NFC South: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

TAMPA, Fla. -- A lot has been made of the fact that Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has virtually no experience operating under center.

 It’s a valid point. The only time Mariota took snaps from under center in college was when the Ducks were doing kneel downs at the end of games.

There is no question Mariota would have to make a big adjustment if he is selected No. 1 overall by the Buccaneers. But maybe the change wouldn’t be as dramatic as it might seem.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the current league-wide trend is to use the shotgun or pistol formation much more frequently than in the past. In 2014, 60 percent of the league’s snaps came out of either the shotgun or pistol formation.

There has been a steady rise since ESPN Stats & Information started charting this category in 2006. In that season, only 19 percent of the snaps came out of the shotgun or pistol formation. But there has been a steady rise in each year since then and the 50-percent barrier was first broken in 2013.

Exact numbers on how often the Bucs used the shotgun formation last year weren’t available. But it’s safe to say they used it less frequently than the league average. As long as Lovie Smith is the coach, the quarterback is going to be required to line up under center a fair amount of the time. But the shotgun is a part of the Bucs’ offense.

Maybe Mariota’s not as far behind the curve as many think.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith confirmed Wednesday that the team has been fielding phone calls about trading quarterback Mike Glennon.

The Bucs are poised to use the first overall pick in the draft on a quarterback -- either Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota. Whichever rookie comes in is likely to be an instant starter.

That means Glennon, who has started 18 games over the past two seasons, is destined for the backup role and that has other teams thinking he's expendable. Glennon potentially could land the Bucs a mid-round draft pick. The Bucs then could bring in another veteran to be the backup.

But I would be cautious about letting Glennon go. He might not be spectacular, but you could do a lot worse than Glennon as a backup.

You know what you're getting with Glennon. He's dependable and doesn't make a lot of mistakes. More importantly, Glennon is a good locker room guy and could be a good influence on a young quarterback.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Jerry Angelo, who was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' director of personnel from 1987 through 2000, said he's glad he's not in that role these days.

Angelo said the Bucs face an extremely difficult decision on what to do with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. He said Tuesday it's a "coin flip" between Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

"They're both good," said Angelo, who went on to work as the general manager of the Chicago Bears from 2001-11. "It's what flavor you like."

Angelo said Winston has the edge when it comes to on-field performance.

"Winston has everything you look for," Angelo said. "He reminds me of a Ben Roethlisberger. He's big and strong and can extend a play. He has good mobility. He can make plays with his feet. He's big, athletic and accurate. That's his best trait, his accuracy. And the fact he's played in a pro-style offense certainly helps."

Mariota, who ran the fastest 40-yard dash (4.52 seconds) among quarterbacks at the combine, didn't have the luxury of playing in a pro-style offense. He played in a spread system in college.

"You can't minimize the intangibles with Mariota," Angelo said. "Intangibles are about 60 percent of it -- and he has great intangibles. My concern with him is the system he's played in and his accuracy within the pocket. I weigh that very heavily. With what you've seen in college, you don't know for sure and it's tough to come away with any confidence. Could he be like [Kansas City's] Alex Smith is now? Yes, he could be. But you don't know anything for sure because you haven't seen him in a pro-style system."

Angelo said the Bucs have to factor in more than on-field talent when making their decision. Winston has had a series of off-field incidents, including an allegation of sexual assault, although he was not charged with a crime.

"You have to do your homework very thoroughly," Angelo said. "But you're still taking a flier. The quarterback is the face of the franchise. The Bucs can't afford any more bad publicity. It's not just about the talent. The talent is obvious. But you have to bring character [into the equation] and the potential damage you could do to the franchise. That's an issue for ownership. If you take the character out of it, Winston is the pick. But you can't take the character out of it because that's a very important thing."

TAMPA, Fla. -- The first wave of free agency is long over and the most perplexing thing for the Buccaneers is why they haven’t done anything with their offensive line.

It was the worst in the league last year and the Bucs haven’t made any changes, other than releasing left tackle Anthony Collins. That was a good move, but there has been no flip side to it.

That brings huge concern because it looks as if the Bucs are going to draft either Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota with the first overall pick. You don’t want a rookie quarterback playing behind a bad offensive line and that’s what the Bucs have at the moment.

They have flirted with free-agent center/guard Stefen Wisniewski. But he has yet to sign anywhere despite making several visits. Indications are that Wisniewski still is a possibility for the Bucs. He would fill an instant need, either taking over for Patrick Omameh at right guard or allowing center Evan Dietrich-Smith to switch to right guard.

But it remains to see what, if anything, will happen with Wisniewski and the Bucs. In addition to guard, there’s a gaping hole at tackle. Collins was a huge flop last season and the Bucs need to have someone competent protecting the blind side of a rookie quarterback.

Right tackle Demar Dotson flipped over to the left side at the end of last season and it’s possible he could stay there. But, even if Dotson plays on the left side, the Bucs would have a big need at right tackle.

It’s easy to point to the draft and say the Bucs can address the offensive line there. But that’s asking for too much. They could get an instant starter on the offensive line in the second round. But it’s too much to expect anyone taken beyond the second round to start right away.

Besides, do the Bucs really want two rookies protecting Winston or Mariota? I don’t think so.

The Bucs need to sign Wisniewski or some other veteran free agent to fill one of their holes, then use the draft to take care of the other open position.

Bucs wise to pass on Greg Hardy

March, 18, 2015
Mar 18

TAMPA, Fla. -- Maybe the best move by the Buccaneers in this free-agency period was one they didn't make.

The Bucs took themselves out of the pursuit of free-agent defensive end Greg Hardy on Wednesday.

That might be the best thing Tampa Bay could have done. Yes, the Bucs find themselves still looking for a much-needed pass-rusher, and Hardy was the best on the market.

But Hardy would have come with a lot of downside. Although a charge of assaulting his girlfriend was dropped, Hardy still faces the possibility of suspension if the NFL finds he violated the league's personal conduct policy. Any future transgressions could result in a lengthy suspension or maybe even a ban.

It's not quite clear how seriously the Bucs were about Hardy. He never had a visit with the team.

Maybe they got outbid financially. Or maybe the Bucs came to the conclusion that they would have been selling their soul if they signed Hardy.

Avram GlazerAlex Livesey/Getty Images

Majority owners: Bryan Glazer; Joel Glazer (pictured, at right); Ed Glazer (sons of the late Malcolm Glazer).

Source of wealth: Sports teams (Manchester United, Buccaneers) and real estate (First Allied)

Net worth: $4.4 billion at the time of Malcolm Glazer's death in 2014 (Forbes).

Residence: Tampa, Florida

Marital status: Bryan single; Joel and Ed ere each married

Family: Joel has two children

Education: Bryan graduated from American University and Whittier College School of Law; Joel graduated from American University. Ed is a graduate of Ithaca College.

When purchased team and for how much: Malcolm Glazer purchased the team in 1995 for $192 million

Franchise valuation: $1.225 billion (Forbes)

2014 revenue/rank: $275 million/20th (Forbes)

Owns stadium: No

Ownership philosophy: The Glazer family has focused on a long-term approach for success that has resulted in seven playoff appearances and a Super Bowl championship. The team has also made an impact in the Tampa Bay community through a dedication to assisting charitable and educational causes focused on children, families and military support.

Defining moment in ownership tenure: Delivering the first professional sports championship to the Tampa Bay area after beating the Oakland Raiders 48-21 to capture Super Bowl XXXVII.

Regular/postseason wins-losses during tenure: 146-158/5-6

General managers during tenure: Rich McKay (1995-2003), Bruce Allen (2004-08), Mark Dominik 2009-13), Jason Licht (2014-present)

Coaches during tenure: Sam Wyche (1995), Tony Dungy (1996-2001), Jon Gruden (2002-08), Raheem Morris (2009-11), Greg Schiano (2012-13), Lovie Smith (2014-present).

Playoff appearances: 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2007

Super Bowl appearances/championships: Defeated Raiders 48-21 in Super Bowl XXXVII (2002 season).

NFL committees: Joel: finance, international; Bryan: digital media

Free-agency review: Buccaneers

March, 17, 2015
Mar 17

Most significant signing: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers coaching staff is particularly excited about the addition of former Dallas linebacker Bruce Carter. He instantly becomes the starter at middle linebacker. That was a position where the Buccaneers didn’t get what they wanted last season. Previous starter Mason Foster wasn’t as good in pass coverage as the coaching staff would have liked. That’s why the team had no interest in bringing back Foster. Carter showed he can be a playmaker against the pass with five interceptions last season.

Most significant loss: The Bucs didn’t have any huge losses, but the signing of defensive end Adrian Clayborn by Atlanta could come back to haunt them. Clayborn was a former first-round pick. His career in Tampa Bay was star-crossed by injuries. Clayborn still has plenty of upside and could prosper with a fresh start. The Bucs will have to face him twice a season.

Biggest surprise: The biggest surprise is that the Bucs have yet to sign a defensive end or an offensive lineman. Those were the two biggest needs heading into free agency, and the Bucs failed to address them. That wasn’t due to a lack of trying. The Bucs pursued defensive ends Trent Cole and Derrick Morgan but missed out. The team also lost out on several offensive linemen.

What’s next: The Bucs have to use the next wave of free agency to get a starting-caliber defensive end and one or two offensive linemen. But that might be easier said than done. There aren’t many high-level free agents remaining at either position.

As he watched Marcus Mariota receive the Heisman Trophy in December, one thought kept running through Jack Thompson's head.

"I just kept saying, 'He's Samoan. He's Samoan. He's Samoan,'" Thompson said.

It's a matter of pride for Thompson, a former NFL quarterback known as "The Throwin' Samoan." Mariota, who was born and raised in Hawaii, also comes from Samoan ancestry. His father was born in Samoa.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Photo/LM OteroMarcus Mariota should be the top pick in the draft, former NFL QB Jack Thompson says.

"Marcus is a far better quarterback than I ever was," said Thompson, who was born in Samoa and moved to the Seattle area as a child. "Marcus is going to have a great NFL career. My heritage is very important to me and I can't tell you how proud it makes me to see what Marcus has done and what he will do."

Mariota is expected to be picked early in the draft, perhaps even No. 1 overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That gives him something else in common with Thompson, who was picked No. 3 overall by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1979.

Thompson's career didn't work out the way he and the Bengals envisioned. He started only five games in four seasons with Cincinnati. He then went on to Tampa Bay for two seasons and was the starter in 1983.

Thompson, 58, sees a much brighter future for Mariota. He thinks the University of Oregon quarterback is a can't-miss prospect.

"He's 6-foot-4 and he can throw the ball," said Thompson, now a banker in Seattle. "And let's not forget he runs the 40 [yard dash] in 4.57 seconds. He's a special talent."

Thompson, a Washington State product, should know. Living in the Pacific Northwest, Thompson got to see a lot of Mariota in college.

"I followed him about as closely as a Cougar can follow a Duck," Thompson said.

When he met Mariota at the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame in Honolulu in January, Thompson wasn't disappointed. Mariota was being honored as the College Football Player of the Year and Thompson, a member of the Hall's first class, came away even more impressed than he had been by watching Mariota on the football field.

"He's a class act," Thompson said. "You won't find a guy more centered than Marcus."

But Thompson has heard the critics. They say Mariota will struggle in a pro-style offense because he ran a no-huddle, spread offense in college. Thompson doesn't see that as a problem.

"It's easy to say he doesn't have the drop-back pedigree," Thompson said. "The question is, does he have ability to become that? I think he does. All he's proven is he's been able to master a certain style of football. He has the physical stature to morph into the drop-back passer. He has the arm and he has the intelligence. I think he'll be able to assimilate any offense that's thrust upon him."

Mariota and Florida State's Jameis Winston are considered the best quarterbacks in this draft. Winston has played in a pro-style offense and has very few on-field questions. Instead, Winston comes with questions about his character and maturity after being involved in off-field incidents during college.

That's just one reason why Thompson thinks the Bucs should take Mariota with the first pick.

"You know exactly what you're getting," Thompson said. "There are no surprises. I think he is the perfect package of what you want in a quarterback. I think he would be a perfect fit with [Buccaneers coach] Lovie Smith. I think their personalities are in sync. They're both kind of laid-back on the surface, but they both have a strong work ethic and they're competitors.

"I have no doubt who I would pick. I would grab Marcus Mariota and I think I would be very happy with that for the next 10 or 15 years."

Thompson, of course, admitted that he's biased when it comes to Mariota. After all, they're both Samoan.

Our weekly look at clues that might reveal whether the Buccaneers are leaning toward selecting Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota -- or neither -- with the No. 1 pick in the draft:

The scenery has changed, but don’t let that lead you to believe that the final picture is any different.

The indicators still are pointing toward Florida State's Winston being the first overall pick in the draft by the Buccaneers. But we’ve been hearing – and will continue to hear – about another quarterback being eyed by the Bucs.

That’s Oregon’s Mariota. Timing has thrust him and the Bucs into the spotlight. Mariota had his pro day in Oregon last week. General manager Jason Licht and several team officials were there.

Mariota is visiting with the team at One Buccaneer Place on Monday. The team also will conduct a private workout for Mariota in April. That doesn’t mean there has been a sudden shift that put Mariota in the lead.

It just means the Bucs are being diligent and doing their homework. Even if Winston ends up being the choice, the Bucs need to see exactly what the alternative is. When you’re talking about investing millions of dollars in a player, that’s the only prudent thing to do.

The Bucs need to know Mariota as well as they know Winston. They already have been down the road a bit with Winston. He has already made his visit.

Now it’s Mariota’s turn. It’s unlikely Mariota will have to talk as much about off-field issues as much as Winston did. Winston has had several off-field incidents that bring up possible questions about his character and maturity. Coach Lovie Smith has said he would have no problem making Winston, who has no real on-field questions, the face of the franchise.

There are no off-field questions with Mariota. But there are bigger on-field concerns with him. Mariota spent his college career playing in a no-huddle, spread offense.

Can he make the transition to a pro-style system?

That’s what the Bucs have to find out. They got a look at Mariota’s skills at his pro day. By most accounts of people who were there, Mariota had a good, but not great, workout. If he is going to surpass Winston in the eyes of the Bucs, Mariota needs to use this visit and the private workout to show he has what it takes to be a pocket passer. He needs to show he can handle a huddle.

The odds are that Winston still will end up being the choice. But Mariota is getting his shot to change the Bucs’ mind.
TAMPA, Fla. -- If you're wondering why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been so quiet in free agency this year, all you have to do is look at last year.

That's when the Bucs splurged on free agents in the first year with coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht. They made some decent moves, such as signing Alterraun Verner and Clinton McDonald. But the team made three moves that turned out to be disastrous.

They signed defensive end Michael Johnson, offensive tackle Anthony Collins and quarterback Josh McCown to contracts that were worth a combined $83 million.

So what did the Bucs get out of all that?

Virtually nothing. Johnson recorded just four sacks. Collins was benched by the end of the season. And McCown led the Bucs to precisely one win (Mike Glennon led the other victory).

One year later, all three of those players are gone. Johnson's release Wednesday completed the trifecta.

There's a lesson to be learned here. Championships aren't won in March. The Bucs found that out the hard way during a 2-14 season.

It's pretty obvious the Bucs are using last year as a cautionary tale. Their approach to free agency this year has been totally different. They've stayed out of the bidding for high-priced players and focused more on midlevel free agents.

That's the smart approach. This team has a lot of holes. Filling them without overspending is crucial. The Bucs have a long road ahead of them as they try to reverse course.

They have the first pick in the draft and likely will use it on a quarterback, either Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota. The draft is where good teams form their nucleus. Free agency should be used to add complementary players.

The experience has been painful, but at least the Bucs are getting it right this time around.
TAMPA, Fla. -- The first day of free agency is over, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are far from done.

The team has at least five free agents expected to visit. Oakland center Stefen Wisniewski, Dallas linebacker Bruce Carter, Tennessee defensive end Derrick Morgan, Chicago safety Chris Conte and Dallas defensive tackle Henry Melton are scheduled to come to One Buccaneer Place in the coming days.

Wisniewski spent the last four seasons with the Raiders, starting 61 games. The interest in Wisniewski could be a sign the Bucs aren’t sold on Evan Dietrich-Smith, who was signed as a free agent last year. The team could also be considering moving Wisniewski or Dietrich-Smith to right guard, which is a need position.

Carter started eight games for the Cowboys last season and produced five interceptions. The Bucs could look to him to provide better pass coverage at linebacker. Carter has played inside and outside linebacker.

Morgan has played outside linebacker in Tennessee’s 3-4 scheme but projects as a defensive end in a 4-3 system. Morgan has had at least six sacks in each of the last three seasons. He is scheduled to visit the Atlanta Falcons before he meets with the Bucs.

Melton played for coach Lovie Smith in Chicago for four seasons. He had five sacks last season and could be viewed as a rotational player behind Gerald McCoy and Clinton McDonald.

Conte also played for Smith in Chicago. He could be a candidate to take the place of Dashon Goldson, who could end up being released.
TAMPA, Fla. -- With free agency starting Tuesday afternoon, it's time for a cautionary tale.

In two of the past three years, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have spent more money than any other team in free agency. Last year, the Bucs spent $147.3 million. In 2012, they spent $161.7 million. Consider that proof that spending money doesn't get you to the Super Bowl -- in fact, it hasn't even gotten the Bucs to the playoffs.

While free-agent pickups Vincent Jackson and Alterraun Verner have worked out well, they haven't been the norm. The Bucs have had some huge strikeouts with the likes of Carl Nicks, Anthony Collins and Michael Johnson.

But the Bucs aren't going to be scared off by past mistakes. They have more than $30 million in cap space and they have a bunch of holes to fill on a team that went 2-14 last season. Expect an aggressive approach from the Bucs with a slight twist.

They already have been tied to free-agent defensive ends Trent Cole and Derrick Morgan and safety Ron Parker. They also are likely to be interested in some offensive linemen. Those aren't huge names and that might be a good thing.

Maybe the Bucs have learned it's better to go for role players, rather than superstars, in free agency. They're going to use that cap room, but they'll be better off signing a bunch of mid-level free agents than they have been with big names.
In a lost season, one positive thing became very apparent for the New Orleans Saints last year.

They found out they had a feature running back in Mark Ingram. After three years of playing in a rotation, Ingram finally got the chance to show he can handle a heavy load.

The Saints rewarded him for that Saturday night with an agreement on a four-year contract. That comes just days after the Saints released veteran Pierre Thomas. The release of Thomas signals a heavier load for Ingram.

But he showed last season he can handle that. With other injuries in the backfield, Ingram had four 100-yard games in the span of six weeks. That might have changed the attitude of coach Sean Payton, who always had used a backfield by committee.

Ingram rushed for a career-best 964 yards and nine touchdowns last season.

"No. 1, he had a fantastic season. He's a player that we look at and have a value for. He's our draft pick, you know," Payton said. "He stayed healthy this year. And I couldn't be more excited to see him have the success because you see the work behind the scenes. You see the preparation by him, you see the professionalism by him. And he's a football guy; he was at Alabama, he was in high school. And so it's good to see him have that type of success, especially a guy you brought into the program.’’

Ingram came to New Orleans with high hopes in 2011. A Heisman Trophy winner, the Saints traded up to draft him. But Ingram’s first three seasons with the Saints were marked by inconsistency, injuries and a crowded backfield.

But that all changed last season as Ingram got a career-high 226 carries. Now, it looks like it’s Ingram’s turn to be the feature back.
TAMPA, Fla. – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers re-signed three more of their own potential free agents.

Defensive end Larry English, linebacker Jason Williams and safety Major Wright agreed to contract terms Saturday. That came after the Bucs re-signed tight end Luke Stocker earlier in the day.

English was picked up last season and the Bucs liked what they saw. He received playing time as a rotational defensive end and had one sack and 12 tackles in 12 games.

English once was thought of as a potential superstar. He was drafted in the first round by San Diego in 2009. But the Chargers never could decide if English belonged at defensive end or linebacker. English gives the Bucs depth behind Michael Johnson and Jacquies Smith. The Bucs still could look for a pass-rusher in free agency or the draft.

Williams provides depth at linebacker and he performed well on special teams last season. Wright played for coach Lovie Smith in Chicago and could be a candidate to start if the team parts ways with Dashon Goldson.
TAMPA, Fla. – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers kept one of their own from hitting the free-agent market Saturday.

Veteran tight end Luke Stocker agreed to contract terms to remain with the team. He could have become an unrestricted free agent Tuesday. A fourth-round pick in 2011, Stocker was a key contributor last year.

He started seven games and earned a lot of playing time at fullback. He also was a regular on special teams.

With Stocker back, the Bucs now have all three of their top tight ends under contract for 2015. Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Brandon Myers remain under contract. So does Cameron Brate, who was on the roster at the end of last season. Brate will have to compete for a roster spot.