Yardbarker Horiz

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Is Butch Davis The Turk for Tampa Bay?

There is one thing and one thing only at the top of the list of Bad Things in the minds of all Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans about the 2011 season:  the team played worse going down the stretch.  This is completely unacceptable for paying fans watching professional football players.

There is no doubt the downward spiral played a large choice in the firing . . . no, housecleaning . . . of the coaching staff at the end of last year.

I do not expect the changes to end there; Albert Haynesworth is the first to go (consider the timing, before any Organized Team Activity sessions).

Which brings me to thoughts I had watching the Butch Davis press conference last week.  Butch Davis was brought in to assist new Head Coach Greg Schiano as he gets his program installed.  But I think there is another possible role for Davis to play this offseason.

Put yourself in the General Manager's chair: your team softened down the stretch, clearly not responding to your coaching staff anymore.  Perhaps you have that sick feeling in your gut some players actually gave up on the team, the season, and the fans.  And you have the youngest roster in the NFL, so you don't want this to become a part of the fabric of the team.  You clean out the coaching staff because you see the relationship has gone toxic.  So you're sitting at One Buccaneer place with a solid young coach and some experienced position coaches making the transition to coordinators.

But there is still that sick feeling in your gut.  You've got to cut the rot from the roster after it stunk up the State of Florida last season.

You and your rookie coach can go through the film.  You can be pretty sure you know who needs to go.  But you want to be sure, absolutely sure.  And you want your new coach to have the respect of the players so there better be reasons the veterans on the team understand.

Enter experienced NFL coach Butch Davis. Davis spoke at his introductory press conference about his extensive experience in talent evaluation.  Remember, Davis has a couple rings from time with the Dallas Cowboys as coordinator under Jimmy Johnson, so this is a guy who knows what championship players are all about. You want a rubber stamp on who did and who did not give up last season?  Roll tape with your Pro Personnel Director Shelton Quarles, your new Head Coach, your new coordinators, and Butch Davis.  Now you have a room which can give you a bright light on the harsh decisions needed.

Make no mistake, Dominik will find many ways to make it perfectly clear to his team that last season was unacceptable.  He has to, and there is no doubt he knew it before the season ended.  Coach Schiano has already talked about T.B.A. (Trust, Belief, Accountability) and his plans to instill these core beliefs in the roster (press conference, 3:30 in).  Any player which "gave up" last season does not and will not fit this mold.  Those players have to go.

Butch Davis will help find them.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Possible free agent CB targets for Buccaneers

Why wait until the draft?

The first major milestone of the offseason will be when teams declare if they will use their franchise tag on February 20th.  Many of the top free agent players will be unable to negotiate with other teams because they will receive the franchise tag.

The top identified need for the Buccaneers this offseason (both by myself and within One Buccaneer Place) is cornerback.  There is a long list of potential free agent corners, but if we follow the philosophy of Buccaneers GM Mark Dominik, we are looking for a young player to grow with the rest of the youth on the Tampa Bay Roster.  I limited myself to the Top 20 available corners and ignored any player more than 27 years old.  This created a list of 8 prospects which I would consider the highest value targets fot the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

A solid, young corner is a valuable prospect in the NFL, so don't expect the current teams of these players to just let them walk.  In fact, the franchise tag could eliminate any of them.  What are the chances of one of them being franchised?  It depends on the other free agents on their team.

To analyse this I have listed each of the eight potential candidates and the other free agents (unrestricted unless noted by RFA) on their teams.  If these teams can't reach agreements with certain free agents they may use a franchise tag to avoid losing a solid performer. Each team gets one franchise tag, so will they use it on these young corners?  Let's check it out from youngest to oldest.

CB Lardarius Webb, Age 25, Ravens
Other free agents for the Ravens include RB Ray Rice, G Ben Grubbs, C Scott Birks, C Andre Gurode, DE Cory Redding, OLB Jarret Johnson, and ILB Jameel McClain.  Certainly Rice is worth a franchise tag.  Birks and Gurode are also starters up front.
CB Brandon Carr, Age 26, Chiefs
Other Chiefs free agents include QB Kyle Orton, RB Jackie Battle, RB Thomas Jones, RB LeRon McClain, WR Dwayne Bowe, TE Leonard Pope, and C Casey Wiegmann.  Bowe is the likely franchise tag recipient here unless the Chiefs can get an agreement in place.
CB Tracy Porter, Age 26, Saints
Other free agents for New Orleans include QB Drew Brees, QB Chase Daniel (RFA), WR Marques Colston, WR Robert Meacham, and G Carl Nicks.  Not only do the Saints have a lot of talented free agents this offseason, the Buccaneers can damage a division foe if they snare Porter.

CB William Middleton, Age 26, Jaguars
Free agents on the Jaguars this offseason include TE Zach Potter, DE Jeremy Mincey, OLB Matt Roth,     OLB Russell Allen (RFA), and FS Dwight Lowery.  The Jaguars had a rough season and are a team undergoing a serious rebuilding.  Keeping young talent is rule #1 for them this offseason, so it would not surprise me if Middleton gets the franchise tag.
CB Richard Marshall, Age 27, Cardinals
The Cardinals also have free agents OT Brandon Keith and DE Calais Campbell.  Campbell is widely considered to be the top DE prospect among the 2012 free agent crop.  If the Cardinals can get him under contact, Marshall is likely to get the franchise tag.
CB Terrell Thomas, Age 27, Giants
Other Giants free agents include WR Mario Manningham, OT Kareem McKenzie, G Stacy Andrews, ILB Chase Blackburn, and S Deon Grant.  As good as Manningham is, the Giants have a great defense in place and may use their franchise tag to hold onto the youngster Thomas.

CB William Gay, Age 27, Steelers
Steelers free agents include QB Dennis Dixon, QB Charlie Batch, QB Byron Leftwich, RB Mewelde Moore, WR Mike Wallace (RFA), WR Jerricho Cotchery, OT Max Starks, and G Ramon Foster (RFA).  The Steelers have significant cap issues to deal with before next year; they may not even use their franchise tag to avoid the costs which go with it.
CB Corey Graham, Age 27, Bears
Free agents on the Bears this offseason include QB Josh McCown, RB Matt Forte, RB Kahlil Bell, TE Kellen Davis, DE Israel Idonije, and DT Amobi Okoye.  Forte is a franchise candidate here; after that it could be Graham.

Looking at these lists, it appears the players the Buccaneers will most likely get a shot to bid for are Webb, Carr, Porter, and Gay.  Any of these young players would be a fantastic addition to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive backfield.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Is Haynesworth done?

By the time Week 9 of the 2011 NFL season was in the books (a Tampa Bay loss at New Orleans), the Buccaneers were up against an interior defense thinned by the loss of DT Gerald McCoy.  General Manager Mark Dominik elected to claim from waivers a player he had been seeking since ascending to the top spot in 2009: Albert Haynesworth.  In fact, Dominik outbid the team Haynesworth signed with that year but the All-Pro defensive tackle went elsewhere.  By Week 9 of 2011, Haynesworth was back on the waiver wire after disappointing stints in Washington and New England.  This time, Dominik was alone in the quest for Haynesworth and brought him to Tampa Bay.  Now Dominik has to decide if he wants to keep Albert Haynesworth on his roster.

Upon arriving, Tampa Bay immediately gave Haynesworth his first start since the 2009 season.  Of the remaining eight games in 2011, Haynesworth played in seven and started six, recording 18 tackles and 2 assists (no sacks) which surpassed his output with the Redskins in 2010 and with the Patriots for the first half of 2011 combined. He did miss the week 16 game completely and did not start for the final game of the season.  From an output perspective, Haynesworth appeared to step up for Dominik and Tampa Bay.  A odd tidbit to consider: after the waiver wire Tampa Bay did not win a game with Haynesworth, while the Patriots did not lose a game without Haynesworth.

One drawback to signing Haynesworth up for additional service is the number of draft picks the Buccaneers have used on the defensive interior recently (three since 2009). All three have been productive players, along with free agent pickups John McCargo and Frank Okam:

Total Solo Asst Sacks 2011 Games
Roy Miller 36 20 16 0 16
Brian Price 24 20 4 3 15
Albert Haynesworth 20 18 2 0 7
Frank Okam 16 15 1 0 9
Gerald McCoy 11 10 1 1 6
John McCargo 5 3 2 0 4

This brings us to the first Big IF for resigning Haynesworth:  IF his production over the seven games he played in can be sustained over a 16 game season, he would record around 45 tackles, which would make him one of the 10 most productive Defensive Tackles in the NFL (based on league-wide stats for 2011). On the other hand, Tampa Bay is in the middle of rebuilding their team from the ground up, so every snap taken by Haynesworth is a snap lost by one of the young players.  Should Tampa Bay keep Haynesworth and bring the youngsters along more slowly?  Or is it likely that Haynesworth, having spent 10 seasons in the middle of trenches, cannot be highly productive over a 16 game season?

The second Big IF is Haynesworth's cost to the team.  The league minimum for a player with 10+ years experience in 2012 is $925,000.  That's not much more than the $700K or so the Buccaneers paid for half a year's service this year.  Would Haynesworth be willing to go year-to-year?  If not, how long?  And what price would he demand? And what expense to the salary cap can the team afford, with Josh Freeman, Roy Miller, and others coming up for contract renewal next year?

These are the decisions which try the soul of the NFL GM, and Buccaneers GM Mark Dominik has a lot to consider, particularly with a new coaching staff.

In the end, I do not see a roster spot available this fall for Haynesworth.  He could surprise everyone and show up to OTAs 30-40 pounds slimmer and agree to play for reasonable to discounted price but I doubt it.  A man with his career can leave the game with his head high, and I suspect that's just what Albert Haynesworth will do.