C Jeff Faine helped the Saints put together the best pass-protection in the league in 2007
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced on Friday the signing of unrestricted free agent center Jeff Faine, adding an experienced anchor to a very young but talented offensive line corps.
The signing occurred on the first day of the 2008 free agency period and became official after Faine flew to Tampa, passed a physical and officially put ink to his new contract. As is team policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed.
"I'm really excited to be part of the Buccaneers franchise and have the opportunity to work with Coach [Jon] Gruden and my new teammates," said Faine. "I'm especially looking forward to working in this offense and helping Tampa Bay defend the NFC South title."
Considered an athletic center equally skilled in pass protection and run blocking, Faine spent the past two seasons as a member of the New Orleans Saints after joining the club in a 2006 draft-day trade with the Cleveland Browns. The Browns had originally selected the sixth-year lineman out of Notre Dame with their first-round pick (21st overall) in the 2003 NFL draft.
The 26-year-old Faine is still in his prime, but he also boasts five seasons in the league and 66 career starts, experience that will be invaluable amid the Bucs' youthful line corps. After an early-season injury to veteran left tackle Luke Petitgout, Tampa Bay played most of last year with four starters who had one year of NFL experience or less. Faine takes over for the lone veteran in that group, John Wade, who became an unrestricted free agent on Friday.
The 6-3, 291-pound Faine has started every game in which he's played since entering the NFL, only missing a handful of outings due to injury. A sound reader of defenses and a nimble big man who can get to the outside on sweeps and pulls, he should fit in well with the Bucs' athletic front.
Faine posted perhaps his best season in 2006, when he started all 16 games for the first time in his career and helped New Orleans develop the NFL's top-rated offense. The Saints averaged a robust 391.5 yards per game in '06 and were particularly outstanding in pass protection, allowing just 23 sacks of quarterback Drew Brees in 603 drop-backs.
The Saints' rushing game fell off in 2007 after a season-ending injury to Deuce McAllister, but the team still finished fourth in the league in total yards and were once again able to give Brees ample time to throw. The Saints boasted the best pass protection in the league, in fact, allowing just 16 sacks in 668 quarterback drops. Faine was once again in the middle of that effort, starting 14 games at center.
With Cleveland, Faine earned the starting nod at center coming out of training camp in his 2003 rookie season. He anchored the middle of Cleveland's line for the next three seasons, starting 36 games over that span, before the trade to New Orleans. Separate injuries cost him seven games in '03, three in '04 and two in '05.
In Tampa, Faine steps into a position that has historically been very stable for the Buccaneers. The team had just three starting centers from 1977-1999 – Steve Wilson, Randy Grimes and Tony Mayberry – and since then has successfully filled that position with shrewd free agent signings. Jeff Christy came aboard as an unrestricted free agent in 2000 and held the starting position for three years, including the 2002 Super Bowl season. In 2003, the Bucs replaced Christy with another unrestricted free agent, Wade, who was the team's primary starter for the next five seasons. Now it's Faine's turn, and his relative youth should help him hold down the position for years.
A three-year starter in college, Faine was named an All-American first-team selection by ESPN.com and The Sporting News, was a finalist for the Rimington Award, given to the nation's top center, and was a semifinalist for the Lombardi Award, given to the best offensive lineman in the country.
Faine was born in Milwaukie, Oregon, and played his high school ball at Seminole High School in Sanford, Florida.