SR's Fab Five

February 25 - Were the Buccaneers waiting to see if Seattle LT Walter Jones would avoid the franchise tag before re-signing their own LT, Roman Oben? How much will Atlanta LB Keith Brooking's big new contract hamper the Bucs' efforts to re-sign MLB Shelton Quarles for the right price? Will the Bucs draft a quarterback in the 2003 NFL Draft? Are the Bucs really interested in Miami RB Willis McGahee or Redskins RB Stephen Davis? The answers to these questions and more are found in SR's Fab Five.

SR's Fab Five usually appears weekly on PewterReport.com
Copyright 2003 Pewter Report/PewterReport.com
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Here's five things that caught my interest this week:

FAB 1. One of the hold-ups in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' efforts to re-sign left tackle Roman Oben was the team waiting to see the status of Seattle's Walter Jones, a Pro Bowl left tackle, who was recently hit with the Seahawks franchise tag for the second-straight season. The franchise tag essentially gives the Seahawks the exclusive negotiating rights with Jones. If another team signs Jones to an offer sheet and the Seahawks decide not to match, Seattle would receive two number one draft picks as compensation for losing Jones.

If Jones had hit the open market the Buccaneers would have been interested in the seven-year pro, who played collegiately at Florida State, even though he would come with a price tag that might have been too much for the team to afford. Tampa Bay almost drafted the 6-foot-5, 308-pound tackle with the sixth overall pick in 1997, but opted to trade down from the sixth spot to the number 12 pick to select running back Warrick Dunn.

With Jones not hitting the free agent market, the Bucs are expected to pursue plans of re-signing Oben to a long-term contract, and they'll likely be getting a bargain. Jones' agent, Roosevelt Barnes, told the Seahawks that he would accept a seven-year, $41.25 million contract with a $12 million signing bonus as long as the contract voided after four years. The Bucs won't pay nearly as much for Oben because he is considered to be a second tier tackle, while Jones is a first tier player.

Expect both sides to win in this contract negotiating session. The 30-year old Oben is on his third team since entering the NFL in 1996, and wants his family to settle down and stay put. After a four-year career with the New York Giants and a two-year stint with the Cleveland Browns, Oben signed a one-year deal with Tampa Bay for $476,980, turning down a similar offer from Baltimore at the last minute on May 20, 2002. He'll get a significant pay raise over this 2002 salary and a modest signing bonus, and the Bucs will get a steady, solid player who started 19 games at left tackle and did not allow a sack in three postseason games.

FAB 2. The Buccaneers weren't thrilled with seeing the seven-year, $41 million contract that the Atlanta Falcons doled out to Pro Bowl middle linebacker Keith Brooking. The reason? That contract, which included a $10.5 million signing bonus, will be used by Shelton Quarles' agent, Jim Steiner, as an indicator of how much to pay Quarles.

Of course the Bucs won't go by Brooking's contract, citing that Brooking was a former first-round pick whose pay was already elevated by his draft status, not to mention the fact that he is a two-time Pro Bowler. Steiner will likely counter that Quarles replaced Brooking at the Pro Bowl, so his value can't be too far behind. Expect Tampa Bay to come back and identify the four-year age difference that exists between the 27-year old Brooking and the 31-year old Quarles, and that Quarles has only spent one year as a middle linebacker. And so forth and so on.

The truth is that Quarles could land a deal that will fall short of Jeremiah Trotter's seven-year, $35.5 million contract, which included a signing bonus of $7 million, and exceed the six-year, $13.5 million deal that Dat Nguyen signed with the Dallas Cowboys last year, which included a more modest signing bonus of $2.55 million.

The Bucs are wary of Quarles' age -- he will be 32 next September -- but are comforted by the fact that he has not had a serious injury throughout his six-year career with Tampa Bay.

Should Quarles hit the free agent market after February 28, he might not have many suitors due to his 6-foot-1, 225-pound size and the fact that he may be regarded as a "system" player who may only thrive in a Cover 2 scheme such as Tampa Bay's. Expect two teams, St. Louis and the New York Jets, to both show an interest in Quarles.

Jets coach Herman Edwards was Tampa Bay's secondary coach from 1996-2000 and has some history with Quarles, as does St. Louis defensive coordinator Lovie Smith, who was the Bucs linebackers coach from 1996-2000 and personally coached Quarles. Dallas, which also runs a Cover 2 defense out of a 4-3 formation, may look at Quarles as an outside linebacker who may be an upgrade over Kevin Hardy or Dexter Coakley.

Over the past two years, the Bucs have let "system" cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly test the free agent market only to return to re-sign with Tampa Bay for modest salaries at market value that aren't inflated because the Bucs did not enter a bidding war for either player. Upon their re-signing with the Bucs, both Barber and Kelly had impact seasons. The Bucs would love for the same scenario to take place for a third year in a row, this time with Quarles.

FAB 3. Expect the Buccaneers to draft a quarterback this year. Starter Brad Johnson, who will be 35 this year, missed two games last year due to injury and isn't getting any younger. And faced with the prospects of losing both Rob Johnson and Shaun King to free agency, along with the team not deciding to tender Joe Hamilton a restricted free agent contract, the Bucs could suddenly go from the penthouse to the outhouse in terms of quality depth at the quarterback spot.

Don't be surprised if Rob Johnson is re-signed. The feeling at One Buc Place is that some other team will take a chance on King, possibly Chicago or Carolina, and steal him away from Tampa Bay. Having Rob Johnson head to camp to battle for a roster spot with another veteran and a rookie for the second and third quarterback spots wouldn't be a bad alternative.

We've mentioned this before, but it's worth noting again that the Bucs may have a strong interest in Texas Tech quarterback Kliff Kingsbury, who has amazing accuracy in short and intermediate throws, which are prevalent in Jon Gruden's version of the West Coast offense. Kingsbury has great intangibles and good mobility, but his stock has slipped due to questionable arm strength and a rather skinny build.

The Bucs are anxious to see Kingsbury work out under center at the Indianapolis Scouting Combine or at his pro day workout at Texas Tech, which will be held some time in March. Kingsbury operated exclusively from the shotgun in Mike Leach's spread offense for the Red Raiders. Kingsbury is expected to be drafted between rounds 3-5.

Other quarterbacks who could tempt the Bucs in the 2003 NFL Draft are Louisville's Dave Ragone, Miami's Ken Dorsey, Boston College's Brian St. Pierre, Eastern Illinois' Tony Romo and Wisconsin's Brooks Bollinger. Each has mobility and escapability that Gruden craves in addition to a rather high completion percentage.

FAB 4. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were lucky to keep their coaching staff intact this offseason, especially after winning the Super Bowl. The closest the Bucs came to losing a coach was when San Francisco finally got around to asking defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin to interview for the vacant 49ers head coaching job.

Had they acted immediately after the Super Bowl, they could have landed Kiffin. Instead, the 49ers gave the Bucs time to extend Kiffin's contract and give him a huge raise that made him the league's highest paid coordinator by paying him an average of over $1.5 million per season.

But the Bucs will likely benefit from the departure of two key coaches in the NFC South. Carolina's defensive coordinator, Jack Del Rio, did a marvelous job in his first year as the defensive play-caller under new head coach John Fox, but left the Panthers to become the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Panthers improved tremendously on defense last year under Del Rio's watch, and even though Fox is a defensive mastermind himself, Carolina's defense could slip with the loss of Del Rio. That might set the Panthers back because the defense is the strength of that team. Carolina's offense is far from stellar.

In New Orleans, assistant head coach/secondary coach Mike Riley will be missed. Riley was head coach Jim Haslett's right hand man who helped him coordinate the team's football-related operations in addition to coaching the Saints' defensive backs.

Riley recently left New Orleans to become the head coach at Oregon State last week, and while the Saints still have several dangerous playmakers on offense, their defense was a big question mark throughout the season and may slow to come around due to adapting to a new defensive backs coach this season.

FAB 5. Here's some quick hits to hold you over until next week:

- Don't read too much into the Bucs' 15-minute interview with Miami running back Willis McGahee. The team likes McGahee and admires his work ethic that his put his rehabilitation of two torn knee ligaments, including his anterior cruciate ligament, ahead of schedule. But the Bucs are pleased with the prospects of having Michael Pittman and Mike Alstott return as ballcarriers, and are interested to see what last year's fourth-round draft pick, Travis Stephens, can do in his second season. The bottom line is that with the Bucs' first draft pick coming at No. 64 as the final pick in the second round, that the team doesn't expect McGahee to last that long. One Bucs official told Pewter Report that McGahee might even get drafted in the first round.

- Don't expect the Bucs to be in the market for Washington running back Stephen Davis, who is expected to be released by February 28 as a salary cap casualty. Tampa Bay likes Davis as a player, but is wary of a recent string of injuries that he has had over the past couple of seasons aside from the regular wear and tear that most feature backs have year in and year out. The fact that Davis' agent, Steve Weinberg, plans on netting his client a very lucrative contract likely means that the Bucs are out of the mix.

- I don't know if the Buccaneers have any interest in Temple defensive tackle Dan Klecko (I'll find out), but he sure seems like a good fit in Tampa Bay's defensive line. I'll admit that I haven't seen much of Klecko, son of New York Jets defensive tackle Joe Klecko, probably because he plays for lowly Temple, but he was a standout player in the East-West Shrine Game. I mean a real standout player. He was dominant. Like his old man, Klecko has an amazing first step and the quickness to penetrate the offensive line. At an undersized 5-foot-11 and 280 pounds, he reminds me of the Bucs' Chuck Darby, who has a similar build. Klecko had a very productive senior season, ranking 13th nationally with nine sacks and fourth in college football with 21 tackles for a loss. He might be worth a fifth-round pick.


Copyright 2003 Pewter Report/PewterReport.com
This story is intended to be read only by PewterReport.com Insiders only and TheInsiders.com. Sharing of the content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers.

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