What can you expect from Bucs’ free agent class?

by Gary Shelton on March 20, 2018 · 4 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

DeSean Jackson was the start of last year's free agency./CARMEN MANDATO

DeSean Jackson was the start of last year's free agency./CARMEN MANDATO

Tuesday, 4 am.

They sit in the front of the room like trophies. The price tags are still on them. No one has ever missed a block, and no one has ever missed a tackle. Right now, they are found money, lost Lotto tickets, mercenaries here to make winning a bit easier.

Right now, Vinny Curry and Ryan Jensen fare prized free agents.

Nothing could go wrong from here. Right?

Oh, the history of free agency can be painful to examine. For every Hardy Nickerson there is a Lonnie Marts. For every Vincent Jackson there is an Alvin Harper. For every Simeon Rice, there is a Michael Johnson. In the process of getting better, everyone knows, it is a risky way to do business.

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Still, there are enough rolls-of-the-dice that pay off. Every year, there are great free agent additions. You just can't count on them.

What would you have your team do? Sit it out? Go after the big names like Ndamukong Su or Tyrann Mathieu? Trade for Robert Quinn or Michael Bennett? Or take their shots with former members of the World Champions like Curry and Beau Allen?

The plan changes by the year, depending on the talent pool, the whim of the owners and the pleading of the general manager and coaching staff. There was a year, 1999, when the Bucs didn't pay attention to free agency at all. There was a year 2004, when the team signed 15 of them.

So what did the Bucs land?

According to most analysts, Curry was the highest-rated player signed by the Bucs. Granted, he had only three sacks last year, and the Bucs hunger for a meat-eater who can make an afternoon hard on a quarterback.

“When you look at that, you have to understand and ask yourself, ‘How many times was I on the field when the quarterback was drop-back passing?’" Curry said "That was one of the things where you have to check your ego at the door. There were a couple of times I was itching to get out there and I knew I only had three (sacks) but at the same time, you have to put the team before yourself. Anybody will tell you in Philadelphia that I’m a straight team player. I could have whined and complained about it but I didn’t. I just tried to do what I could do and do my part, which was to help our defense become one of the top rush defenses in the entire league.”

Curry praised former Eagle teammate Allen.

“It helped me a lot," Curry said. "Beau is the smartest football player I’ve ever played with. The way he can break a team down is (incredible). I tell him all the time, ‘Man you’re going to be a defensive coordinator one day,’ the way he can do it. That’s very exciting for us. Another familiar face is DeSean (Jackson). When I first got to Philadelphia as a rookie, he kind of took me under his wing a little bit. He was a great example for us young kids to see. Even getting ready for the Super Bowl, he was texting everybody good luck and everything because he’s a great teammate. It was good to have some familiar faces in the building.”

Curry can talk to his new team about his post-season experience. The Bucs, as a franchise, haven't won a playoff game since after the 2002 season.

“You really have to check your ego at the door," Curry said. "Playing defensive line, rushing the passer, it’s really hard to check your ego at the door because everybody wants to get at the quarterback. Everybody wants to rush the passer. We had nine or 10 guys that could do it and were household names. I think everyone understood that and everyone took on whatever they could contribute. That was one of the things in our room that we kept selling. Me personally, I know I can play on third down but at the end of the day, who am I to be upset if we’re winning and we all have one goal in mind which is to win the Lombardi Trophy.”

Jensen said he still plays with a chip on his shoulder.

“I’ve played with a chip on my shoulder my entire career," he said. "You know, (being a) Division II guy, a late-round draft pick, stuff like that, you can’t lose that chip on your shoulder. Once you get comfortable, that’s when things start to regress.”

Jensen thinks the Bucs could be good in the coming season.

“It’s a young team with a lot of talent, a lot of young talent from what I’ve seen," Jensen said.  "{We) just signed back Mike Evans, who is a playmaker. It was exciting. Looking at the offensive side of the ball, I feel like we could be a dangerous team. It was a whirlwind experience the last week now, almost. There were quite a few other teams that had come in and wanted me to sign with them and stuff like that. Ultimately I chose Tampa because I felt like it was the best fit for me and I’m excited looking at the roster and stuff like that. I’m excited where this team could go. I’m excited to lead this team.”

Jensen likes the reputation of being a nasty player.

“The story with Haloti (Ngata) the first day of training camp, I just went in and it’s one of those things where you pick the fight with the biggest and baddest guy on the team and you go with it," Jensen said. "I get that style from my college coach. I was an undersized guy going into college, 230 pounds my freshman year of college. I ended up having to start playing tackle at that weight. The only way I could survive was to play nasty and play physical and play through the whistle. That’s definitely where I kind of got that style from.”

The new Bucs hope that this class will be remembered as one that will help. They haven't all been, you know

Remember 2014? New coach Lovie Smith had spend a year out of coaching, scouting and planning his return. But the Bucs, despite. the initial excitement, imploded. Tackle Anthony Collins was gone after 10 starts. Defensive end Michael Johnson had four sacks in 13 games. Quarterback Josh McCown won one game.

Ah, but remember 2001? The Bucs signed only two players that year. But they were defensive end Simeon Rice and quarterback Brad Johnson, who played key roles in the Super Bowl victory.

A year later, the Bucs had another good year. They signed just six players, but they included receivers Joe Jurevicius and Keenan McCardell, defensive end Greg Spires and running back Michael Pittman,

Another forgettable year? How about 2009. The Bucs signed linebacker Angelo Crowell, who never played for them, quarterback Byron Leftwich, who lost all three of his starts, kicker Mike Nugent, who lasted four games, and running back Derrick Ward whose production fell in half from his days with the Giants. Ouch.

The point is that everyone likes what they signed in free agency. But it doesn't always work out.

This time? You hope, of course. You try to believe. And you hope the improvement continues.

Really, what else can you do.

Five Best Bucs Free Agents

1. Simeon Rice, defensive end  (2001)

2. Hardy Nickerson, linebacker (1993)

3. Vincent Jackson, receiver (2012)

4. Brad Johnson, quarterback (2001)

5. Greg Spires, defensive end (2002)

5 Worst Free Agents

1. Anthony Collins, tackle (2014)

2. Alvin Harper, wide receiver (1995)

3. Jerramy Stevens, tight end (2007)

4. Derrick Ward, running back (2009)

5. Darrell Russell, defensive tackle (2004)

Best Free Agent Class

1. 2001. Rice and Johnson both impacted the Super Bowl.

2. 2002. So did Jurevicius, McCardell and Pittman.

3. 1993: A class with Nickerson and Martin Mayhew led a group that had 215 starts.

4. 1994: The Bucs picked up Charlies Dimry, Jackie Harris and Lonnie Marts.

5. 2012: Vincent Jackson was the prize, but James Meredith had 20 starts. The class would rank higher if Carl Nicks had stayed healthy.

Worst free agent class

1. 1999: No one signed.

2. 2014: Lovie Smith broke the bank with bad signings.

3. 1995: Alvin Harper's fame will never go away.

4. 2009: Byron Leftwich? Derrick Ward? Who was in charge here?

5. 2004: Five free agent signings didn't make the team.









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