What will the Bucs do before the draft? Part 2
Time now to look at the defensive side of the Buccaneer roster and get some indication of the moves that might happen before free agency starts in March, and long before Commissioner Roger Goodell walks to the podium in New York to announce our first round pick.
The first half of this review featured on offense and came across a few moves that will probably happen (Kenyatta Walker not getting a $1.5M roster bonus in March as exhibit one), and did also find one key defensive player as a free agent - Dewayne White.
Since being drafted out of Louisville in 2003, White has shown a knack for making big plays from defensive end, and has on occasion played inside on passing downs. But with Simeon Rice and Greg Spires around, regular starts have been infrequent. With there being a premium on pass rushers, you know he is going to get a mega-bucks offer from someone else in the NFL and it will come down to whether the Bucs will want to match it, and then if White fancies remaining in Tampa or playing in pastures anew.
Alongside White on the line last season, was Ellis Wyms. He is now in the final year of a six-year contract he signed in 2002 and with the high back-end of the deal, his base salary for 2007 is almost $4M. Wyms is better as a depth player rather than a full-time starter, but is going to want another three or maybe four-year contract from the Bucs. There is scope here for re-negotiation or perhaps even outright release saving a lot of cap space either way.
Simeon Rice is on for a $7.25M base salary in 2007 and would save the Bucs nearer $9M if he was released. This is the main off-season decision facing the Bucs - does Rice stay or go? Even if he is the wrong side of 30, Simeon is one of the best pass rushers out there and knows the Tampa system. I would be in favour of keeping him as I cannot believe we can get someone better for the immediate future.
Greg Spires has a 2007 base salary of just over $2M or would free up $3.5M in cap room, whilst Chris Hovan signed a new deal last spring that ties him to the Bucs until 2010 with a base salary for next year of around $5M. None of the other players from last season, rookies such as Charles Bennett or mid-season signings like Jovan Haye or Jon Bradley have anything in the way of minimum salaries and similar effect on the roster for next season.
In terms of the linebackers, Derrick Brooks' re-negotiated last year and is set for around $4M in 2007, as is Shelton Quarles. But if the Bucs decide to turn the middle linebacker spot over to Barrett Ruud ($1M) in 2007, then they could free up around $3M cap room by releasing Quarles.
Jamie Winborn will cost around $1M for the second season of his two-year deal signed in 2006 but he is reportedly very unhappy at only playing special teams last year, whilst Ryan Nece is a reasonably cheap ($1M base) starter at the other outside spot.
Whilst Ronde Barber has no immediate plans to join his brother in retirement, he is due a $3M bonus in March and has a $7M cap figure for next season. But can you honestly imagine our defense without him? Whether Brian Kelly is back is another matter and he wants a new deal even though his current contract runs to 2008. He has a $4.4M cap figure for 2007 and is also due a $1M roster bonus. The Bucs could save nearly $3M in releasing him, but who else would start at cornerback if they did?
Juran Bolden is paid around $1M base to miss tackles and blow coverages, although this is slightly less than safety Jermaine Phillips ($1.75M) who has the latter down to a fine art. Fellow safety Will Allen is costing the Bucs less than $500K per season in salary and cap room, as are the other special teams-type players on the roster (Kalvin Pearson, Antoine Cash and Wesly Mallard).
Paul Stewart, February 2007