Here's five things that caught my interest this week:
1. Are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers actually going to sit put with the No. 86 pick and not make a move up out of the third round? Don't bet on it. This is the time of year when it's hard to trust anything coming out of the mouth of a high-ranking NFL team official. The week before the draft is full of misinformation with a bit of good information sprinkled in for good measure. The problem is figuring out which is which.
So are the Bucs going to wait until the third round to make their first pick? Based on some information we received a few weeks ago when compiling data for the Buccaneer Magazine Pre-Draft Issue, we were led to believe that trading up was indeed possible. Now the latest word out of One Buc Place is that the team is handcuffed and won't likely be a trading partner come Saturday when the 63rd NFL Draft commences. Did something change within the organization's thinking regarding trading a player, or are the Bucs suddenly playing poker? Who knows. We'll all find out Saturday what the truth is.
But if the Buccaneers were considering trading a player to get a first- or second-round pick, who would it be? Let's examine the possibilities, starting with the most logical.
FB Mike Alstott - There has been a lot of gushing about Alstott by head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Rich McKay since the Bucs' mini-camp over a week ago. Did the team really have a change of heart about keeping the five-time Pro Bowler at a reduced salary, or is that just posturing to mask further efforts to trade him? The fact that Alstott and the Bucs have agreed to push back his $2 million signing bonus until April 23 -- two days after the draft -- or even wipe it, according to some reports, makes it much more convenient for the Bucs to trade him if they so desire. Alstott could command a second-round pick. I'd say his chances of being traded right now are 30 percent.
DT Warren Sapp - The fact that Sapp's surly demeanor has grown tiresome in the locker room coupled by the fact that he'll probably want to extend his contract long-term after the 2002 season are good reasons to ship him off. The fact that he is in tremendous shape and likely poised for a fabulous rebound season after an injury-marred, disappointing 2001 season are great reasons to keep him. The thinking around One Buc Place is why trade away a key piece to your defensive puzzle this year when winning the downtrodden NFC South could be easy pickings and turn into an automatic playoff berth? Sapp could likely command at least a first- and a third-round pick. His chances of being traded right now are about 20 percent.
QBs Brad Johnson, Rob Johnson or Shaun King - In a quarterback-poor draft such as this one, one of the Bucs quarterbacks could probably fetch a second-round pick. The problem is that all three looked very good at the team's first mini-camp, and it's shaping up to be a three-headed QB derby during training camp for the starting spot. Gruden's philosophy is to add players to create competition, so this would be going against his philosophy. The only problem is that the Bucs are a bit cap strapped and trading Brad Johnson would free up some money to sign the team's draft picks or pursue a free agent wide receiver like Keenan McCardell after June 1. The Bucs will invest a large contract extension to either King or Rob Johnson next season, as they both are in contract years in 2002. The one who loses the competition for the cash will be a castoff. The Bucs could make an ill-fated guess on who to keep based on one mini-camp and trade the other young QB for a pick. They'll likely lose that castoff to free agency next spring anyways, with no compensation. The chances of the Bucs trading a QB hover around 15 percent.
DE Marcus Jones - The Bucs tried to get rid of Jones' inconsistent play and large salary by placing him on the expansion draft for the Houston Texans. Jones' huge contract may prevent some teams from being interested in his services. With so few quality defensive ends available in this draft, the Bucs could fetch a second-round pick for Jones. But the problem is that if they got rid of him, they would be left with Greg Spires playing opposite Simeon Rice. If Tampa Bay still had Steve White, this scenario would be more plausible. The chances of the Bucs trading Jones now are remote, likely 10 percent.
2. One thing is for sure, "Trader Rich" McKay will be going crazy waiting until the third round if he and the Bucs brass don't pull the trigger on a trade before then. McKay has been involved in a plethora of trades since acquiring full player personnel decision-making power upon Sam Wyche's firing after the 1995 season. In fact, McKay has only gone one season -- in 1997 -- without being involved in a major draft-related trade. And in '97, the Bucs had to move up in order to move down to No. 12 to select RB Warrick Dunn in the first round.
In 1996, McKay traded that year's second-round pick to San Diego for the Chargers' 1997 first-round pick, which turned out to be WR Reidel Anthony.
In 1998, RB Errict Rhett was dealt to Baltimore for the Ravens' third-round pick in 1999. That pick was later traded back to Baltimore on draft day for the Ravens' fourth-round pick, which was used to select C/G Todd Washington.
McKay also traded a fifth-round pick in 1998 for New York Jets FB Lorenzo Neal on March 12. On the first day of the draft, McKay traded the Bucs' third-round pick in 1998 for the Chargers' first-round pick in 1999. On the second day of the draft, he traded FS Melvin Johnson to Kansas City for a sixth-round pick in 1999.
In 1999, the Bucs traded a sixth-round pick to Baltimore for QB Eric Zeier. They also traded another sixth-round pick to Jacksonville for the Jaguars' sixth-round picks and both of their seventh-round picks.
In 2000, McKay engineered a blockbuster trade that sent both of its first-round picks to the New York Jets for WR Keyshawn Johnson. The Bucs also shipped its second- and fourth-round picks to Carolina for their second-round pick, which turned out to be G Cosey Coleman.
Last year, the Bucs traded QB Eric Zeier to Atlanta for a seventh-round pick on March 6. McKay also orchestrated a major trade on draft day that sent the Bucs' first- and second-round picks to Buffalo for the Bills' higher first-round pick, which was used to draft LT Kenyatta Walker.
Let us not forget that McKay and Wyche really wheeled and dealed in 1995 when QB Craig Erickson was shipped to Indianapolis for the Colts' 1996 first-round pick (used for DT Marcus Jones). Then the Bucs swapped picks with Philadelphia, sending a first- and third-round pick to the Eagles for their first-round pick and two second-round picks. Tampa Bay got DT Warren Sapp and FS Melvin Johnson while the Ray Rhodes-led Eagles got workout warrior DE Mike Mamula, who turned out to be a bust.
McKay and Wyche then selected LB Derrick Brooks in the bottom half of the first round by trading two of its three second-round picks in 1995 to Dallas for their first-round pick. A month after the draft, TE Harold Bishop was sent to Cleveland for its 1996 second-round pick, which was used on FB Mike Alstott.
Will McKay have the willpower to avoid making a trade? That will be the drama of draft day for Tampa Bay. Don't just wait until 7:00 p.m. to catch the Bucs' first pick -- you might have missed it hours earlier.
3. The signing of wide receiver Joe Jurevicius to a multi-year contract is an indication that higher standards and accountability on offense are finally in place at One Buc Place. No longer will the Buccaneers simply settle for good players. With the arrival of Jon Gruden, suddenly good is no longer good enough.
Under the Tony Dungy regime, adding Jurevicius to the wide receiving corps to replace Jacquez Green would have been sufficient, and the depth chart would shake out with Keyshawn Johnson and Jurevicius as the primary and secondary receivers with Frank Murphy, Milton Wynn, Darryl Daniel, Keith Poole, E.G. Green and newcomers Jonathan Pittman, Eddie Hardaway and Drew O'Connor fighting for receiver spots three through six. You would also have to include Karl Williams, who is currently a free agent but would definitely be back in Tampa as he was a Dungy favorite, in the mix as well.
But even though that group contains a nice mix of productive veterans in Williams, Poole and Green, and promising young talent in Murphy, Wynn and Daniel, Gruden isn't satisfied. That's why the Bucs will draft at least one more receiver this weekend and then look to a veteran pool of players that will consist of Keenan McCardell, Derrick Alexander, and Antonio Freeman among others.
4. New Orleans' signing of run-stuffing DT Grady Jackson was extremely significant as it relates to the Buccaneers and the NFC South. Jackson pairs with hole-clogging DT Norman Hand to form an impenetrable wall in the middle of the Saints defense. Jackson weighs around 360 pounds and Hand is over 330 pounds, giving New Orleans close to 700 pounds of defensive beef to combat their opponents' interior linemen.
Last year, the Bucs had tremendous difficulty rushing against the likes of Chicago, which has a near identical pair of huge defensive tackles in Ted Washington and Keith Traylor. Washington and Traylor helped stuff the Bucs' ground game for a paltry 19 yards in last year's first contest in Tampa and allow only 61 yards in the second clash in Chicago a few weeks later.
Don't think that the Saints aren't wary of the Bucs' addition of RB Michael Pittman in free agency, and the possibility that he will be teamed with Mike Alstott to help crush the will of defenses this year. New Orleans felt Alstott's wrath last year in the Bucs' 48-21 drubbing that ended the Saints' playoff hopes. The tackle-breaking Alstott grinded out 101 yards and a hard-fought against the Saints in that demoralizing loss, and you can bet that they'll have their minds on the Bucs on draft day and for the rest of free agency. By signing Jackson they lose some pass rush ability that La'Roi Glover brought to the bayou, but gain some ground in stopping the running game.
New Orleans knows that Tampa Bay is the only real significant contender for the NFC South crown this year and a lot of their personnel moves, such as the signing of Jackson, are geared towards matching up against the Buccaneers.
5. Here's a potpourri of draft-related thoughts as the big weekend draws near:
This draft is so weak at the linebacker position that I wouldn't be surprised if the Bucs draft a linebacker with their third-round pick just to ensure that they get a worthwhile player. The team has fortified the receiver position with the addition of WRs Joe Jurevicius and Keith Poole, and plan on further addressing it after June 1 in free agency in addition to the draft.
If the Bucs are sincere in their interest of keeping Mike Alstott then Tampa Bay may not draft a feature back-type like Georgia Southern's Adrian Peterson or Oregon's Maurice Morris, and opt instead for a smaller, situational player like Tennessee's Travis Stephens or Villanova's Brian Westbrook. There has been an awful lot of interest in Stephens by the Bucs and one of the reasons is that the franchise closely watches the University of Florida and witnessed Stephens destroy the Gators defense with a 226-yard rushing outburst that included two touchdowns and ended the Gators' hopes of advancing to the SEC Championship Game.
Stephens set a Volunteer single-season record with 1,502 yards rushing with 11 touchdowns last year. That's an amazing feat considering all of the talented rushers Tennessee has produced over the last 10 years from Reggie Cobb to Charlie Gardner to Jay Graham to Shawn Bryson to Jamal Lewis to Travis Henry. Stephens only really burst on the scene in 2001 after biding his time behind Lewis and Henry.
I'd like to amend last week's SR's Fab Five article just a bit and give an assist to The Tampa Tribune's Ira Kaufman. After reading Kaufman's recent article on UCLA running back DeShaun Foster, it triggered a memory of me talking to a Bucs scout who was at the Senior Bowl. I asked this scout who really stood out at the Senior Bowl practices and the first name he mentioned was Foster's, saying that he's the "real deal." I also got the scoop that the Bucs were high on Colorado tight end Daniel Graham and would have targeted him in the first round, which was reported in last week's Fab Five. Add Foster to that list as well. The problem is that Graham is a first-rounder and Foster is a high second-round pick, and the Bucs have neither a first- or second-round pick this year due to trading for head coach Jon Gruden.
The one real glaring need on the team is at punt returner with the departure of Karl Williams in free agency. At the Bucs' mini-camp they only had three players returning punts, wide receivers Frank Rice, E.G. Green and Darryl Daniel. None of three is an accomplished return. Expect the Bucs to look to draft a receiver or running back with punt return ability this weekend. Alabama WR Freddie Milons and Indiana's Antwaan Randle El are prime candidates, as is RB Brian Westbrook, who is more of a kick returner than a punt returner, but could easily adapt to that new role. The Bucs were hoping to land David Allen, one of college football's all-time top punt returners, in free agency, but lost out on his services to Minnesota.
The Bucs will probably draft an offensive tackle this year with the athletic ability to play left tackle and the temperament to play right tackle. The Bucs need a swing tackle to replace free agent Pete Pierson, who played that role last year. The Bucs want insurance at left tackle in case Kenyatta Walker, last year's No. 1 pick, doesn't show much improvement, and the team wants to really push Jerry Wunsch at the right tackle spot.
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