With NFL teams stuck in a state of limbo thanks to the lockout, we are looking at where teams stand as they await the opening of the 2011 league year. Today, we take a look at the Buccaneers.
Top three story lines
1. It's still not known if CB Aqib Talib will be with the Buccaneers when the season begins. Despite a report that said he was "all but done" with the team, we've heard from head coach Raheem Morris and others in the organization that no decision has been made on Talib, who was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in March. Talib is alleged to have fired a gun at his sister's boyfriend and he faces 2-20 years in prison if convicted. It's not his first run-in with the law, as Talib was suspended for the first game of last season for violating the league's personal-conduct policy (he allegedly assaulted a cab driver). The jury is tentatively scheduled to begin hearing evidence May 25. A team source told PFW that Talib was not contacted by anyone from the organization during the brief lifting of the lockout.
2. The pool of unrestricted free agents might not be very deep if the league operates under the same free-agency rules as it did last year, but there are going to be at least a few high-priced players available who would make sense for the Bucs to consider. The team's philosophy is to build through the draft and it has not been very aggressive in going after free agents with big price tags, but some league observers believe that the Bucs could make a splash in free agency this year. With Talib's uncertain status, CB Nnamdi Asomugha — arguably the marquee free agent of this year's crop — is being mentioned as a target for Tampa Bay.
3. After a long fall in the draft, DE Da'Quan Bowers was taken by the Bucs in the second round with the 51st overall pick. This, for a player who was once considered a top-five pick, and a potential No. 1 overall choice. Bowers' stock plummeted because of concerns about his surgically repaired knee and long-term durability. Teams had strong reservations about him, but GM Mark Dominik told PFW after the draft that the Bucs do not believe he needs any more surgery on the knee in the short term and also said the Bucs will be flexible with his practice time to limit wear and tear. The team is counting on Bowers to be the starting left end, and its defense will be much more formidable if he and fellow DE Adrian Clayborn, the team's first-round pick, energize a pass rush that was one of the league's least productive in 2010.
2011 free agency — whenever that happens
Unsigned players: PK Connor Barth (3), DE Michael Bennett (2), OLB Quincy Black (4), QB Rudy Carpenter (2), DE Tim Crowder (4), OL Demar Dotson (2), TE John Gilmore (9), OLB Adam Hayward (4), RB Kareem Huggins (1), OG Davin Joseph (5), MLB Niko Koutouvides (7), OT James Lee (3), S Corey Lynch (3), CB Elbert Mack (3), DT Frank Okam (3), MLB Barrett Ruud (6), WR Micheal Spurlock (3), WR Maurice Stovall (5), OT Jeremy Trueblood (5), DE Stylez White (4), RB Cadillac Williams (6). [Editor's note: The number after a players' name is his years of service in the league. If the NFL decides to go with free agency under the same rules used in 2010, then a player would become a restricted free agent after three years and an unrestricted free agent after six years.]
Analysis: The standouts on this list, Joseph and Ruud, appear to be facing very different futures. Re-signing Joseph is the Bucs' highest priority. Meanwhile, the team would be content to allow Ruud, who definitely will be unrestricted, to test the market. Tampa hasn't ruled out re-signing Ruud, but GM Mark Dominik said the drafting of Mason Foster might affect his decision on Ruud. It's possible Tampa Bay won't have to sign Joseph to a long-term deal this offseason, as he could be restricted. Reports indicate that Black, Crowder, Hayward, Joseph and Stovall, Trueblood and White — who have four or five years of experience — each received tenders and it's likely all of them will return to the Bucs if the league opts to play under the 2010 free-agency rules. The team is also interested in re-signing Williams, but he will get a chance to explore other options.
2011 rookie class
First-round DE Adrian Clayborn (No. 20 overall) — The Bucs expect Clayborn to be an immediate starter at right end. He was not as dominant his senior year after raising his profile with a standout junior season, but he's a powerful player off the edge and should provide an instant upgrade.
Second-round DE Da'Quan Bowers (No. 51 overall) — The concerns about his knee led him to slide in the draft, but the Bucs knew heading into the second round that they would take Bowers, who led the nation in sacks last season, if he was still available at No. 51. He'll play left end if he can stay healthy and has great explosiveness and speed.
Third-round MLB Mason Foster (No. 84 overall) — Foster is versatile enough to play any of the LB spots. The Bucs will play him in the middle, however, and he could be a Day One starter if Barrett Ruud departs in free agency.
Fourth-round TE Luke Stocker (No. 104 overall) — A solid all-around tight end, Stocker can spell Kellen Winslow if need be and will get the call in two-TE sets.
Fifth-round SS Ahmad Black (No. 151 overall) — He lacks great height and might need to add bulk to his frame, but Black is deceptively quick and has good hands.
Sixth-round RB Allen Bradford (No. 187 overall) — The Bucs added this big back to complement LeGarrette Blount. Bradford is not elusive, but he has good strength and runs with power.
Seventh-round CB Anthony Gaitor (No. 222 overall) — Gaitor is a bit undersized. He could struggle against size, but he tries to make up for that deficiency with quick feet and an aggressive style of play.
Seventh-round TE Daniel Hardy (No. 238 overall) — Hardy, a former walk-on, is a converted receiver. He's a developmental project and doesn't have experience as a full-time starter.
Lockout fallout: How impacted will the Bucs be by the work stoppage?
On a scale from 1 to 10 (with 10 being the most significantly impacted), the Bucs rate a 6. While a lot of players new to the league gained experience during the team's 10-win season in 2010, this is still a very young group and losing out on practice time, even in a minicamp or OTA setting, hurts the Bucs a bit more than some veteran-laden teams. QB Josh Freeman is a smart, respected leader and he has organized player workouts during the lockout, but we can't say that those practices are as productive or as important as time spent with the coaching staff. This club surprised league observers last season and the lockout limits its ability to build on the promised it showed.
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