Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 5 Players With the Most to Lose During Training Camp
5 Players With the Most to Lose in Tampa Bay
In year two of the Greg Schiano era, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers find themselves in a fight for their first playoff berth since the 2007 season. After losing 10 straight games to close out the 2011 season, the Buccaneers finished 2012 with another late-season swoon, dropping five straight at the end of the year before coming up with a win against their divisional foe, the Atlanta Falcons, in Week 17.
The Buccaneers' 7-9 record marked an improvement over the debacle that was 2011. If the team is to continue its return to prominence, several veterans will need to step up.
Veteran wide receiver Vincent Jackson quickly built rapport with quarterback Josh Freeman during his first year as a Buccaneer. He turned in a Pro Bowl season, leading the team with 72 catches for 1,384 yards and eight touchdowns. Wide receiver Mike Williams also delivered with 63 catches for 996 yards and nine touchdowns. Jackson arrived in Tampa with a hefty new contract and Williams feels like it is now his turn to be rewarded.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Buccaneers remade their secondary. They added the consensus (if healthy) best cornerback in the league by trading for Darrelle Revis. They drafted Jonathan Banks, one of the top-rated rookie cornerbacks. They also added high-performing veteran safety Dashon Goldson, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers.
With the marked improvement last year under Schiano, and a bevy of bold offseason moves, the Buccaneers can expect to be in the race for the playoffs in December. The stage is set for continued progress that will lead to a postseason berth. A second straight sub-.500 record under this regime could put the entire Schiano organization in jeopardy — including the following five veterans.
Veteran quarterback Josh Freeman has quickly gone from "young, developing QB to keep an eye on" to "veteran on the hot seat." Ever since Coach Schiano arrived in Tampa, the rumors have swirled that Freeman is not "his guy." The Bucs made Freeman’s seat a little hotter this spring by drafting North Carolina State quarterback Mike Glennon in the third round.
Freeman is in the last year of his five-year rookie contract. The Buccaneers have opted to not re-sign him to this point so it appears they're going to let his play this fall determine his fate. They can walk away at the end of the season owing nothing further, or they can expect to offer him a sizable contract — in the Matt Stafford range — as a commitment to him as their ongoing starter.
Wide receiver Mike Williams wants to get paid. The fourth-year veteran has started 47 out of 48 games for the Buccaneers and has consistently produced 65, 65 and 63 catches in his three seasons. In 2012, he found himself relegated to No. 2 status, with the offseason acquisition of Vincent Jackson.
If Jackson's free agent contract with the Buccaneers didn't give Williams envy, New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz' new contract certainly did. During the same three years in the league, Williams has more games started, more catches, more yards, more touchdowns and a higher yards-per-reception average than Cruz. He is in line for a new contract that starts where Cruz' contract left off. If his 2013 production falters or if he experiences a training camp injury, his leverage for a megabucks contract disappears.
Before new Buccaneers cornerback Darrelle Revis' knee blew out, he was widely considered the NFL's top cornerback. Revis is renowned for a rare combination of instinct, technique and versatility. The big unknown — a first in Revis' career — is does he still have the speed and quickness to be the Revis that the Buccaneers traded so much for?
If returning from a devastating knee injury wasn't enough pressure, Revis has to contend with integrating into a new team; a new team, by the way, that invested heavily to acquire him. To obtain Revis, the Buccaneers gave the New York Jets their 2013 first-round draft pick and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2014. On top of all this, the Bucs also provided a contract that will pay Revis top dollar for a cornerback. If, that is, he is healthy and produces. The guarantees are minimal. Revis stands to be a one-and-done player in Tampa if he does not return to top form in 2013.
Veteran running back Brian Leonard joined the Buccaneers in April. This marks his third team in his seven-year career, having been drafted by the St. Louis Rams and then spending the last four seasons in Cincinnati. Although never used heavily, he produced two nice seasons as a Bengal, averaging 6.8 yards-per-attempt in 2010 and 5.0 YPA in 2011.
By re-joining Schiano, his college coach at Rutgers, Leonard can offer veteran special teams savvy and versatility, if not explosiveness, as a backup running back to starter Doug Martin. If he does not stand out in training camp, this could be the end of his journeyman career.
If there's one thing we know about guard/tackle Jamon Meredith, he knows how to travel. The fifth-year veteran's career has included stops in Buffalo, New York (Giants), Detroit, Buffalo (again), Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay in 2012. Meredith was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the fifth round of the 2009 draft.
Meredith may have found a home in Tampa, having started 12 games for the Buccaneers last year as an injury replacement for Davin Joseph. If he can continue to provide quality depth for the Buccaneers by backing up two or more positions on the offensive line, he may stick. If any or all of the four rookie free agent offensive linemen the Buccaneers currently have on their roster show they belong, Meredith may find himself without a home once again.