Two of the busier teams so far in the NFL Free Agency period have been the London bound Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New England Patriots.
The Buccaneers have given the Washington Redskins a run for their money with the following moving to the sunshine state;
Kellen Winslow – Tight End (from Cleveland by trade) This guy is a stud and maybe the best Buccs TE since Jimmie Giles.
Derrick Ward – Running Back (from New York Giants) A burner who will add great value to the backfield, with Earnerst Graham and Skoda Williams – well he breaks down far too many times to be called Cadillac.
Mike Nugent – Kicker (from New York Jets) I always think of either gold or chicken nuggets when I read out his name, Nugent is a good young kicker.
In addition Tampa re-signed – Tight End Jerramy Stevens, Wide Receiver Antonio Bryant, Wide Receiver Michael Clayton (not the one played by pretty boy George Clooney), Safety Jermaine Phillips, Wide Receiver Cortez Hankton.
Jovan Haye – Defensive Tackle (to Tennessee)
Philip Buchannon – Cornerback (to Detroit)
In addition Tampa released Linebacker Derick Brooks, Running Back Warwick Dunn, Wide Receiver Ike Hilliard, Linebacker Cato June and will not re-sign Quarterback Jeff Garcia.
So what does all this mean for new head coach Raheem Morris?
Pretty simple – heading into the 2009 NFL Draft the focus for the Buccs will be on defense.
It also means that Wembley bound Tampa Bay will need to get an offensive protagonist and a good one at that as the inclusion of Ward, Winslow and keeping Antonio Bryant means the supporting cast is already in place.
Luke McCown, Brian Griese and the unproven Josh Johnson do not make me think 11-5 and playoff win, more like 7-9 and another season of frustration. The consensus is that this is a rebuilding year for Tampa Bay, but if they do manage to get a stud qb in the next month then they can help expectations rise to a 10-6 or 11-5 season. Matt Cassell would have surely had more immediate fun/wins here than at Kansas City?
The current FA quarterbacks left who have started many games – JP Losman and Byron Leftwich (I still love the memeory of his college offensive linemen carrying him as he fought injury as a Marshall QB – see below) are not really the answer.
I am not ignoring the need for the Buccs to upgrade their offensive line, but defense is where the Buccs will be drawing in new blood at the 2009 draft.
With Derrick Brooks released and Ronde Barber getting older (maybe 1 or 2 seasons left realistically) the team will look for a stud linebacker in round 1. Someone like Clay Matthews (the younger) or James Laurinaitis would be great picks for the Buccs.
Young defensive players such as Barrett Ruud, Gaines Adams, Aquib Talib, Quincy Black and Sabby Piscitelli are all players you would describe as having a huge upside, and Ruud was worthy of a spot on the NFC 2008 Pro Bowl roster.
With some clever drafting and a few tweaks in Free Agency the Buccs can be a force to be reconed with, and as ever those people fortunate enough to get (and afford) tickets to the Tampa Bay v New England NFL game in London in October will be able to see of all the moves in March mean success in 2009-10.
The Buccs are doing the right thing by getting younger – but 2009 may be a tough year ahead.