The offensive line will need some serious retooling if Josh Freeman wants to have a lengthy career with the Buccaneers. The same can be said about LeGarrette Blount and whoever joins him in the backfield this offseason. Last year the offensive line was an utter mess and the blame can be placed on the left side of the line which continuously collapsed. Donald Penn — as stated her numerous times before — is a high priced pillow and unfortunately Jeff Faine isn’t much better.
The fact that Jeff Faine has to be lumped in with Penn is really unfortunate because he had a chance to be a real leader on the line. Instead he didn’t get the job done and is therefore expendable as the Bucs go young again. But where Penn’s knock is he’s just not good at what he does, Faine’s knock is his age and his track record with injuries.
Faine turns 31 this year and is slated to make $5.9 million this year and the fact he’s missed at least one game in the last three years to an injury won’t sit well with the Glazer’s. Faine may have missed one game a year –something that seems minor — but he has put the Bucs into a bind more then he should have and when he does play, his talent isn’t anywhere near the level of a player that would garner the injury exceptions some think he deserves.
The issue is that it’s not a large market (pun very much intended) for offensive lineman. The draft also isn’t seven rounds deep full of lineman either which means the Bucs may have to put the same unit as last year out there again protecting Freeman in 2012.
Kraig Urbik (G/C)
The Bills really found a gem in Urbik last season when he excelled at guard and then was able to shift down the line. What makes him valuable to the Bucs is not only his age but his ability to play center. If the Bucs part ways with Faine to save nearly $6 million, they may be able to give it to a guy much younger and far more capable of being a big piece of the frontline. Urbik missed time with a sprained MCL , but he did not allow a single sack in 2011. No one who Urbik would be replacing can boast the same in fact, Jeff Faine can say the exact opposite. If he comes to Tampa he can play tag team with Jeremy Zuttah, trading off center and left guard starts, or he can play just one or the other. He would give Greg Schiano a lot of flexibility on the left side of the line. He’s a restricted free agent and his value to the Bills will likely get him a new deal but if Buffalo lets him go, Tampa needs to pounce. After Urbik there is just Oakland’s Sampson Satele and the Colts Mike Pollack who would be worthy of an age upgrade but centers are very thin this offseason.
Jared Gaither (LT)
Last season Gaither proved his worth subbing for Marcus McNeil in San Diego. If he is let go by the Chargers, which is going to be the case if he over estimates his worth, the Bucs can very much use him as full time replacement for Donald Penn. The knock on Gaither is the reason the Chargers won’t give him a huge deal — his back. Gaither has had serious back issues which will raise red flags for potential suitors. But he’s only 26 and if he can get past his back injuries Gaither is one of the top left tackles in the NFL. The problem is back issues don’t go away and more disheartening is that if he gets a big deal there is no telling if or when the back ailments will flare up and cause issues again.
Carl Nicks (LG)
Tampa has so many opportunities to weaken divisional opponents while instantly upgrading the product they ask Bucs fans to pay for. Stealing Carl Nicks away from the Saints would be perhaps the most brilliant move the Glazer’s could pull off all offseason. Nicks is the best in the game at what he does. His game is flawless in every single way imaginable and he’s helped allow Drew Brees to become a sure-fire Hall of Fame quarterback. Nicks would slide right into the left tackle spot currently occupied by Jeremy Zuttah who would then slide to center effectively replacing Faine. The Bucs would then have two premier tackles on their line who can both protect Freeman and provide lanes for LeGarrette Blount. Nicks is also a proven winner and even at the ripe age of 26, can provide a veteran and a championship presence on the line. If Nicks leaves, and believe you me the Saints will throw gobs of money at hime to stay, the Bucs need to put all other free agent targets aside and pay top dollar for Nicks. Before you loose your lid at the idea of putting the wide receivers to cornerbacks on the back burner, think about what the addition of Nicks would do. Bucs fans want another deep threat big man receiver because Freeman struggled last year. But the reason he struggled was he had to force throws due to collapsed protection. Adding Nicks give Freeman more time to make a read and also allows the running game to take pressure off the passing game effectively making both more potent.
Ben Grubbs (LT)
After the resounding case for Nicks was just made, it seems unfair to mention Ben Grubbs after it. But although Grubbs may not be on the level Nicks is, he would be an instant upgrade over Donald Penn and may even be more brilliant paired next to him. Grubbs missed half of last year with turf toe but when he was in, he was helping pave the way for an MVP caliber season for Ray Rice and the Ravens running game. To say he wouldn’t do much to help Freeman is being ignorant. Just because he’s a better run blocker then a pass protector doesn’t mean A) he can’t pass protect and B) having an effective running attack essentially is protecting Freeman from taking a pounding. Grubbs would attract a mid-level type contract in terms of his salary but he may be able to get some extra cash with blocking for Rice and the effectiveness that brought on his resume. The Bucs badly need to shed the fat on the line that is Donald Penn and Grubbs should seriously be considered as a replacement.