Copyright 2003 Pewter Report/PewterReport.com
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Here's five things that caught my interest this week:
FAB 1. It's time to disclose what we've learned about the Buccaneers' draft plans thus far. The linebacker position is one that will certainly get some attention in the 2003 NFL Draft, which takes place on April 26-27, and has been identified as the team's most pressing need.
The reason? The Bucs have just five linebackers on the roster, including the promising Ryan Nece, who is coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and two unproven first-year players -- Justin Smith and Idris Price. Nate Webster is a restricted free agent who has yet to sign his one-year tender offer.
But just because Tampa Bay's biggest draft priority is linebacker doesn't necessarily mean that they will draft one with their first pick in the draft -- No. 64 overall -- which is the final pick in the second round. Bucs officials think that the first four linebackers off the board will be Boss Bailey (Georgia), E.J. Henderson (Maryland), Terry Pierce (Kansas State) and Gerald Hayes (Pittsburgh). The team also thinks all four will be gone by the time Tampa Bay picks in the second round. Of the quartet, they appear to like Hayes the best.
However, the Bucs like some players who will be available in the third and possibly fourth rounds just as much. Hawaii's Pisa Tinoisamoa, Ohio State's Cie Grant and Oregon State's Nick Barnett top the list. Tinoisamoa is a smart, instinctive, 6-foot, 222-pounder that fits the Buccaneers' mold at linebacker. Tinoisamoa is a tackling machine with great quickness and good speed. He was timed in the high 4.6s in his post-season workouts. Some think he was the best linebacker at the Senior Bowl.
Grant (6-foot, 220) is a converted safety, who actually played some cornerback for the Buckeyes during his college career, which tells you about his speed and ability to drop into coverage -- a necessary trait for Bucs linebackers. He has timed in the high 4.5s.
Like Tinoisamoa and Grant, Barnett is built like a safety at 6-foot-1, 225 pounds. He is very fluid in coverage, but equally adept at attacking the line of scrimmage and making plays behind the line.
Other linebackers on the Bucs' radar include Tennessee's Eddie Moore, Arizona's Lance Briggs, Florida's Mike Nattiel and West Texas A&M's Chaun Thompson. All are considered "undersized" by most NFL definitions, but not Tampa Bay's. South Florida middle linebacker Kawika Mitchell opened the Bucs' eyes with a 40-inch vertical jump and a 4.62 in the 40-yard dash at his Pro Day workout. At 6-foot-1, 251 pounds, he's bigger than the Bucs would like, but he was awfully productive for the Bulls, who share Raymond James Stadium with the Buccaneers.
FAB 2. In 2003, the Buccaneers will have the largest amount of dead salary cap money that the team has had in years. Dead salary cap money is the amount of cash that the Bucs will be charged on their salary cap by the league for players who were released before their contracts expired. The Bucs save money on a player's base salary when they release him, but any leftover signing bonus from the accelerated proration of that bonus is charged to the team.
Tampa Bay is already on the hook for over $7.2 million in dead money this year. That means that out of the $75 million salary cap this year, the Bucs will only be able to use a little over $67 million for its 53-man roster.
The biggest amount of dead salary cap room comes from defensive end Marcus Jones, who was released at mid-season from the Bucs' injured reserve list. Jones' cap hit is $3 million this year and then he's off the books.
The Buccaneers have an awful lot of dead money in former offensive linemen. Center Jeff Christy, who was released prior to the start of free agency this spring, will hit the Bucs for $1.6 million. Christy's backup, Todd Washington, who was also released in late February, will cost Tampa Bay $600,000. Right tackle Jerry Wunsch, who was released in training camp last year, will take up $1.32 million in 2003. Guard Russ Hochstein, who was released last fall, will hit the Bucs' cap for $36,833.
The rest of the Bucs' dead cap room comes from some of the team's 2002 draft picks who are no longer with the team, and a couple of undrafted free agents who also didn't make the 53-man roster last year. Defensive end John Stamper, Tampa Bay's fifth-round pick last spring, will have his $39,667 signing bonus hit the Bucs' cap this year. Seventh-round picks tight end Tracey Wistrom ($17,000), receiver Aaron Lockett ($16,334) and center Zach Quaccia ($16,000) will all tie up $49,334 in 2003 cap room.
FAB 3. Here's the lowdown on Keyshawn Johnson's restructured contract. The deal is essentially an $18.5 million deal over the next three seasons. Although Johnson is under contract for five more years, he is unlikely to see the $19.5 million he is scheduled to make in the final two years of his original contract and he knows it. Veterans rarely see the final years of their original deals, which are usually backloaded with big money.
Johnson was scheduled to earn $5 million this season -- $3 million in base salary and $2 million in the form of a roster bonus in mid-April. He offered to take half of that amount -- $2.5 million -- as a new signing bonus, which cleared approximately $2.5 million in cap room and allowed the Bucs to re-sign left tackle Roman Oben and sign free agent quarterback Jim Miller.
Before restructuring his contract, Johnson knew that he was vulnerable to being a salary cap casualty next season when his base salary jumps from $3 million in 2003 to $5 million with an additional $1 million roster bonus payable next April. Tampa Bay could have been in position to cut Johnson next year or trade him without taking a heavy cap hit.
Johnson's 2003 cap value was reduced from $6.857 million to around $4 million. However, his cap value for the 2004 season skyrockets to over $9 million because of the restructuring, and basically guarantees that he'll see the $5 million this year (salary and signing bonus), the $6 million he is set to receive in 2004, and the $7.5 million he is on schedule for in 2005. To cut Johnson or trade him next year would cost the Bucs about $8 million and they would be without the services of a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver.
Johnson, who will be 31 in July, has said that he only wanted to play 10 years in the NFL and 2005 will be his 10th and final year, unless he changes his mind.
This restructuring was the ultimate win-win. The Bucs won because they freed up $2.5 million in cap room to sign other players, and Johnson won because he's basically locked onto Tampa Bay's roster for at least three more seasons. No more trade rumors for him to fret over and no more worrying if he'll be the Bucs' latest cap casualty -- at least until 2005.
FAB 4. Enough salary cap talk. Let's focus once again on the NFL Draft. The Buccaneers appear to be set at defensive end with starters Simeon Rice and Greg Spires, and young, key reserves Ellis Wyms, Corey Smith and Ron Warner. But that won't stop Tampa Bay from selecting a defensive end in the upcoming draft if the right player becomes available in the right round.
Because of their defensive scheme that features frequent substitutions along the D-line, the Bucs can never get enough quality linemen. The team has expressed some interest in Texas Tech's Aaron Hunt, South Florida's Shurron Pierson and Cincinnati's Antwan Peek. Peek and Pierson, who had outstanding workouts following productive college careers, are viewed by many teams to be better fits as outside linebackers in a 3-4 scheme, but the Bucs won't hesitate to take speedy, undersized pass rushers. Tampa Bay also feels like Peek could play strongside linebacker in their system with some work.
While the Bucs certainly aren't ruling out drafting a defensive end, selecting a defensive tackle makes much more sense, especially with both starting tackles -- Warren Sapp and Anthony McFarland -- in the final years of their contracts. If Tampa Bay moves Ellis Wyms to defensive tackle, a position he played more and more down the stretch last season, that would lessen the need to add another tackle. The Bucs coaches feel that Wyms is a future starter and like his pass rushing ability.
FAB 5. Here's a couple of items to hold you over until next week:
- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' brass absolutely loves Kansas State cornerback Terence Newman. They love his coverage ability, they love his toughness, they love his speed, they love his punt and kick return skills and they love his quality character. Even though cornerback is not an overwhelmingly pressing need, if the Bucs had a top 5 pick and were going to draft the best athlete available, they would target Newman. He is an instant impact player and has a strong chance at being a Pro Bowler. Cincinnati and Dallas are believed to be Newman's strongest suitors along with New Orleans, who is armed with two first-round picks.
- Tampa Bay is considering drafting a kick return specialist again this year, after taking a shot on Kansas State's Aaron Lockett in the seventh round last April. A couple of players they are studying are TCU receiver LaTarence Dunbar, who led the nation in kick returns with a 27.7-yard average (18-499) and South Florida wideout DeAndrew Rubin, who is an accomplished kick and punt returner. Rubin averaged 26.8 yards per kick return (15-402) last season, along with a 14.9 yard average on punt returns. He also used his 4.4 speed to return two punts for touchdowns.
- One of the quarterbacks the Bucs really like is Iowa State's Seneca Wallace. Wallace, who is just 6-foot, 193 pounds, is a mobile playmaker who was timed at 4.53 in the 40-yard dash this spring. He has a strong arm capable of throwing the ball 55 yards with good velocity, but is more effective with short and intermediate passes. Wallace was a Heisman contender until running into the stellar defenses of Oklahoma and Kansas State in mid-season. While he and the Cyclones went into a downward spiral at the the end of the season, he didn't get much help from his less talented counterparts on offense. Wallace's stock has dropped him into rounds 4-7, and the fact that he refused to try out at receiver at the Indianapolis scouting combine -- as former Indiana quarterback Antwaan Randle El did a year ago -- didn't help his cause. However, his tune may change when he gets drafted in the NFL, makes it as a third-string quarterback, and returning kicks or playing receiver becomes the only way he would see the field during his rookie season.
- The Bucs' preseason trip to Japan for the American Bowl is still on for right now, but things could change. North Korea's continued sabre-rattling and threats of war against the United States could impact travel plans for any American wishing to visit the Orient. Another deterrent could be the SARS (Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak which is also affecting the Far East. I wouldn't be shocked if this game is either cancelled or switched to an American or European location. All of the Bucs players I have spoken with this offseason aren't real psyched to go to Japan anyways.
- One quick advertising note, the 40-page Pewter Report Bucs Draft Preview issue will be published on Monday, April 13. If you don't subscribe to Pewter Report, you can get the Bucs Draft Preview issue at the Authentic Team Merchandise-Buccaneer Heaven store in Tampa or by calling (813) 908-BUCS(2827) or 1-800-881-BUCS(2827) if you live outside the Tampa Bay area. It will also be sold in select newsstands in the Tampa Bay area after April 13.
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Copyright 2003 Pewter Report/PewterReport.com