PRIORITY SEVEN: DETERMINE THE CENTER SITUATION.
WHAT I SAID THEN:
What situation, you ask? Well, veteran John Wade — a player I like, respect and thought did great work this year with a young offensive line — has two more years left on his deal. But they're voidable. That means he could become a free agent.
The Bucs are on the record as saying they think Dan Buenning, who started at left guard as a rookie in 2005, is their center of the future. They love Buenning's physical makeup. He has 21 pounds on Wade and they would love to put that kind of girth in the middle between Davin Joseph and Arron Sears.
But is Buenning ready for this? He played at center in the preseason, but didn't play a lick during the regular season. He watched Wade from the sideline.
The center's job is more than just snapping the football. It's recognizing defenses, communicating that to the quarterback and then communicating play changes to his linemates. Wade may not be a physical specimen, but he does the thinking part of the job better than most centers. That's where he is most valuable.
Should the Bucs let Wade go, they could be making a big mistake. Buenning is untested at the position, and you never know how a player will react to a position change until he's in that position in a live game. Buenning may get it done. Or he may falter.
It's a gamble, to be sure. And given where the Bucs are as a team right now, I'm not sure if that's the right gamble yet.
If the Bucs choose not to keep Wade, they'll have to re-sign Matt Lehr or sign a veteran center in free agency. And, frankly, the market for free-agent centers looks pretty thin right now.
That's another reason I'm for keeping Wade and letting Buenning duke it out with him for the job in training camp. But part of that decision will be up to Wade.
WHAT I SAY NOW?
I expected the Bucs to make a move in free agency after Wade voided his deal. What I did not expect was the move they made.
By signing New Orleans center Jeff Faine to a six-year deal, they ensured a long-term solution at the position. What they also did was reward Faine, considered an above-average center, with the richest deal ever given a center — $37.5 million. Now, only $15 million is guaranteed and he can make $20 million in the first three years of the deal, but it's a substantial commitment at a position the Bucs have regarded in past years as a bargain-bin acquisition, despite its importance. The Bucs might have been able to get him for less.
But the signing is significant and has been one of the team's most well-received moves of the offseason. At 27, the 6-foot-3, 291-pounder is entering the prime of his career and will do so with a Bucs offensive line that is entering the cusp of its prime. Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, right guard Davin Joseph and left guard Arron Sears have three years or less of NFL experience. If Donald Penn beats out Luke Petitgout at left tackle, the Bucs will have one of the league's youngest lines. Oddly, it will also be one of its more cohesive.
Faine is considered by scouts to be as solid a technician as Wade and a more physical presence inside, something the Bucs sought to improve this offseason. That's one of the reasons the Bucs pegged Buenning as a potential replacement for Wade. He's a more physical presence. But with Faine now the starter at center, Buenning will finish out his contract with the Bucs as a swing guard-center — if he can make the team.
While I'm still leery of the money the Bucs laid out for Faine — especially in the wake of the LeCharles Bentley fiasco in Cleveland — I'm not critical of the move. He's made a seamless transition to the Bucs' philosophy during OTAs and mini-camp and should be a great fit with the rest of the line. Ultimately Faine's signing should allow the Bucs to play the way they want in 2008 — pound away with the running game to set up the Bucs' West Coast offense passing game.
Did you miss our previous editions of "Buccaneers Rewind? Just click below to read more about how the Bucs did this offseason:
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for Bucsblitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald.