Point/Counterpoint: Can we find a hidden gem still on the free agent market?

A few weeks before free agency started, you and I took a look at the list of big-name players who could possibly hit the market, trying to predict which ones would be most coveted league-wide.  Since I know you’re going to throw it in my face anyway, I’ll go ahead and remind the readers that you’re first choice was safety Dashon Goldson, who is now a Buccaneer.  We weren’t specifically trying to pick good free agent targets for Tampa Bay, but the Bucs’ instant and successful wooing of the former 49er made it clear that, yes, Goldson was quite coveted.

Both of my picks in that particular point/counterpoint exercise – Bears DT Henry Melton and Cowboys DE Anthony Spencer – got franchise-tagged before they could hit the market, which left me with a big bowl of fail soup.  On the other hand, your second choice, former Miami running back Reggie Bush quickly found a new home in Detroit.  Aargh.  Why am I still writing about this?

Like Goldson and Bush, most of the biggest names got the biggest contracts within the first few days of free agency.  (And like Melton and Spencer, some of others never even made it to the market.)  That’s the way it is every spring, of course.  Last year, the Bucs had Carl Nicks, Vincent Jackson and Eric Wright in the bag before free agency was 36 hours old.  However, it should be noted that a whopping 524 players began some sort of free agency on March 12, most of them of the unrestricted variety.  Some of them undoubtedly will be riding off into the sunset, and new careers, but many others will quietly either re-sign with their original teams or find a new opportunity that is accompanied by little fanfare.

These are the players I want to talk about today, Andrew.  Forgot about the few apparent gems still available on the market, like Dwight Freeney or Andre Smith.  Let’s see if we can find a couple lesser-known players who are still available on the free agent market that we think could help the Buccaneers in some way.  You and I won’t have any impact on who the Buccaneers’ sign, of course, but we can play a little make-believe matchmaker.  I think you won the right to go first with the aforementioned Goldson pick, so have at it.

Andrew Norton: Ah yes. I still am basking in the glory of the Goldson/Bush combo. But, I’ll be a good guy and not push that issue any further. You will likely be hearing back from me soon when the NFL schedule is released and I can gloat once again about my prophetic skills.

The iffy part of this whole argument is defining “under the radar.” For instance, it would make some sense to see the Buccaneers try to scoop up an offensive tackle just to add some depth, but that is a fairly solid position where the free agents with starting potential are pretty well known. The best remaining at that position (Andre Smith, Tyson Clabo and Eric Winston) don’t really scream sleeper.

So I will shift my attention to defense. The defensive ends are strong, and the Buccaneers have already added George Selvie to provide depth there. Someone who could get after the quarterback would be good to see, but I’ll skip that one. I think it is safe to say that safety is pretty set. And cornerback, one way or another, will be figured out in the coming weeks.

That leaves me making my first pick at either linebacker or defensive tackle. And with Roy Miller now rocking Jacksonville teal, I’m going to throw out the name Sedrick Ellis.

Ellis has been a member of the New Orleans Saints for the last five seasons since being drafted at Number Seven overall in 2008. In that time though, he has never lived up to his early first round billing. His best season came in 2010, when he recorded six sacks, two forced fumbles and 44 tackles. His sack number was good for fourth among all NFL interior linemen that year.

The Buccaneers will need someone to line up in the middle next to Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy and maintain the quality of play that was displayed by Roy Miller. As we all know, the Buccaneers allowed the fewest yards per game and yards per carry in the NFL last season. They are going to need a solid force in the middle to hold up to that high standard. A little pressure up the middle on passing downs to compliment the outside rush from Adrian Clayborn, Da’Quan Bowers and Daniel Te’o-Nesheim definitely wouldn’t be a bad thing either.

Of course, the likely reason teams are shy to add him is because that was his only standout year, and he has just 0.5 sacks since 2010. He hasn’t proven that he is the force many thought he would be when he entered the league. But, with the first round draft pick status, flashes of potential and young age; I think he is certainly a candidate to turn his career around with a change of scenery.

Scott Smith: Let’s get a few things straight, Andrew.  No one has ever “rocked” teal.  That color is unrockable.  And none of my point/counterpoint ideas are “iffy,” son, so I’ll ask you to avoid that sort of talk.

Now, as for Ellis, I’ll grant you the concept but I’m not in love with the particular choice.  I don’t see a change of scenery being enough to bring out the supposed potential in Ellis.  I’d rather see the Bucs pick up Sione Pouha, who was let go this spring by the Jets in what has been described as a salary cap decision.  Since he’s 34 years old, I don’t think he would come pretty cheap, but I also think he’s got a little something left in the tank.  He has started most of the Jets’ games the last four years and he’s a big body who can stop the run.  The Bucs have signed DT Derek Landri already, but I think it makes sense to get a few more candidates for nose tackle in the mix, and I would lean towards Pouha, if the price is right.

That’s not my pick, though.  That’s just me heeding my almost pathological need to disagree with you and your skinny ties and your hipster ways.  While you’re at it, get off my lawn!

No, my pick is another free agent formerly from the Eagles, the team from which we also got Landri: linebacker Akeem Jordan.  That’s definitely not a big name, and he’s certainly no guarantee to be a starter wherever he lands, but he could definitely make for an intriguing under-the-radar signing.

Jordan isn’t a really big linebacker, but that’s never been a sticking point for the Buccaneers.  You can’t really compare the type of defender the Bucs used to look for in the Monte Kiffin era (such as Derrick Brooks) to now, since it’s a different system under Greg Schiano and Bill Sheridan, but they didn’t shy away from Lavonte David, who was considered “undersized” by some.  Jordan is fast and active and could potentially be a good cover linebacker in the right system.

The Bucs are going to be looking to determine a starter at strongside linebacker with Quincy Black no longer in the picture.  It could be Adam Hayward, who took over last year, or it could be Jonathan Casillas, signed away from New Orleans last month.  Good candidates to be sure, but competition always helps, and Jordan could provide that.

And, even if Jordan doesn’t win the starting job, he is a proven special teams producer with the right type of size-speed combination to excel in that role.  Sign him, give him a chance to win the job and if he doesn’t you’ve still got a player who gives you valuable depth and important aid in the kicking game.

Since you’re probably now filled with self-doubt about your initial pick, want to take another crack at it?

Andrew Norton: I am to assume from your curmudgeon-y attitude today that the Murder, She Wrote episode you watched before bed was one you’d see a dozen times before. Either that or there was nothing you were interested in buying from HSN when you got up at 3:30 this morning before your neighborhood power walk.

Anyways, I’m going to go ahead and get along with my analysis and present another pick for a free agent gem. So unwrap yourself another hard candy and get ready.

As you added an alternative to my pick (maybe just me, but I don’t know how under-the-radar Pouha is), I have to say that I have the same feeling about yours. I agree with your assessment that an additional linebacker would go a long way in solidifying the defense. I just don’t necessarily agree with your candidate. While he has been a contributor in special teams, he has been given opportunities to start (34 times in his career), but averages 33.5 tackles per season. With that, he has just a single sack. These numbers are nothing to sneeze at, but I’ll throw my selection in as someone who has been in the shadows for his career and is waiting for the starting opportunity.

Let me tell you a little story. On a (presumably chilly) late afternoon on December 4, 2011, San Francisco 49er All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis left the game in the first quarter with a hamstring injury. He consequently missed the next three games. In those games it was his backup, and my FA gem candidate, Larry Grant, who stepped in to fill the gaping hole left by his departure.

Grant’s stats in those four games look like this:

vs. STL – 6 tackles, 1 sack, 1 safety

@ ARI – 11 tackles, 1 pass defended

vs. PIT – 5 tackles, 1 safety, 4 passes defended

@ SEA – 12 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble

I will note that Larry Grant is a middle linebacker, a position that is already solid with starter Mason Foster, but Grant would immediately add a solid and proven backup. He could also potentially start at the position, shifting Foster over to the strong side and filling that void.

Grant’s role last season was near exclusively on special teams, so even if he does earn a backup job as a Buccaneer, he can still immediately contribute.

So yeah, to match my hipster ways, I can now say that I was totally into Larry Grant before it was cool.

Scott Smith: Much as was the case with you and the fifth grade, you did much better the second time around.  Congratulations.  I very much like the Larry Grant selection and it indeed qualifies as under the radar in my book.  You are aware of those things, right?  Books?  I know they’re not real popular with your generation, other than Facebook.

So now I’ve got to pick a second one?  Well…uh…I’ll go with…um…

Seriously, nothing is jumping off the page at me.  The team has already added depth and/or new starting options at safety, tight end, linebacker, running back, defensive tackle, defensive end and wide receiver, and we’ve spent a lot of time on the D-Line and the linebacker positions above.  I agree that the safety position is pretty well-covered now, and I don’t really want to touch that cornerback situation.  The interesting O-linemen left are pretty well-known, as you pointed out, and Dan Orlovsky just re-signed as the backup quarterback.  I’m sure there are still a handful of guys on the market who could help out, but I don’t think I could pinpoint who they are at the moment.

So with my last pick, my own Mr. Irrelevant, I’m going to go with a guy simply because I enjoy saying his name.  Somebody who will at least jump out at me when I look at our roster for the next six months, from a phonetic standpoint.  I contemplated the likes of Sage Rosenfels, La’Rod Stephens-Howling, Lousaka Polite, Legedu Naanee, Visanthe Shiancoe and Leger Douzable.  I very much enjoy saying Guy Whimper, who doesn’t sound at all like the 315-pound football player that he is and who hopefully doesn’t read this blog.  Atari Bigby is an intriguing candidate, and the Bucs could lead the league in Zs if they signed Frank Zombo to team up with Jeremy Zuttah.

I gave serious thought to each of those guys, but unfortunately for them all, there was one clear winner.  Welcome to the Buccaneers, defensive end Frostee Rucker.  Everyone, Frostee Rucker!

Seriously, Andrew, show me an NFL name right now that is more enjoyable to say than Frostee Rucker.  You can’t do it.

What?!  Rucker already signed with the Cardinals?!  Drat.  Someone get Atari Bigby’s agent on the phone!

2 comments on “Point/Counterpoint: Can we find a hidden gem still on the free agent market?

  1. tyler on said:

    Tampa bay needs a stronger 2nd line of defense, they can stop the run all day. they even let the fewest rush yards go by in the NFL last year, but they let the most passing yards go by. Tampa needs another strong safety like Dashon Goldson.

  2. Will never forget Coach Jim Harbaugh saying that backup inside linebacker Larry Grant has a “high level of contact courage.” We need more men of that pedigree. Dashon Goldson call Dom, and put in a good word for your guy. Go Bucs! 1976-to-Infinity

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