Scott Reynolds - Pewter Report Editor-In-Chief
"For those of you who read Pewter Report last year, you know that I campaigned for MLB Shelton Quarles to make the Pro Bowl, which he finally did thanks to an injury to Atlanta MLB Keith Brooking. You'll also remember me campaigning the Bucs in my Point/Counterpoint column to make him their top priority in free agency, which they did, thankfully."
"Quarles was the unsung hero of the Bucs defense this year and a key reason why the defense returned to the dominant standards set forth by the 1999 unit, which was the last year that perennial Pro Bowler Hardy Nickerson was a Buc. Quarles was a big upgrade over Jamie Duncan and it's nice to see the team reward him for a stellar season."
"The big surprise was the deal struck between the Bucs and DE Simeon Rice to free up the cap room to sign Whittle and Quarles. Extending Rice's contract wasn't a huge shock, but the fact that he is the highest paid defender in league history with a salary which averages $8 million per year and a signing bonus of over $20 million, as reported by ESPN, was a surprise. What isn't a surprise is that Rice deserves every penny of it."
"I wonder how DT Warren Sapp feels about that? Sapp is in the final year of his deal and will likely want to cash in big time with a deal larger than Rice's. Do the Bucs have the money and the "want to" to sign a less dominant Sapp to a deal like that? That's the big question heading into training camp. Can you say hold out?"
Leo Haggerty - Pewter Report Managing Editor
"The Bucs moved a big step closer to making a return trip to the "Big Dance" in 2004 with the signing of unrestricted free agent linebacker Shelton Quarles. The five-year deal came to fruition when defensive end Simeon Rice agreed to restructure his contract to create the much-needed salary cap room to keep No. 53 in Tampa Bay. Of the three free agents that were starters on the defensive side of the ball, Quarles was the one targeted by the Buccaneers as their top priority, and rightfully so. Nothing against Super Bowl XXXVII Most Valuable Player Dexter Jackson or strongside linebacker Al Singleton, but the biggest question mark going into the 2002 season was how the former Vanderbilt University alumnus would perform moving from the "Sam" linebacker to the "Mike". That experiment was deemed a success as the six-year veteran was the heart and soul of the middle of the Pewter Pirates defense. He'll be even better this year, barring injuries, with a season under his belt as the man in the middle for the Buccaneers."
Jim Flynn - Pewter Report Assistant Editor
"Tampa Bay's decision to re-sign middle linebacker Shelton Quarles was a wise one. Quarles proved to be the defense's missing ingredient last season. While Quarles is undersized, he played exceptionally well in his first season as Tampa Bay's middle linebacker."
"The Bucs struggled to find an anchor in the middle of the defense when Hardy Nickerson left the Bucs in during the 2000 offseason via free agency. But when the Bucs decided to move Quarles over to the "Mike" linebacker position last spring, he added speed and impressive tackling ability, which elevated the defense from good to great.
"Tampa Bay's offense will probably still be a work in progress next season, so the defense will have to pick up where it left off last season. The defense wouldn't be able to do that without Quarles."
"Simeon Rice's new contract, which made him the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL, has some positives and some negatives."
"The good news is Tampa Bay freed up enough money to re-sign Shelton Quarles by restructuring Rice's deal. The bad news is with the Bucs restructuring several players' contracts this offseason, they're setting themselves up to follow in the footsteps of the Baltimore Ravens, Dallas Cowboys San Francisco 49ers. Yes, the Bucs are gearing up for another serious Super Bowl run next season, but they will likely find themselves in serious salary cap trouble during the 2004 offseason. For the most part, all restructuring contracts does is delay the inevitable. Of course, if the Bucs have to cut several big-name players in salary cap maneuvers next year, the team's rebuilding process would be much easier to swallow if they're coming off of two straight Super Bowl championships."
"Rice had one heckuva season last year and he'll likely continue to earn his paychecks."
The Pewter Report editors on Tampa Bay's ability to sign offensive lineman Jason Whittle to a five-year contract:
"I like what the Bucs are doing in re-vamping their offensive line. Despite proving critics like myself wrong during a playoff run in which the line only gave up one sack, I still thought that the offensive line needed to toughen up. Too many finesse guys and not enough nasty."
"It's okay to have some finesse guys at the tackle spots such as Roman Oben and Kenyatta Walker, but you need some pilemovers in the middle. Left guard Kerry Jenkins can be that type of player when healthy. Jeff Christy, Todd Washington and Cosey Coleman just didn't have the power or the demeanor to suit offensive line coach Bill Muir and head coach Jon Gruden. Though Coleman remains in Tampa Bay for now, he's got an up-hill battle ahead of him to win the right guard job.
"Right guard Jason Whittle is a Jenkins-type player in that he's a rough-and-tumble lineman. Signing a guy like Whittle and pursuing a bigger, more physical center such as John Wade (Jacksonville) is refreshing. If you've read the countless Buccaneer Buzz, Buccaneer Blitz or Point/Counterpoint articles in Pewter Report, you'll know that I applaud the direction the Bucs are going with their offensive line."
"I'm going to have to disagree with most of the so-called experts on the signing of free agent offensive lineman Jason Whittle. I don't think the former New York Giant is being brought in to replace starting Bucs center Jeff Christy who was a salary cap casualty. I believe that Whittle will compete for a guard spot and, if he doesn't crack the starting lineup, will be the guy that takes the place of departed offensive lineman Todd Washington. Whittle can back up a center and both guards as well as having experience as a long snapper. With head coach Jon Gruden and offensive line coach/offensive coordinator Bill Muir leaning toward dressing seven offensive lineman on Sunday, a player like Whittle who can play more than one position becomes invaluable."
"The addition of free-agent right guard Jason Whittle is one of what will turn out to be several moves on the Bucs' offensive line this offseason. Whittle will compete with Cosey Coleman, a two-year starter for the Bucs, at the right guard position. Coleman was inconsistent last season and Whittle, who is a much more physical player than Coleman, should add toughness and upgrade the Bucs' right guard position next season."
"Whittle can also long snap and play center, but the Bucs didn't bring him to succeed Jeff Christy. The Bucs are actively pursuing Jacksonville free-agent center John Wade, and I wouldn't be surprised if the team inked him to a deal next week."