Earlier today on ESPN’s NFC South blog Pat Yasinkas covered the top free agents from each team in the division. He listed four Buccaneers, Stylez G. White, Cadillac Williams, Davin Joseph and Barrett Ruud as the Bucs biggest UFA’s. What he doesn’t spend much time on is the likelihood that these players wind up back in Tampa or in anther uniform come 2011 (if 2011 ever comes). Fortunately the Bucs have the cap space to sign all of them back, it’s just a matter of whether they want to. So let’s take a look…
Cadillac Williams, RB
Likelihood of Return: 75%, I think it’s fair to say at this stage in his career that Carnell “Cadillac” Williams may lack the durability to be an every down back. But if you watched him last year you’ll notice he did start to regain his form by the time the season ended. Quietly, Cadillac was an integral part of the offense last year, though the run game never took off until the interior line was moved around and LeGarrette Blount became the feature back, Williams still contributed more than he’s credited for. It was Caddy who caught a game-winning TD pass with seconds remaining, it was Cadillac whom the Bucs trusted to pick up blitzes and help with protections, it was Cadillac who by season’s end had his burst back. The Bucs need a second back, and with all due respect to Allen Bradford and Kareem Huggins, Cadillac is the best-suited to it. He knows the offense quite well, he does all the little things well, he’s a leader with a proven work ethic and he’s still got a little tread left on the tire if you utilize him properly. I will say this much, if the Bucs decide to sign a veteran running back with some years on him this off-season it won’t be Tiki Barber, they’ll be brining back the Cadillac.
Stylez G. White, DE
Likelihood of Return: 60%, I love Stylez G. White, he’s a great story and he’s incredibly entertaining. What I don’t know is whether the Bucs’ youth movement along the line will allow him to keep a spot there. It should. As I wrote yesterday, White has had to work as hard or harder than any other player on the Bucs to get where he is. A former 7th round pick who had to spend two years in the Arena League after seven NFL teams cut him before he ever even played an NFL down. The Bucs have a talented core of young linemen but they’ve all been able to get by largely on God-given ability thus far. As Gerald McCoy discovered last year, that ends in the NFL. There’s no better player to teach a young guy how to be humble and grind at it than a player who has had a journey like White has. Also from a purely rational standpoint it’s not a great idea to jettison your team’s best defensive end just because you have two rookie prospects you’re high on. The Bucs could still decide to sign a different veteran, but personally I’m hoping Stylez is back.
Davin Joseph, OG
Likelihood of Return: 90%, Yesterday some pretty damning statistics about the Bucs interior line-play were released by Pro Football Focus. According to the advanced metrics the Bucs had some of the worst interior linemen in the game when it came to pass-blocking. Davin Joseph was ranked the 4th worst pass-blocking guard in football last season (Ted Larsen was 6th worst). Now there’s a lot that you can make of that, but there’s also the propensity to buy into it too much. As Raheem Morris says, stats are for losers. And metrics are for nerds. Ok, maybe he doesn’t say that last part and yes there is a place in sports for metrics but when you get overly enamored with the math you can miss a lot of other things too. Like the fact that the Bucs (despite apparently having two of the worst pass-blocking guards in football and the worst center) were still in the bottom ten in the NFL for sacks allowed (just 30 in 16 games). Or the fact Davin Joseph is still a very good guard. I doubt the Bucs have forgotten that, and I don’t see them letting Joseph get away this off-season. Joseph played along side an ever-changing group of players, he had two different guys playing on either side of him at any given time due to injuries and inconsistency. A huge part of good offensive line play is continuity and familiarity, that didn’t exist on the Bucs line last year. Regardless of metrics though, I doubt Joseph is anywhere but Tampa next season.
Barrett Ruud, MLB
Likelihood of Return: 75%, This isn’t a statement on whether I want Ruud to return or not, it’s simply a realization that at this point in time replacing Barrett Ruud is approaching an infeasible level. There’s just not enough time for a player to get acquainted with the system and his teammates and play at a cerebral enough level to match Barrett Ruud’s contribution. The Bucs need to do what will make them the best, and right now part of that is going to be extending Ruud. Mason Foster may one day be Ruud’s replacement, and had the lockout already ended that may have been as soon as this year, but right now asking a rookie to basically learn to captain a defense in the NFL in his first season with no OTA’s, minicamps or even access to the team facilities is just crazy. Excuse my french its’s %$^&ing crazy. Unfortunately for the contingent of Bucs fans who wanted to see Ruud move on, I think he’ll be in Tampa at least another season.