That never happened. Smith signed with San Francisco.
The Bucs' answer? Jimmy Wilkerson.
At first blush, Wilkerson would not appear to be the answer.
Wilkerson was a sixth-round pick of the Chiefs in 2003. He immediately found a place in the Chiefs' defensive line rotation as a tackle and an end. He also became an immediate contributor on special teams. He is considered a natural left end, but he can play inside, too.
But he rarely started. Entering 2007, Wilkerson made three starts. His statistics are not menacing. He's registered just 94 tackles and 1 sack in six season. He had just 23 tackles a year ago. He's averaged about 20 tackles per season the last three years. He also had more than 30 career special teams tackles.
So how does a relatively unheralded defensive end become the Bucs' second free-agent signee? Warpaintillustrated.com's Nick Athan, who covered Wilkerson in Kansas City, broke down Wilkerson's talent this way:
"If he had stayed the Chiefs probably would have played him at defensive end," Athan said. "He's really better suited for that. His strength though isn't the outside rush. He is very good at getting to the quarterback when he splits the tackle and the guard. He's a solid tackler and never takes a snap off. He is also a great locker room guy and never had a bad word to say about any of this teammates. He's also a great special teams player. He was part of the wedge on kickoff returns."
Athan also said that the Chiefs offered Wilkerson about the same money as Tampa Bay but chose the Bucs because he wanted the chance to compete for a starting position.
Wilkerson appears more athletic than you might think. He played quarterback in high school at Omaha Paul Pewitt High School in Omaha, Texas, a small 2A school with a reputation for good offense. The former prep quarterback threw for 1,209 yards, rushed for 1,430 yards and posted 35 total TDs in his career, also played linebacker and led the team to a state title during his junior year.
Second, the left end position is more of a run-based position. Pass rushing skills are good, but in the Cover 2 scheme — and in most 4-3 schemes — left ends are expected to help out with the run defense much more than the right end, where Gaines Adams is firmly entrenched. Wilkerson's size compares favorably to Carter and Spires. So did his numbers in 2007. According to NFL.com, Wilkerson had 23 tackles, Spires had an injury-curtailed 26 (with 2 sacks) and Carter had 43 tackles and 3 sacks. Carter started most of the season. Wilkerson did not.
Finally, Tampa Bay's commitment to Wilkerson is short term and allows them to pursue other defensive ends either in free agency or the NFL Draft. As of Saturday afternoon, the Bucs have not been linked to any other ends. But the NFL Draft will have some solid defensive linemen this season, players that could be had in the second and third round and join Wilkerson on the left side.
Bucs fans shouldn't forget that the team already has Adams, Greg White, Patrick Chukwurah and two lightly-regarded players — Marquies Gunn and Charles Bennett. So there's certainly room for the Bucs to make at least one more move to bolster that pass rush.
It's very likely Wilkerson won't be the starter on the left side initially, but will have to compete with a rookie or Gunn or Bennett or even White to start on the left side. This contract appears to be Wilkerson's chance to start full-time. At the least, he'll be a rotational player who will give the Bucs 20-25 plays per game, and lately the Bucs have done solid work of identifying those players and fitting them into their team.
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. An award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he appears frequently on Scot Brantley Show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1470-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.