Photos of NFL.com's 101 best free agents expected to hit the market on March 10. (Note: this list includes players that were franchise tagged on Monday, March 2)
In the two-plus decades since the advent of unrestricted free agency in 1993, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have tried their hand at important players at every position on the depth chart, with varying levels of success. With the 2015 free agency period set to begin on Tuesday, March 10, Buccaneers.com is taking a look at the team's free agency history, position by position. Today: Offensive Linemen.
(Note: This list contains only players who were unrestricted or restricted free agents, and thus does not include players who were available because they had been released by their previous teams prior to free agency.)
1993: T Anthony Munoz
With the Charles McRae first-round pick in 1991 failing to produce the bookend right tackle the Bucs wanted to pair with Paul Gruber, the team took a chance on a much more dramatic solution, with Head Coach Sam Wyche talking a future Hall-of-Famer out of retirement. Wyche, of course, had been Munoz's head coach in Cincinnati for years and he figured the 14th-year veteran still had something left in the tank.
Would it have worked? We'll never know. Munoz suffered an injury during the preseason and retired once again, this time for good. The Bucs turned to journeyman Scott Dill, who ended up with a starting gig for the first time in his six-year NFL career.
1994: T Tim Irwin
Though Irwin didn't quite have the resume of Munoz, this was a similar signing, with the Bucs looking to squeeze another season or two out of a long-time starter in the NFL. Irwin had already played 13 years in Minnesota, almost all of it as a starter, and he had 181 starts on his resume. He at least made it to past opening day, but he started just six games for the Bucs before being released.
Dill, who had moved over to left guard to accommodate Irwin, moved back to right tackle and finished the season there, then held down that position again in 1995. In the end, the Bucs were fortunate they had a player on hand to keep the line intact when failed free agent signings put them in a pickle.
1996: T Scott Adams
Not much more than a depth signing, Adams had played four seasons in Minnesota, New Orleans and Chicago without making a start. He started the first two games of the season at right guard with incumbent Ian Beckles injured but played in just seven games total and was released at midseason.
1998: T Jason Matthews
Matthews had been a starter in Indy in 1995 and 1996, but not in '97. He signed with the Bucs in 1998 but was released at the end of the preseason. That didn't prove to be the end of the road for the former Texas A&M player, however, as he quickly signed on with Tennessee and played in the league for another seven seasons, despite starting just 12 games in that span.
2000: C Jeff Christy
Essentially, this was the first successful move on the offensive line that the Buccaneers made in free agency. The Buccaneers actually imported two long-time Vikings standouts that offseason in Christy and Hall-of-Fame bound guard Randall McDaniel, but McDaniel had been released and was therefore not an unrestricted free agent.
Both players stepped immediately into the Buccaneers' lineup and helped the team put together a top-10 rushing attack en route to a playoff berth. Christy and McDaniel both made the Pro Bowl that season, as well, though it's fair to conclude that name recognition helped, particularly in McDaniel's case. McDaniel retired after the 2001 campaign but Christy stuck around for one more year, which proved fortuitous as he earned a Super Bowl ring as the starting center for that title-winning 2002 Buccaneer squad. The Bucs released him just before free agency in 2003, capping a very good NFL career.
2002: G Kerry Jenkins
Jon Gruden found two new starters for the offensive line he inherited in 2002, but incoming left tackle Roman Oben had been released (fortuitously for Tampa Bay) by Cleveland and so did not qualify of as a UFA. The new starter at left guard, however, was signed away from another team, as the Bucs got Kerry Jenkins from the Jets.
Jenkins had started all 48 games over the previous three seasons at left guard for the Jets, and he stepped right into that position for the eventual league champs in 2002. He gained some notoriety that year for his toughness, playing through a fracture in his leg, and was part of a starting O-Line that impressively allowed just one sack in three games. Jenkins started for the Bucs in 2003, as well, though that proved to be his last year in the league.
2003: C John Wade and G Jason Whittle
Two players with W surnames but only one real "W" for the Bucs in that pair of signings.
Wade followed Christy into the Bucs' starting lineup, continuing a long tradition of stability at that position for the franchise. From 1977 through 2002, the quartet of Christy, Steve Wilson, Randy Grimes and Tony Mayberry combined to start all but nine of a possible 406 games at center for the Buccaneers. Wade proved up to the legacy, locking down the spot for five years and starting for playoff teams in 2005 and 2007. He did suffer a season-ending knee injury halfway through his second season with the team but made an impressive recovery and opened all 48 outings over the next three years.
Whittle started the season at right guard, moving Cosey Coleman to left guard and Jenkins to the bench. After five games, however, the Buccaneers returned to their 2002 guard alignment, with Coleman on the right of the center and Jenkins on the left. Whittle was traded to the Giants after the season and was able to remain in the league for five more years.
2004: Gs Matt O'Dwyer and Matt Stinchcomb
Until and unless we get around to punters, you're going to notice a trend in these free agency reviews: not a lot of love for the Class of '04. The attempts to shore up the offensive line didn't fare much better than the rest of the action that year, and that's not even including end-of-the-line tackle Derrick Deese, who was not technically an unrestricted free agent. The UFAs the Bucs signed were supposed to add depth and competition at the guard spots, and Matt Stinchcomb did take over the starting job on the left side. The Bucs struggled in many ways in 2004, including on the front line, and Stinchcomb's Buccaneer and NFL career came to an end after that campaign. O'Dwyer was a big and talented guard with 100 career starts, but he also had injury woes followed him to Tampa, where he played in just four games with no starts. That was the final NFL stop for him, too.
2006: G Toniu Fonoti and T Torrin Tucker
These were relatively interesting signings in that Tucker was actually a restricted free agent and Fonoti was a massive but still raw blocker who had been a Sports Illustrated all-pro in 2004. Well, it was worth a shot. Fonoti was released on September 2 and Tucker two days later; neither played a down for the team.
2008: C Jeff Faine
The Bucs once again found reliable help at center through free agency, this time signing away a player from a division rival. Faine had started 36 games in three years with Cleveland and another 30 in two seasons with the Saints, and he stepped right into the Bucs' job, replacing Wade. Faine would hold on to the position for most of four seasons, though he missed 12 games due to injury in 2009-10.
2012: T Jamon Meredith and G Carl Nicks
Here we come to probably the most disappointing entry on the list, simply because of the lost opportunity. Signing Nicks appeared to be a brilliant move after the Saints were forced to let him test the market by the need to use their franchise tag on QB Drew Brees. The Bucs pounced, filling an area of need with a player widely considered to be the best at his position. There were very high hopes for the Bucs' line in 2012, with Nicks sliding in across from Joseph at the two guard spots and left tackle Donald Penn not far removed from his first Pro Bowl season.
Those well-laid plans were cast asunder by a toe injury that was troublesome enough before it was doubled down with a frightening infection. For most of the next two years, Nicks and the Buccaneers worked very hard to get him back on the field, but he would end up making just nine starts for the team.
A lower-profile signing aimed mostly at depth, Meredith actually made 20 starts over that same span of time for the Buccaneers, all of them at right or left guard after the Buccaneers discovered that he was better suited to help them on the interior line then at tackle.
2014: T Anthony Collins, G Oniel Cousins and C Evan Dietrich-Smith
Collins and Cousins combined to start the first 13 games at left tackle last season before the Buccaneers experimented with Dotson on that side for the final three outings. Dietrich-Smith held down the starting center position, missing just one game due to injury. Those three were part of an offensive line that allowed 52 sacks, the third-highest total in the league. In most cases, one year is not enough time to judge last spring's additions, but the Buccaneers will obviously be looking for better work up front in 2015.