With camp well under way and most teams figuring to have at least the majority of their rosters in place, it’s safe to say the brunt of the NFL free agency period is over. Most players are now resigned to signing one year contracts and waiting for an extended free agency period next season, but the splashiest moves have mostly all been made by now.
So let’s look at the Bucs big free agency moves, I’ve excluded some of the smaller signings and limited it to only major deals, Quincy Black, Jeremy Trueblood, Adam Heyward, Davin Joseph and Mike Koenen. Rookie contracts are another category in and of themselves, so we’ll just stick to the veteran deals. Four of which were basically extensions and one of which was a new signing. Let’s take a look at how the Bucs fared.
Black is a talented, yet a times unremarkable linebacker who will be returning to the Bucs at a very healthy salary. This wasn’t a splashy deal, it wasn’t an upgrade, but it needed to get done. Black in a dependable veteran with a good knowledge of the defense and some still, as-of-yet, unrealized potential. He should start for the next year or two until Tampa looks to upgrade their outside linebackers, but in the meantime he will provide solid production and consistent play. This was a safe signing, probably a no-brainer, but nothing exceptional.
Grade: B, solid but not exceptional.
After being injured last season and having James Lee replace him, Trueblood fell out of favor with the coaching staff over penalties and consistency issues. No one argues that when the big man is playing his best he can be an absolute mauler, the problem is that Trueblood rarely seems to play at his best. Still, Trueblood was a significant signing for two reasons. For one, depth. Having a player of Trueblood’s caliber ready to step in at any moment is a huge bonus to any offensive line. But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, signing Jeremy Trueblood gave the Bucs the best shot to re-sign Davin Joseph. In the long-term, Trueblood got a two-year deal that was fair to both sides and he paved the way to signing Joseph.
Grade: C, necessary for depth.
Heyward returns to add depth to the Buccaneers linebacking corps and to continue his good work on special teams. This was actually a good move, even though superficially a lot of people may look at this as the team deciding to keep Heyward over Barrett Ruud. That’s not really the case though, the Bucs shored up special teams and depth, but don’t look for Heyward to challenge for a starting position. This is an example of an unsexy contract that is extremely beneficial to a team. Special teams is the most underrated phase of the game and having veteran depth with a knowledge of your system is always important.
Grade: B+, unsexy but solid.
Joseph was the guy Tampa simply had to have back and they got him on a monster deal worth over 50 million dollars over the course of seven years. The Bucs had to play some games and cow-tow to some of Joseph’s demands, specifically to bring back Jeremy Trueblood, but it will all be well worth it. Despite not having his best season last year, Joseph is still amongst the best players at his position in the NFL and is absolutely essential to protecting Josh Freeman, and continuing to build the running game. The Bucs knew what they had to do and they did it.
I’ve tried to be as nice about this as possible but I’m just going to call this one like I see it. This is hands down the worst contract Mark Dominik has written as the GM of the Bucs. I saw dozens of much more talented position players sign long-term deals for less money than the Bucs paid a punter who finished 2010 ranked 30th in average. I’m sorry, I don’t think Koenen is elite. Actually, forget that. Michael Koenen is NOT elite. I mentioned where he ranked in yards per punt last year, for his NFL career he is the 31st ranked ACTIVE punter in yards per punt. That’s active. Robert Malone had a better average than him last year. And while we’re talking about Koenen’s strengths, a booming kickoff is great but when the NFL changes the rules and moves the kickoffs up five yards at the beginning of this season, every kicker will tack an extra 15 feet on every kickoff.
I know Tampa had to spend money, but nearly 20 million dollars on a punter who averages less per punt than the previous guy and whose biggest kicking skill was rendered partially moot by a rule change is downright asinine in my book. If you remove the Bucs-colored glasses and look at this from the perspective of an unaffiliated NFL fan it looks downright bad. I agree with most of Mark Dominik’s moves, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t condemn the bad ones like I laud the good ones. This was a terrible signing.