Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2008 Offseason Position Analysis: Safeties

The Bucs tended to the position in the draft a year ago, and that coupled with a strong performance by holdover Jermaine Phillips led to improvement at the position…A look at where the team stands at safety as the 2008 offseason continues

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The performance of rookie S Tanard Jackson in 2007 was yet another indication that safety help can be found on the second day of the draft

In the weeks prior to the 2008 NFL Draft, Buccaneers.com will analyze each position on the team in regards to the draft, looking at depth, selection history and available players. As usual, this look at the draft, free agency and the Bucs' roster is not intended to reflect the intentions or strategies of the team's personnel decision-makers. Today we focus on the safety position, where the Bucs have frequently found strong contributors without spending high draft picks or outsized free agency dollars.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' outlook at safety is considerably better as the 2008 offseason begins than it was just one year ago.

Tampa Bay's defense fell out of the top 10 in the NFL rankings in 2006 for the first time in a decade. Many factors contributed to that one-year decline, such as a lack of pressure on the quarterback, but safety was undeniably seen as a trouble spot.

That situation reversed itself in 2007. The Bucs stormed all the way back to a more customary number-two ranking among NFL defenses, and safeties Jermaine Phillips and Tanard Jackson consistently drew praise from the coaching staff. Phillips had perhaps his finest season in a half-dozen years in the league – 120 tackles, career-high four interceptions – and Jackson made an immediate impact with his hard-hitting, big-play style. The Bucs clearly acknowledged the issue after the 2006 season, spending two of their first five picks on the position, and the results were encouraging. The team could be set at the position for years to come.

On the other hand, safety hasn't exactly been a position of stability for Tampa Bay in recent years. Since the team won Super Bowl XXXVII with the productive duo of John Lynch and Dexter Jackson (the Super Bowl MVP), they have had a different pair of starting safeties for five consecutive seasons.

Jackson left as a free agent after his Super Bowl star turn and the team converted cornerback Dwight Smith to play alongside Lynch in 2003. After Lynch's departure, Smith moved to strong safety and Phillips got his first chance to start, at free safety. Then Smith moved on, Jackson returned and Phillips moved to strong safety. Phillips maintained that spot in 2006 and 2007, too, but was paired with Will Allen in '06 and Jackson in '07.

Phillips and Jackson are returning in 2008, so there's a strong chance that carousel will slow for at least a year. Here's a look at the state of the position as the 2008 offseason begins.

**Safeties Currently Under Contract**
**Player****Exp.****2007 (Tackles-INTs-PDs)****Career (Tackles-INTs-PDs)**
Will Allen514-0-0152-4-7
Tanard Jackson278-2-1278-2-12
Jermaine Phillips7120-4-8449-8-28
Sabby Piscitelli20-0-00-0-0

The Bucs drafting of Piscitelli and Jackson last year means they have several key players at the position locked into fairly new contracts. However, they do have two reserves who hit the market on February 29, to some extent.

**Free Agent Safeties from the 2007 Buccaneers**
**Player****Exp.****2007 (Tackles-INTs-PDs)****Career (Tackles-INTs-PDs)**
Donte Nicholson (ERFA)20-0-00-0-1
Kalvin Pearson (RFA)419-0-075-0-2

In this table, and for future reference in this series, the notations in parentheses refer to the type of free agent the player has become. In this case, Nicholson is an exclusive rights free agent, which means that he can only negotiate with the Buccaneers as long as they extend the necessary tender offer, which they have. Pearson is a restricted free agent, which means that he is free to negotiate with other teams but the Buccaneers retain a right-of-first-refusal to match any contract offer he may receive. Some restricted free agents, depending upon the sort of tender offer extended, may also require the new team to provide draft-pick compensation to the old team, though Pearson is not in that category.

In fact, Pearson has already signed an offer with the Detroit Lions. The Buccaneers have until Thursday of this week to determine whether or not they will do so.

Pearson has been a versatile performer and a strong special teams player during his three seasons on Tampa Bay's active roster, but that description is almost a necessity for a safety in the Buccaneers' system, particularly a young one. Reserve safeties (and starters, too, for that matter) are often "cross-trained" at strong and free safety because the two positions are largely interchangeable in the Bucs' scheme. In addition, safeties commonly make up a good part of the core of the kick-coverage units. Even with two returning starters and a young playmaker (Piscitelli) waiting in the wings, the Bucs may be interested in adding to the safety corps to foster competition on special teams.

Safety Position Numbers:

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