Monday, March 19, 2012

With Nicks and Jackson in tow, Buccaneers look for bounce-back 2012

With the 2012 free agent market now about a week old, there has already been a great deal of movement on the market. One of the most active has been the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who wasted little time in aggressively pursuing two of the top 10 players on the market. This team was an absolute mess towards the end of last season, and GM Mark Dominik replaced head coach Raheem Morris with former Rutgers University football coach Greg Schiano, who will likely provide more discipline than Morris, who was a player's coach that seemed to lose the locker room towards the end of last season.

Wide receiver Vincent Jackson was signed on the opening day of free agency, inking a five year, $55 million deal with $26 million in guaranteed money. The Bucs' receiving corps struggled for much of last season, and Mike Williams in particular had a hard time dealing with the attention that comes along with a 964 yard, 11 TD rookie season. Jackson will no doubt take some of the pressure off of Williams, as he's a legitimate vertical threat whose size-speed combination (6'5, 4.4-40) will give quarterback Josh Freeman a consistent deep threat and a true #1 receiver (which some believed Williams was not).

Guard Carl Nicks entered free agency with the goal of becoming the league's highest paid guard. Tampa Bay granted his wish, signing the 6'5, 340 pound monster to a 5 year, $47.5 million deal ($31 guaranteed) that surpasses New England Patriot Logan Mankins for that honor. Nicks is the most physically dominant guard in the game, and plays with a nasty streak, who should pair nicely with new teammate (and Pro Bowler) Davin Joseph to help strengthen a run game that ranked near the bottom of the NFL last season.

Tampa Bay was also able to sign cornerback Eric Wright from Detroit with a five year deal as well ($37.5 million). While not an elite cornerback, he should be able to immediately step in and start for a team that could be without both of its starting cornerbacks from the 2011 season, as Ronde Barber may retire, and Aqib Talib's legal issues could land him in jail (and/or result in him being cut). Wright had four interceptions for the Lions last season, and is a good athlete with fluid hips in coverage, but needs to take less chances on jumping routes in 2012.

While the team still needs to address other areas over the next several months (OT, RB, S, LB, another CB), the front office has done a great job of making this team better with these signings. If they can address some of their other needs through the draft, then Tampa Bay could once again see itself as a team on the rise, and ultimately, in the playoffs.

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