PRIORITY EIGHT: RE-SIGN TIGHT END JERRAMY STEVENS.
WHAT I SAID THEN?
A year ago I would have probably written something like this about Stevens:
"Stay away. Stay far away from this guy."
But now I think the Bucs must try and keep him for a couple of reasons.
First, Anthony Becht seems intent on trying free agency. He's another one of those "voidable contract" players and he's already said he wants to tests the waters. He caught five passes. Losing him isn't the worst thing in the world.
But, with only Alex Smith under contract, depth becomes a concern if Becht does leave. Stevens can probably be had for less than $1 million, as he caught only 18 passes in 2007.
But it's the quality of his finish that makes me think the Bucs should re-sign him.
Stevens caught 10 of his passes during the season's final five weeks — once he finally had the fallout from his Arizona DUI arrest and conviction behind him. He did miss one game due to a NFL suspension. But when he returned he caught eight passes for 103 yards and three touchdowns in the season's final two games.
Stevens is a massive target whose hands are better than advertised. He's not the best blocker on earth, but he can get the job done when required.
If he's re-signed it will be his second year in Gruden's offense. And it appears to me that players tend to have better numbers the longer he's in their offense. The playbook is so complicated that it appears that players need more than a season to get comfortable, especially if they're free agents. Plus, Gruden trusts players he's been around longer and he even admitted that only in the season's final weeks did he develop a comfort level with Stevens.
Stevens is the type of free agent the Bucs like — cheap and with upside. Stevens seems to like it in Tampa Bay and the offense, late in the season, agreed with him. The Bucs should seek to extend their arrangement.
WHAT I SAY NOW?
I expected Stevens to get a new deal. What I did not expect was what else the Bucs did with the position.
The Bucs signed John Gilmore away from Chicago and Ben Troupe away from Tennessee in March. Gilmore is considered the quintessential blocking tight end and the Bucs thought so well of him that they pursued him on the first night of free agency.
So now the Bucs have a plethora of options — starter Alex Smith, Stevens, Gilmore and Troupe. The question now is whether the Bucs will keep all of them, and Smith's contract — this is his last year — complicates matters.
Say all four make the roster. How on earth do you split the snaps? Smith and Stevens have the most experience with the offense, which gives both an advantage. Gilmore is probably the best blocker and won't need extensive knowledge of the offense to be effective. Troupe is trying to learn a new offense and carve out playing time at a competitive position.
And all four could make the roster. The Bucs aren't exactly stacked at wide receiver, and Gruden likes to use two tight end sets on a regular basis. There have been times the past two years in which Gruden has kept four tight ends.
When the regular season begins though, I expect Stevens to be on the roster as Smith's backup. I think the progress he made in the system last year will show up in training camp and preseason.
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.