Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC South Notes: Underwood, McCown, Cooks

After losing several key contributors from their 2013 receiving corps, the Panthers made Kelvin Benjamin their first-round pick and signed veterans Jason Avant and Jerricho Cotchery. But, as ESPN.com’s David Newton writes (within a preview of the NFC South), there’s one promising Carolina pass-catcher who isn’t garnering much attention: 27-year-old Tiquan Underwood. A seventh-round pick of the Jaguars, Underwood spent last year with the Buccaneers, catching 24 passes for 440 yards and four touchdowns, but ranked as just the 87th-best receiver in the league according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Newton believes that Underwood will act as the Panthers’ deep threat, a role that Ted Ginn Jr. played last season.

  • The Buccaneers signed veteran quarterback Josh McCown this offseason, and at least one Tampa Bay player is pleased with McCown’s play so far. “…Don’t take anything from Glennon; he’s just only in his second year,” linebacker Jonathan Casillas told WEPN-FM in New York (link via Chris Wesseling of NFL.com). “But McCown looks like he’s played a couple of years in this game. It’s a strong comparison, but he reminds me of Drew (Brees), not just the way he throws the ball, but his approach to the game. The first one in, last one out. You know, he’s always around. He’s very (communicative), very personable. And you can tell he’s a born leader.”
  • Presuming that Carl Nicks fails to get healthy, the Buccaneers will be looking for two starting offensive guards, writes Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times in a piece examining Tampa Bay’s position battles. Jamon Meredith and rookie Kadeem Edwards have the early edge, but experienced veteran Oniel Cousins is also an option.
  • Eric Dellaratta of PewterReport.com examines the running back rotation in Tampa Bay, noting that he believes the Buccaneers will end up keeping Doug Martin, rookie Charles Sims, Bobby Rainey, and Jeff Demps (who offers value in the return game).
  • Earlier today, we passed along Doug Farrar of Sports Illustrated’s positive assessment of Brandin Cooks; Knox Bardeen of Bleacher Report concurs, noting that the Saints rookie will help New Orleans overcome the loss of Darren Sproles.
  • Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com thinks the Falcons need to rely on Matt Ryan and the passing game in order to rebound from last year’s abysmal season. However, the Falcons ranked a decent 11th in terms of passing DVOA (per Football Outsiders), but ranked 21st in rushing DVOA, so perhaps an improvement in the running game would be the better way to ameliorate Atlanta’s woes.

NFL Teams With Open Roster Spots

For many teams around the NFL, the 90 players on the roster when last week’s minicamps ended are the same 90 players the club hopes to carry into training camp next month. We should expect to see some minor roster shuffling over the next few weeks, but for the most part, teams have a pretty good idea of which players will be participating in camp and battling for spots on the regular-season roster a few weeks from now.

Still, not all 32 teams around the league have full 90-man rosters at this point. In a couple instances, recent unanticipated retirements have created roster openings, whereas other clubs may simply be keeping their options open and weighing multiple possibilities as training camp nears. In any case, by our count, there are seven NFL teams that currently have open slots on their 90-man rosters. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Atlanta Falcons (2): Since maxing out the 90-man roster with draft picks and rookie free agents, the Falcons have made three cuts and moved Sean Weatherspoon to injured reserve following his season-ending Achilles injury. During that same span, they’ve only signed two players, so there should be two open spots on the roster at the moment.
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2): The Bucs signed a pair of tryout players to contracts last week, adding David Gettis and Ronald Talley, but also cut four players. Over the weekend, Scott Smith of Buccaneers.com explored how the team might fill the two openings on its roster.
  • Cincinnati Bengals (1): Running back Jeff Scott was waived by the Bengals last week, and the club has yet to sign a replacement.
  • Cleveland Browns (1): Like the Bengals, the Browns made a cut a week ago (Earl Bennett) and haven’t yet filled his spot on the roster.
  • Denver Broncos (1): Denver hasn’t made a roster addition since waiving Ramon Harewood last month, so the team should have one spot available.
  • Green Bay Packers (1): A neck injury forced Johnathan Franklin into early retirement and forced the Packers to waive him with an injured player designation, creating an empty spot on the 90-man roster.
  • San Francisco 49ers (1): Eric Wright‘s retirement announcement created an opening on the Niners’ roster last Tuesday.

NFC South Notes: Bucs, Falcons, Panthers

The Buccaneers revamped both their front office and their coaching staff this offseason, but that doesn’t mean the situation in Tampa Bay is entirely negative. The team is actually in decent shape with regards to the salary cap, thanks in no small part to several players whose performance far exceeds their compensation. With that in mind, Pat Yasinkas of ESPN.com examines the top five bargains on the Bucs roster, with linebacker Lavonte David taking the top spot. David, a 2013 All-Pro, graded out as Pro Football Focus’ second-best 4-3 outside linebacker (subscription required), but his base salary is just $705K. Likewise, running back Doug Martin, who has shown flashes of brilliance when not impaired by injuries, will make only $1MM in 2014 and count just $1.8MM against the cap. Of course, both of these players are on their rookie contracts, and hefty extensions for both would certainly repeal each’s “bargain” label.

More from the NFC South:

  • Change is definitely afoot in Tampa, as Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune notes (on Twitter) that the Buccaneers could have 11 new starters in 2014, including eight on offense alone.
  • Kaufman also tweets that the primary goal for the Buccaneers should be to avoid last place in the NFC South; Tampa Bay has finished in the basement six times in the past 12 years, while the other teams in the division have only done so twice each.
  • The Falcons bolstered their offensive line this offseason, adding Jon Asamoah in free agency and Jake Matthews in the draft, and quarterback Matt Ryan is hopeful that the changes will be a step towards Atlanta improving upon its 2013 4-12 record (per Daniel Cox of AtlantaFalcons.com). “I think our offensive line has done a really nice job during the OTA period as well as during minicamp,” said Ryan, who was sacked 44 times last year (third-most in the NFL). “From a communication standpoint, we’ve got a few changes from what we’ve done around here in the past and those guys are working through those changes. I think one of the big things that [head coach] Mike [Smith] preaches is communication at the line of scrimmage. You can hear those guys talking a bunch and making sure they’re on the same page.
  • Smith, who was notably unhappy with the presence of HBO’s Hard Knocks series in Baltimore when he was a position coach with the Ravens, has embraced the cameras this time around because he believes the show will handle sensitive Falcons issues, such as cuts, with tact, writes D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
  • In his latest mailbag, ESPN.com’s David Newton writes that rookie Kelvin Benjamin is the Panthers’ nominal No. 1 receiver, adding that his size (6’5″, 240 pounds) will make him an ideal red zone target.

NFL Cheerleaders May Attempt To Unionize

Amid allegations of wage violations and poor working conditions, the NFL’s cheerleading teams may be seeking to unionize. A former Buffalo Jill (the Bills cheerleading squad) spoke about the matter to Andrea Kremer for a future episode of HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel (via Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com):

We’re looking into possibly developing some type of union for girls going forward,” the cheerleader, Maria, said. “So we’re not doing this to benefit ourselves. We’re, you know, done with cheering. This is for the future of the team, the future of these girls.”

Florio writes that the effectiveness of a union is debatable, but the threat could be enough to change how team’s treat their cheerleaders. Since February, at least five teams have seen lawsuits come their way:

  • A former Bengals cheerleader sued the team in February. The lawsuit claimed that the cheerleader received an average of $2.85 an hour (via USA Today Sport’s Sheila McLaughlin).
  • Five former Jills filed a lawsuit against the Bills in April. The suit alleges that the cheerleaders were payed below minimum wage for their “extensive work on game day and at various community events” (via USA Today Sports).
  • A former Buccaneers cheerleader filed a lawsuit against the team in May, claiming she received less than $2.00 an hour (via SI.com’s Josh Sanchez).
  • A former Jets cheerleader sued the team in May, saying she made about $1.50 an hour following out-of-pocket expenses (via Dareh Gregorian of the New York Daily News).
  • Two former Raiders cheerleaders sued the team earlier this month. They claimed that they were “subjected to poor working conditions” in addition to being paid below minimum wage (via ESPN.com). This came a few months after the U.S. Labor Department announced that a previous wage investigation was closed. The findings said that the Raiders were “a ‘seasonal’ operation exempt from federal minimum-wage laws” (via SFGate.com’s Bob Egelko).

As Florio points out, teams have continually capitalized on the competitive nature of the job. For the opportunity to be a cheerleader, the team’s presume the performers would accept less than adequate pay.

“[D]oes it make it right?” a former Raiderette, Lacy, said to Kremer. “Tons of people would love to be a reporter. Does that mean you don’t deserve to be paid for your talent, for your time, for your hard work?”

The NFL has not spoken publicly on the matter.

South Notes: Jags, Babin, Bucs, Falcons

The Jaguars are being smart by taking a slow, deliberate approach with Blake Bortles, writes Jim Corbett of USA Today. The rookie quarterback has stumbled at times in practice, but GM Dave Caldwell is focusing on the positives and not stressing the mistakes. Here’s more on the Jags and a few other teams in the NFL’s two South divisions:

  • The Jaguars‘ decision to release veteran defensive end Jason Babin today wasn’t an easy one, according to Caldwell, who spoke to Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union about the move. “It was something that we met about until last night with the coaching staff,” Caldwell said. “Jason’s been great for us. But it was something we felt would be better now than the first, second or third week of training camp.”
  • Now that Babin is a free agent, the Buccaneers and Falcons could be two potential suitors to watch, tweets Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports. According to Garafolo, both NFC South teams have been kicking the tires on veteran pass rushers who may be available via trade.
  • Even after the Texans parted ways with T.J. Yates, sending him to Atlanta, Case Keenum isn’t taking his spot on Houston’s roster for granted, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. Keenum is expected to battle rookie signal-caller Tom Savage for the No. 2 job behind Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Zach Links contributed to this post.

Minor Moves: Bengals, Raiders, Bears, Bucs

Tonight’s minor moves..

  • The Bengals announced (via Twitter) that they have released Mississippi halfback Jeff Scott.
  • The Raiders claimed tackle Emmett Cleary off waivers from the Buccaneers, tweets Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle.
  • Safety Sean Cattouse (Bears), Steven Jenkins (Buccaneers), Lamont Bryant (Titans), Aaron Mellette (Ravens), and Adrian Hamilton (Ravens) all went unclaimed, according to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun (Twitter links).
  • The Texans signed former North Carolina defensive tackle Tim Jackson, Wilson tweets.
  • Texans cut tight end Chris Coyle and waived-injured defensive lineman Sullivan Grosz, Wilson tweets. Both Coyle, an Arizona State product, and Grosz, out of Cal Poly, were signed as undrafted free agents back in May.
  • The Raiders cut David Gilreath, according to Wilson (on Twitter). The former Wisconsin wideout hooked on with Oakland earlier this month.
  • The Cowboys removed former Illinois State tight end Evan Wilson from injured reserve with an injury settlement, Wilson tweets. The UDFA signed with Dallas in May and received a $2.5K signing bonus.

Extra Points: Vikings, Ravens, Rams, Polamalu

Vikings defensive end is very open to helping guide rookie Scott Crichton, writes Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press. “He’s got a good burst and he’s obviously got great size,” Robison said. “Obviously, we’re going to help him in every way we can and try to make him the best ballplayer we can. … I definitely want to help him in every way possible.” More from around the league..

  • The Ravens worked out former Arizona State wide receiver Mike Willie today, tweets Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun. Willie has previously played for the Chargers.
  • With their signings this year, the Rams and Buccaneers have created a new model for contracts for draft picks, writes Jason Fitzgerald of Over The Cap. Both teams negotiated contracts with notable picks that have no offsets which will protect them in the event of an outright release.
  • The Steelers have made some major changes on defense and Troy Polamalu has taken notice, writes Scott Brown of ESPN.com. Polamalu will have to get accustomed to the switch from Ryan Clark to Mike Mitchell, but that’s not the only difference for Pittsburgh in 2014.
  • Decision day is looming for the Bears‘ group of quarterbacks, writes John Mullin of CSNChicago.com. Jimmy ClausenJerrod Johnson, and Jordan Palmer are jostling to back up Jay Cutler, and one of the three could be gone as early as this week. Sixth round pick David Fales is likely safe.

Minor Moves: Patriots, Ravens, Bucs

Tonight’s minor moves..

  • The Buccaneers signed former Panthers receiver David Gettis, according to Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times. The 26-year-old turned heads as a tryout player at the team’s minicamp last week. As a rookie with Carolina in 2010, Gettis hauled in 37 passes and 508 yards with three touchdowns.
  • The Ravens have released former seventh-round wide receiver Aaron Mellette and outside linebacker Adrian Hamilton, according to Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com. Both young players spent last year on injured reserve and were attempting comebacks this season but were waived after failing physicals. Mink says the Ravens could re-sign one or both of the players. If Mellette hadn’t failed a physical and was just a routine cut, he could have been a popular waiver claim, tweets Adam Caplan of ESPN.com.
  • The Patriots announced on their website today that they have signed rookie free agent defensive lineman Seali’i Epenesa. Epenesa, 22, played in 41 games and finished with 46 total tackles and one sack during his four year college career. The 6’1″, 310-pounder played in 12 games with seven starts as a senior in 2013 and was credited with 16 tackles and one sack.
  • The Buccaneers cut tackle Emmett Cleary and linebacker Steven Jenkins, according to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun (via Twitter). Cleary, an undrafted free agent out of Boston College, and was signed in October 2013 but did not appear in any games. Jenkins was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M this year.
  • The Bears cut safety Sean Cattouse, Wilson tweets. Cattouse spent most of 2013 on Chicago’s practice squad.

NFC Notes: Brent, 49ers, Foles, Bucs, Redskins

Josh Brent, who has been out of the NFL following his drunken-driving crash that resulted in the death of teammate Jerry Brown, was released from jail today, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. We learned several weeks ago that the Cowboys have not ruled out re-signing Brent, who announced his retirement last summer. Dallas would need to answer several questions about Brent, ranging from the public perception of adding him to the roster, to his fit within the team’s new defensive scheme, before bringing him aboard.

More from the NFC:

  • In his latest mailbag, Bill Williamson of ESPN.com posits that 49ers rookie Carlos Hyde will likely receive more work behind starting running back Frank Gore than will second-year player Marcus Lattimore, who is recovering from a major knee injury.
  • While OTAs may not be the most game-like environment in which to practice, Eagles quarterback Nick Foles is using the sessions to work on small improvements to his game, writes Martin Frank of USA Today. “My goals are to continue to move better. When I say that, I mean in the pocket, be more efficient, stay tight,” said Foles. “I like throwing the ball down field, so continuing to grow with my teammates on that, but being smart, find the check-downs early, not staying on a read too long.”
  • In an extensive piece, Sports Illustrated’s Doug Farrar explains that Buccaneers hope to get rookie receiver Mike Evans in single coverage while the defense focuses on Vincent Jackson, and compares the duo’s potential usage to that of the Bears’ Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall.
  • Despite his lackluster 2013 season, safety Bacarri Rambo is still in the Redskins’ plans, writes Tarik El-Bashir of CSNWashington.com. “He’s got great ball skills,” said Washington head coach Jay Gruden. “He’s not afraid to tackle. He’s got to do a better job tackling. Obviously, we missed too many tackles as a group last year, not just him but everybody, so we think he’s progressing nicely.”

Buccaneers Sign Ronald Talley

The Buccaneers auditioned six players at their minicamp earlier this week, and at least one of those players has earned a contract with the club. According to Scott Smith of Buccaneers.com, the Bucs have signed free agent defensive end Ronald Talley. In related roster moves, the team also cut wide receiver Aaron Burks and defensive tackle Everett Dawkins.

Talley, 28, spent his first three NFL seasons with the Cardinals as a reserve defensive lineman. In those three years, the Detroit native was never more than a very occasional contributor, logging between 44 and 75 snaps on defense in each of his seasons with the club. Arizona elected not to submit an RFA tender to Talley in March, so the 28-year-old became an unrestricted free agent, paying a visit to the Titans in April before reaching an agreement with Tampa Bay.

As for the players who were cut, Dawkins finished last season with the Bucs, while Burks received a $5K signing bonus as an undrafted free agent last month. The moves leave Tampa Bay with one open roster spot on its 90-man roster, so the club could still add one more player from the group that auditioned this week, or bring in someone else.