It was also discussed recently that if Murphy-Bunting was unable to win the job, he would only be able to come on the field in a backup capacity, since the Buccaneers would prefer to man three safeties in their nickel package this year. In nickel packages, Tampa Bay will use Davis and Dean on the outside with safeties Antoine Winfield, Logan Ryan, and Mike Edwards manning the rest of the secondary.
Head coach Todd Bowles spelled out the situation for Murphy-Bunting after awarding the starting job to Dean, saying that “he doesn’t plan on rotating his outside corners,” meaning that Murphy-Bunting’s playing time will largely come as a sub in both base and nickel packages.
Here are a few more rumors coming out of central Florida, starting with some more news on the depth chart:
After a frustrating offseason that saw Tampa Bay offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs deal with a postseason ankle injury, and an oblique strain once his ankle had healed, the 23-year-old finally got some good news. After he practiced the last two days, Bowles told the media that Wirfs was trending towards being able to play in Week 1, according to Andrew Crane of the Tampa Bay Times. Another youngster should be joining Wirfs on the line as rookie second-round pick Luke Goedeke is in line to start at right guard for the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay doesn’t really have much of a choice with Aaron Stinnie and Ryan Jensen on injured reserve, but Goedeke will get an early opportunity to prove his draft-stock.
Tampa Bay got a little bit of breathing room in their cap space today as starting guard Shaq Masonagreed to restructure his contract, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN. The renegotiated deal will free up over $6MM against the cap this season for the Buccaneers.
As Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield starts to run away with the starting job, questions have been raised about the future of incumbent starter Sam Darnold. When a rumor surfaced that Carolina may be shopping the fifth-year passer, general manager Scott Fittererpulled Darnold aside to set him at ease, according to Joseph Person of The Athletic.
“I talked to Scott,” Darnold explained. “He said not to worry about it. To be honest, before he talked to me, I didn’t even see it. So I’m just gonna continue to do me and do what I can to put myself in a good position and put this team in a good position.”
Aiding Fitterer in convincing Darnold that he’s not likely to be dealt is Darnold’s $18.86MM salary. There could certainly be a team willing to make a call about Darnold if an injury occurs to their starter, but if the Panthers wanted to offload him, they’d likely have to eat some of his contract, as well.
There’s a good chance, though, that Darnold stays put. As Person explained, “in a league that saw only 12 teams make it through the 17-game regular season in 2021 with one quarterback,” the backup quarterback is still a crucially important position. And, while Darnold may not rank highly among the starters in today’s game, he certainly ranks as one of the better backup quarterbacks in the league. The backup job appears to be his, too, as long as the Panthers continue to slow play the development of rookie third-round pick Matt Corral.
Here are a few other rumors from around the NFC South, starting with another note out of the Tar Heel state:
As certain as it seems that rookie first-round pick Ikem Ekwonu will start the 2022 season as the Panthers’ starting left tackle, Carolina is still giving last year’s third-round pick, Brady Christensen, plenty of snaps at the position. According to Person, Christensen took the majority of the first-team reps this past Thursday at the position. Christensen has a highly sought after versatility that gives the Panthers the option of playing him as a guard or a tackle. With Ekwonu still expected to win the starting job, perhaps offensive line coach James Campen just wants to ensure his best backup option has enough experience at one of the offensive line’s most important positions.
The Buccaneers‘ interior offensive line will look completely different in 2022 after the departures of Alex Cappa and Ali Marpet, as well as an injury that may cause center Ryan Jensen to miss a significant amount of time. Trade acquisition Shaq Mason will man the right guard position, while the left guard and center positions are still up in the air, according to ESPN’s Jenna Laine. The center position is currently a battle between Robert Hainsey and Nick Leverett. Leverett is also competing for the left guard starting job with Aaron Stinnie and rookie second-round pick Luke Goedeke. A tweet from Bucs staff writer Scott Smith, though, may hint at one of the positions. Smith reports that assistant head coach & run game coordinator Harold Goodwin “hopes a decision (at left guard) will be made prior to the third preseason game” so that the new left guard can “build chemistry with Donovan Smith and (Hainsey).” Smith is projected to be the starting left tackle, so this comment from Goodwin may point to the fact that Hainsey has won the position battle at center.
The Buccaneers allowed depth players Richard Sherman and Pierre Desir to walk in free agency this offseason, but held onto their most important free agent cornerback when they re-signed Carlton Davis to a three-year, $45MM contract. Besides the departures of Sherman and Desir, and the rookie depth additions that counteract them, the room looks quite the same as it did last season. If the position group can stay healthy, how does the depth chart play out with most of last year’s contributors returning? Let’s take a look.
Davis is the only for sure starter at cornerback for Tampa Bay. He’s been a consistent starter since getting drafted in the second round in 2018, but really broke out in his second year of NFL football. After a rookie season that saw him break up only 4 passes, Davis exploded in coverage recording 19, 18, and 11 passes defensed in each year after. Davis has six interceptions in his first four seasons (four in 2020, alone), but his 52 total passes defensed says plenty about his ability to make plays on the ball. He’ll enter the season as the team’s No. 1 cornerback, with questions surrounding who will be No. 2.
Jamel Dean is likely the top prospect to start opposite Davis in base formations. He or his competition for that second spot, Sean Murphy-Bunting, would still see plenty of the field as the third cornerback, as the Buccaneers primarily utilize a nickel defense, but, when utilizing only four defensive backs, Dean is currently the favorite to be on the field. Not only are they competing for a spot atop the depth chart, but, considering both were members of Tampa Bay’s 2019 draft class, they will also be striving to earn a new payday like Davis’ in their contract years.
Dean didn’t enter the 2021 NFL season as a starter, but, after an elbow injury sent Murphy-Bunting to injured reserve, Dean took over and made the most of his opportunity. Dean has consistently missed at least two games every season with injury, but, considering the extended time Davis and Murphy-Bunting missed last season, two games doesn’t seem so bad. With 33 passes defensed, Dean has shown the ability in coverage to stay close and make plays on the ball. The biggest downside to his game is that Dean hasn’t quite been able to convert those plays into turnovers, only totaling five interceptions over three seasons. Dean possesses ideal size and speed for the position and was even graded one slot above Davis last season according to Pro Football Focus’ position rankings (subscription required).
Murphy-Bunting was drafted one round earlier than Dean and, so far, his opportunities have reflected that. Last year was the first that saw Murphy-Bunting miss time due to injury, but that doesn’t make Dean’s impressive showing in his absence any less inimical to Murphy-Bunting’s starting role. The injury last season really limited Murphy-Bunting, as PFF graded him out as the 90th cornerback in the NFL, compared to Dean and Davis’s 20th and 21st, respectively. Murphy-Bunting has shown the player he can be when healthy, though, and if that version of him shows up for competition, he may find his way back into a solidified starting role. As a rookie, Murphy-Bunting showed off his ball skills with three interceptions. While he only has one pick in the next two regular seasons, he was able to reel in an interception in three-straight playoff games in 2020. Which version of Murphy-Bunting the Buccaneers get this season will largely affect the starting roles, but, as mentioned above, Tampa Bay’s nickel defense should allow plenty of snaps for both Dean and Murphy-Bunting.
Now Tampa Bay does have another option. If either Dean or Murphy-Bunting struggle coming into the season, the Buccaneers could move Logan Ryan, whom they signed in the offseason to fill in the free safety role left vacant by Jordan Whitehead‘s departure, back to his natural position of cornerback. Ryan hasn’t played cornerback since 2019, but he serves as a more-than-qualified “break glass in case of emergency” option.
Behind the top three corners, Tampa Bay returns Ross Cockrell, Dee Delaney, and Rashard Robinson. Cockrell is a journeyman cornerback with plenty of starting experience with his past teams. He and Delaney filled in a bit as starters when Davis and Murphy-Bunting were out last year, but, over the course of the season, Cockrell proved the most effective backup cornerback. Delaney made the most of his defensive opportunities getting an interception and two passes defensed in five games of extended action on defense. Delaney is a core special teamer, though, and really only serves as a depth piece on defense. Similarly, though Robinson has starting experience from his time in San Francisco, he mainly served as a reserve cornerback last year in Tampa Bay.
Rookie fifth-round pick Zyon McCollum and undrafted rookies Kyler McMichael and Don Gardner round out the roster for Tampa Bay at cornerback. They may be able to fight their way onto the 53-man roster by proving their worth on special teams, but McCollum is probably the only rookie here who may find his way into the cornerback rotation as a depth piece.
Tampa Bay’s nickel look should field, essentially, four cornerbacks, with Davis, Dean, Murphy-Bunting, and Ryan all surrounding starting strong safety Antoine Winfield Jr. Dean and Murphy-Bunting will compete throughout the preseason to determine who stays on the field in base formations. Cockrell and Delaney will likely continue their role as key backups. Robinson may find himself competing with McCollum for a roster spot, with McMichael and Gardner attempting to beat the odds. The Buccaneers know they can achieve success with this roster of cornerbacks, based on its similarities to last season, but just how they choose to employ their corners will determine how much success they can achieve.
The change in throwing motion is a direct result of the time Mayfield had to miss last year due to a torn labrum in his left shoulder.
“When it comes to my shoulder…my throwing motion was extremely violent,” Mayfield explained. “I’ve made some small changes and worked with a great QB coach, Jeff Christensen. He’s helped me get back to a form that…I haven’t thrown the ball this well in a long time. And throwing motion looks a little different and I’m thankful for that.”
Here’s a few other rumors from the NFC South, starting with another note out of the Tar Heel state:
The Panthers’ cornerback situation was a bit chaotic last year. After drafting Jaycee Horn in the first round of last year’s draft, and subsequently losing him to a right foot injury, Carolina was forced to acquire both C.J. Henderson and Stephon Gilmore via trades. Henderson spent most of his first season with the Panthers adjusting to his second NFL defensive system in as many years in the league. This offseason, though, he’s reportedly begun to show the talent that got him drafted in the first round in 2020, according to ESPN’s David Newton. If Henderson can develop into a consistent starting talent, this would allow defensive coordinator Phil Snow and secondary coach Steve Wilks to have Horn move inside to play more nickel in passing situations, trusting Henderson and starting cornerback Donte Jackson on the outside.
Falcons’ defensive mainstay over the past few years, linebacker Deion Jones, will have a bit more than an injury recovery to battle with this offseason, according to D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Atlanta experienced an influx of inside linebacker talent this offseason, bringing in veterans Rashaan Evans and Nick Kwiatkoski in free agency and drafting rookie Troy Andersen in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Jones will be coming off shoulder surgery and head coach Arthur Smith told Ledbetter that “everybody is going to have to earn a spot” at the position.
The Buccaneers will have a lot to figure out in their secondary this offseason, according to Greg Auman of The Athletic. The team was able to return starting cornerback Carlton Davis on a three-year deal back in March but has two options battling to start opposite him. Both being in contract years, Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting will both be working to try and earn a similar new deal to Davis’. Tampa Bay will operate primarily in a nickel-look defense, meaning all three can be on the field, but when they revert to a base formation either Dean or Murphy-Bunting will have to earn that time. Not to mention, in the off case that one or both struggle at any point, veteran safety Logan Ryan is ready and waiting with his years of cornerback experience in his back pocket.
The Buccaneers have cut cornerback VernonHargreaves, per Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (via Twitter). Tampa Bay selected Hargreaves in the first round (No. 11 overall) of the 2016 draft and exercised the fifth-year option of his rookie deal back in May, which would have kept the Florida product under club control through 2020.
However, the fifth-year option would have come with a $9.9MM salary and was guaranteed for injury only, so Hargreaves will not have any impact on the Bucs’ cap in 2020. This move comes on the heels of Hargreaves being benched in the second half of Sunday’s victory over the Cardinals for not hustling, and may have been done to send a message to the rest of the locker room. As Jenna Laine of ESPN.com writes, Hargreaves planned to speak with head coach Bruce Arians to discuss the benching and expressed confidence that he and Arians could resolve any issues they might have, but the fact that his lack of hustle was not an isolated incident could have contributed to his ouster. Laine reminds us that Arians sat Hargreaves on the first day of OTAs because he was “not mentally ready to practice.”
The Bucs’ decision is particularly telling given that they have the worst pass defense in the NFL and now have just three healthy corners on the roster. As Greg Auman of The Athletic notes, Tampa will turn to rookies Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting as its starters (Twitter link). Auman tweets that, given the youth and injuries along the CB depth chart, the club is likely to add a corner from outside the organization to replace Hargreaves.
Hargreaves rarely lived up to his first-round billing during his tenure with the Bucs, struggling both outside the numbers and in the slot. However, given his youth and upside, he will surely garner interest from other clubs in need of secondary help. Now that we are past the trade deadline, Hargreaves is subject to waivers, and while he is due just $980K for the remainder of the 2019 season, a team that claims Hargreaves off waivers would also be putting itself on the hook for the 2020 option year. As such, teams may wait for Hargreaves to clear waivers and then attempt to sign him as a free agent.
“After thoughtful consideration over the past few weeks, Coach Arians and I came to the conclusion that we needed to make this change. Decisions such as this are always difficult, but we felt it was in the best interest of the team to part ways with Vernon at this time and allow him to explore other opportunities. We are disappointed that it did not work out here for Vernon, and we wish him continued success moving forward.”
Hargreaves, a collegiate standout with the Gators, ends his Bucs tenure with two interceptions — including one pick-six — 19 passes defensed, and 164 total tackles in 35 games (33 starts). Injuries limited him to just 10 games between the 2017-18 seasons.
With rookies set to report to training camp in two weeks, the Buccaneers have almost finished signing their entire draft class. Today, the organization announced that they’ve signed third-round cornerback Jamel Dean to his rookie contract.
Dean struggled through knee injuries early in his collegiate career, but the defensive back improved his draft stock over the past two seasons. In 26 games at Auburn, Dean compiled 73 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, a pair of interceptions and 17 passes defended. The cornerback’s measurables (six-foot-one, 206 pounds) already impressed scouts, but he stole the show at the NFL Scouting Combine after running the best 40-yard dash time among cornerback prospects.
The Buccaneers’ secondary struggled in 2018, meaning Dean should have an opportunity at a role heading into next season. VernonHargreaves and CarltonDavis are projected to start on the outside, while Ryan Smithor M.J. Stewart will have first dibs at the nickel spot. However, Dean will have a chance to compete with second-round rookie Sean Murphy-Bunting for backup reps.
Following today’s signing, first-round linebacker Devin White is the only Buccaneers rookie left unsigned. The Buccaneers’ entire draft haul is listed below:
Lions general manager Bob Quinn is a Bill Belichick disciple, so it’s perhaps no surprise that he’s open to trading down from No. 8 in the first round of the 2019 draft. “I always like draft picks, so if we could move back a little bit, a couple spots, and pick up another pick, I think this is a really good, the depth of this draft from the late first to the third, there’s a lot of really good players in there,” Quinn told Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link). “If I could ever move back a few spots, get a really good player in the first round and add another pick, I think that’s something that would be great. People out there listening, I’m open for business.” Detroit owns nine total picks but possesses only the 15th-most overall draft capital.
Here’s more on the upcoming draft:
Kentucky edge rusher Josh Allen is a busy man. In addition to planned visits with the 49ers, Jets, Raiders, Giants and Lions, Allen will also meet with the Bengals, Buccaneers, Jaguars, and Bills, tweets Adam Schefter of ESPN.com. Allen spent four years with the Wildcats, totaling 31.5 sacks in the process (17 of which came during his senior season). Viewed as the 2019 draft’s second-best pass rusher behind Ohio State’s Nick Bosa, Allen has been popularly mocked to New York at No. 3 and Oakland at No. 4.
The Buccaneers are looking for help along their defensive line while holding the No. 5 overall selection in this month’s draft, and they’ve met with several top-end prospects this week. Mississippi State pass rusher Montez Sweat met with Tampa on Monday, while defensive tackles Ed Oliver (Houston) and Dexter Lawrence (Clemson) are sitting down with the Bucs today, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitterlinks). Sweat and Oliver are in legitimate consideration to come off the board at No. 5, while Lawrence could be in play for Tampa Bay’s second-round pick (although he’d be a curious fit given the Buccaneers drafted fellow nose tackle Vita Vea 12th overall in 2018). Auburn cornerback prospect Jamel Dean also visited with Tampa Bay this week, per Rapoport.
Sweat also met with the Jaguars this week, adds Rapoport, as did Florida offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor, reports Schefter (Twitter link). Both players could be available for Jacksonville at No. 7 in the first round, although Taylor would probably fill more of a need area. The Jaguars released starting right tackle Jermey Parnell earlier this offseason, so Taylor could immediately step opposite blindside protector Cam Robinson.
Buffalo quarterback Tyree Jackson recently met with both the Lions and Dolphins, tweets Tom Pelissero of NFL.com. Teams are interested in Jackson primarily due to his “rare physical traits,” per Pelissero, and the three-year starter certainly offers intriguing size at 6’7″, 245 pounds. Detroit could be searching for a developmental passer to play behind Matthew Stafford, while Miami simply needs warm bodies under center.