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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Free Agency: The Big Move That Nobody Is Talking About

While the signing of Reggie Brown is big news for Tampa Bay, the biggest news of the week for Buccaneers fans happened far from One Buccaneer Place.

Going largely unnoticed by the underperforming Tampa Bay media is a single move which may make all the difference to Tampa Bay when the 2010 Draft begins on April 22nd.  And while the Tampa media has finally figured out that the Rams will most likely pick a quarterback with the first overall pick in the 2010 Draft (Stowaway regulars have known this since February 1st), they have completely missed even bigger news.

Here is the biggest news of the week for Buccaneer fans:  The Seattle Seahawks traded Seneca Wallace to Cleveland for an undisclosed 2011 draft pick.  Yes, seriously.  No, I'm not insane . . . mostly.

This single move has many implications as to what those two teams are thinking.  Why would a Tampa Bay fan care what an NFC West and AFC North team, both of which pick after Tampa Bay, are thinking?   A great deal, I think.

Seattle has the #6 and #14 first round picks coming in the 2010 NFL Draft (as of today).  Cleveland has 11 picks in the 2010 NFL Draft, including #7 in the first round.  These teams have a form of currency that NFL General Managers crave -- draft picks in one of the deepest, most talented drafts in recent years.

Seneca Wallace was the Seahawks #2 quarterback.  The starting quarterback for Seattle has been the often injured Matt Hasselbeck who is entering his 12th NFL season.  With Wallace gone, Seattle is left with Mike Teel, 2009 5th rounder out of Rutgers, as their quarterback of the future.  Teel is 6' 3", 225 lbs, which are great physical numbers.  However, he did not take a single snap during the 2009 regular season which does not give any confidence to him being the answer at quarterback in Seattle.  There has been a coaching change in Seattle this offseason (Pete Carroll has arrived from USC) and the new coaching staff may have a high opinion of the youngster.  In that case, it seems that keeping Wallace while Teel develops would be prudent.  Since they did not keep Wallace, I believe it is more likely that Seattle is positioning to draft a quarterback in 2010.  This is very important assumption for the Buccaneers.  More on this a bit later.

On the other side of this transaction, the Cleveland Browns have not only acquired Wallace, an 8-year NFL veteran, they have also cut one half the two-headed monster they rolled out at quarterback last year.  Derek Anderson was simply cut and is now out shopping his talents as an unrestricted free agent.  There are also reports that Cleveland could be shopping Brady Quinn, the other "head" of that same quarterback monster as well (in a sense, there might be trade value in Brady Quinn -- which means he is more valuable than Anderson?  Yet Anderson started, did not start, then started again in 2009.  The mysteries of the Browns!).  This leaves new Cleveland General Manager Mike Holmgren with Seneca Wallace (8th year), Brady Quinn (4th year), and Brett Ratliff (2nd Year).  Ratliff took no snaps and did not see the field in 2009.  If the Browns are indeed shopping Quinn and trade him before the draft it would signal to me that Cleveland is also planning to seek a quarterback in the 2010 draft.

That's the groundwork.   The kicker is, according to CBS/NFLDraftScout.com (for example, and others agree), it appears there are only two first-round-quality quarterbacks available this year:  Sam Bradford (Oklahoma) and Jimmy Clausen (Notre Dame).  Both sustained injuries during the 2009 campaign.  A very significant clue is that, post combine, these two men did not slide down draft boards.  Both attended the combine, but neither fully participated, electing to instead wait until their respective campus pro days with the suspected intent of having the most time possible to train and rehab.  However, even though they did not go through drills, they did go through the rigorous medical exams and appear to have come through clean.  So both these men have run over 90% of the rehab and recovery gauntlet and shown themselves to have franchise quarterback skills.

A quick check the top of the draft board as far as quarterback needs go sets the table:
1 - Saint Louis Rams:  Need a quarterback
2 - Detroit Lions:  Matt Stafford (2009 draft) appears to be their answer
3 - Tampa Bay Buccaneers:  Josh Freeman (2009 draft) is their man
4 - Washington Redskins:  Is Jason Campbell the answer?  Todd Collins?
5 - Kansas City Chiefs:  Gave Matt Cassel a $63 million contract in 2009
6 - Seattle Seahawks:  Appear to be looking for a quarterback
7 - Cleveland Browns:  If Quinn is out, also looking for a quarterback

I believe that, should either of the two young quarterbacks fall to the Washington Redskins and new head coach Mike Shannahan at #4 he will be more than happy to make that pick.  All things staying as-is the pick would be Clausen.

I look at this chart and it seems pretty obvious -- if you want one of the top two quarterbacks this year you have to get the #1 pick away from the Rams or get ahead of the Redskins at #4.

And, after all that, here is why it matters to the Buccaneers:  if one QB goes in the #1 or #2 spot, one of the top two defensive linemen in the draft fall to Tampa Bay at #3.  And if Seattle or Cleveland uses that valuable draft currency to make a deal with Detroit (or if Washington decides to get into the mix and move up from #4), then quarterbacks could go #1 and #2 and the Buccaneers would have a clear board to take the player of their choice -- most likely their favorite of the two defensive linemen -- getting the best player to fill a team need and blend into an already existing solid young defensive core.  That would have to be the best possible result with the #3 pick.

That is why I think Seneca Wallace going to Cleveland for a 2011 draft pick is very big news for Tampa Bay Buccaneer fans.  Now you know, too, even if nobody (else) noticed.

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