some things that they like to do," Smith said. “Looking at Dirk, in Jacksonville, they had Maurice Jones-Drew and they were a running attack. And of course with the receivers, Matt Ryan and that crew, Devin Hester and those guys, they passed it more in Atlanta. That’s what we’re looking for. We feel like he can bring balance, and in order for us to win that’s what we need.”
The Bucs have many of the ingredients needed for a balanced attack. In the passing game, they have a pair of 1,000-yard receivers, Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson. In the running game, there is talent with Doug Martin and Charles Sims.
But the offensive line needs some major work, and it remains to be seen who the quarterback will be. Josh McCown is the incumbent, but the Bucs could use the first overall pick in the draft on Florida State’s Jameis Winston or Oregon’s Marcus Mariota.
Whichever way the Bucs go, Smith said the goal will be to have balance on offense.
“To win in the league, you have to be able to run the football when you want to, not just when you have to," Smith said. "You need to be able to pass the football because you want to, not because you have to. Right now, we’re just going to be pretty broad with that."
“There was no wrongdoing on my part," Johnson told The Tampa Tribune on Wednesday. “I didn’t do anything wrong. I thought I was doing what was right for everybody involved in the game.”
Johnson admitted he paid two ball boys $7,500 to scuff up the balls to make them easier to throw. The opposing quarterback in that game, Rich Gannon with the Oakland Raiders, said he and Johnson discussed the balls while filming a television commercial before the game. Gannon said the condition of the footballs did not impact the game, which was won by the Bucs.
“And Brad’s a lot like me, a lot like just about every other quarterback in the league," Gannon said Wednesday on SiriusXM NFL Radio, "nobody wants to play with a ball that’s fresh out of the box and has been rubbed down a couple of times with a brush. And, quite frankly, shame on Brad for having to reach into his pocket to pay $7,500, because I wouldn’t have paid $7,500. Five hundred maybe, or a thousand maybe, but $7,500 to doctor the balls?
“And again, ‘doctored the balls’ makes it sound like you’re cheating, but all you’re trying to do is make sure they’re not slick. I think it’s a non-story, quite frankly. And it’s not the reason we lost."
“You have that in Tampa," Kiper said in a conference call with the national media. “You have that at Tennessee."
The Bucs hold the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Kiper has Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston going to the Bucs in his mock draft, but he isn’t ruling out the possibility of Mariota going first.
“I don’t think it would preclude you from taking him if you’re one of those teams, but you have to develop him," Kiper said. “If you want him to play right away and be an impactful rookie and second-year guy, that would probably be asking too much."
Kiper’s logic is simple. Mariota played in a spread offense in college. The Bucs – and most NFL teams – run a pro-style offense. Kiper said Mariota would take time to develop in a pro-style system.
“He’s a runner," Kiper said. “You’ve got to take that running aspect out and just call it mobility. He’s got the arm, the size, the work ethic, the intelligence – all the things you need to fit into pretty much any offense down the road. But if you want to force-feed him, he’s not going to be ready."
In theory, the Bucs have that bridge in place. Veteran Josh McCown was last year’s starter and could stay in that role for the short term in Kiper’s scenario. But Kiper still believes Winston is likely to be the better fit for the Bucs.
“From a pro-style, NFL-ready standpoint, it would be Winston," Kiper said. “But there’s basically some work on him from an intangible standpoint with the off-the-field issues that he had. I think it just gets down to if Winston checks out between now and late April and you can reconcile all that that’s all behind him and he’s matured and it’s not going to happen again, then he goes No. 1 and Mariota goes second, sixth, somewhere in the top 10. Maybe Philadelphia and Chip Kelly (who coached Mariota for two years in college) try to trade up to get him."
The best thing the Bucs can do right now is to put out as many smoke signals as possible indicating that they want Mariota. There already are rumblings the Bucs prefer Florida State’s Jameis Winston over Mariota, but that perception can be changed with a few well-placed rumors that Mariota is in the mix at No. 1.
The Eagles might be thinking they don’t have to trade all the way to No. 1. But if Philadelphia thinks the Bucs are serious about Mariota, the Eagles might have to think about making a deal with the Bucs.
That could provide a nice windfall for Tampa Bay. Based on recent history, the price tag for the No. 1 pick should be something like three first-round picks.
The Bucs would have to think long and hard about that. They need a quarterback, but they might not be enamored with Winston or Mariota. I’m not sure how far away the Bucs are from turning the corner, but they need more than one player.
If they play their cards right, the Bucs could end up getting several quality players and that might provide more instant help than a rookie quarterback.
The defensive end for the Seattle Seahawks used to play for the Bucs, and there are many fans who think he still should be with the team. They're right.
But the people who mattered most, former coach Greg Schiano and former general manager Mark Dominik, didn't see it that way. They viewed Bennett as a player who had overachieved and they didn't think he could sustain his 2012 level of play. Bennett also was outspoken and a free spirit, which didn't sit well with Schiano.
The Bucs had a plan and it didn't include Bennett. They had Adrian Clayborn at one defensive end spot and they believed Da'Quan Bowers was ready to claim the other spot. That turned out to be a huge mistake.
Bowers ended up starting two games and produced just one sack in 2013. His failure to develop helped prompt the Bucs to sign Michael Johnson in 2014 -- a deal that's not looking too good after Johnson produced four sacks.
Perhaps all of Tampa Bay's problems at defensive end could have been avoided if the Bucs simply had re-signed Bennett. It wasn't like he got big money. Seattle lured Bennett with a one-year deal worth $4.8 million.
Bennett had 8.5 sacks for the Seahawks in 2013 and seven in 2014. He also got a four-year contract worth $28 million from the Seahawks in 2014.
Meantime, Bowers will be a free agent and isn't expected to re-sign with the Bucs. And the Bucs have to make a decision on whether to keep Johnson, who is scheduled to make $9 million between base salary and a roster bonus in 2015.
That shouldn't come as any big surprise as long as we're just talking about the football aspect. Of the two quarterbacks expected to go early in the draft, Winston obviously is the more ready of the two to play in the NFL.
Winston has spent his career at Florida State in a pro-style offense. At Oregon, Mariota has played in a spread offense. Mariota could be a special player, but it will likely take time for him to develop if he lands with a team that runs a pro-style offense (like the Bucs).
Winston already has the pro-style experience and he could be ready to play right away. That's highly significant because coaches don't get a lot of time to win and they need guys that can play right away.
All that said, it's not a given that the Bucs will take Winston over Mariota. There's another part to the equation that's just as important as football. That's off-the-field issues and maturity.
In that regard, there are questions about Winston. If the Bucs are going to take him, they've got to get all the right answers. Winston's been involved in some off-field issues and that's why the pre-draft aspect that is most important for him will be how he comes off in interviews.
Like any team with the first overall pick, the Bucs are going to invest a lot of time in seeing what kind of person they're getting. That's because they may end up investing millions of dollars in him and making him the face of the franchise.
Teams interview players at the scouting combine and host them on private visits. In a lot of cases, teams will interview people that have coached, played with or known the prospect at various points in his life. That's called due diligence and it's smart.
If the Bucs indeed are sold on Winston as a player, they better be sold on him as a person before they draft him.