Four of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' eight 2018 draft picks didn't even spend a single day in the NFL without a signed contract.
The Buccaneers announced on Thursday that they had signed second-round cornerback M.J. Stewart, fourth-round safety Jordan Whitehead, fifth-round wide receiver Justin Watson and sixth-round linebacker Jack Cichy to their first NFL deals. As is the case with all players picked after the first round, those four got four-year pacts.
The Bucs' newest players arrived at One Buccaneer Place on Thursday in advance of the weekend's rookie mini-camp; it was essentially their first day of work as NFL players. The team wasted no time in inking half of its draft class; the others likely won't be far behind in getting their deals done. Rookies can still participate in offseason work prior to completing a contract by signing a waiver instead.
Still unsigned are first-round defensive tackle Vita Vea, second-round running back Ronald Jones, second-round cornerback Carlton Davis and third-round guard Alex Cappa. The true deadline for getting rookie deals done is training camp, as they can't report to camp until they are signed. The Buccaneers haven't had a training camp holdout of any substance in more than two decades.
Stewart and Whitehead will have an opportunity to compete for major roles in a revamped secondary that got significant attention in the draft. Stewart is regarded as a cornerback who can play either in the slot or on the outside, while Whitehead adds thump to the safety position. The Buccaneers are seeking to improve a pass defense that ranked last in the NFL in yards allowed in 2017.
Watson dominated in the Ivy League at Penn, racking up nearly 4,000 receiving yards, and he has the combination of size (6-3, 215) and speed (4.42-second 40-yard dash) that suggests he could be a force in the NFL. The Buccaneers have a deep receiving corps with fairly well-defined roles, but Watson will have a shot to carve out his own niche while offering a long-term answer at the position.
Cichy missed his final season at Wisconsin due to a knee injury but is expected to be ready to participate fully in the Buccaneers' offseason program. Prior to his injury, he was an active outside linebacker with pass-rushing ability, as evidenced by his three sacks in the 2015 Holiday Bowl. Cichy joins a star-studded Buccaneers linebacking corps that includes Pro Bowlers Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander, as well as 2017 rookie standout Kendell Beckwith. However, Beckwith is currently recovering from an ankle fracture suffered in a car accident, and the Bucs would like to cultivate some more depth at the position.