First-year LB Jermaine Taylor made it to the Packers' final cut last summer
Bridgewater College, located in the Virginia town of the same name, has a rich academic and athletic history. The school has never, however, sent a football player to the NFL.
Jermaine Taylor will try to become the first.
On Friday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Taylor, a first-year linebacker who first entered the league as an undrafted free agent with the Green Bay Packers last year. The 5-10, 215-pound Taylor fits the mold of many Buccaneer linebackers – fast and, by some team's standards, undersized – and is a potential impact player on special teams.
Born in Jamaica and raised in Miramar, Florida, outside of Miami, Taylor comes from an athletic family, though he is the first to take up football. His father and uncle are former professional cricket players in Jamaica and England, respectively, and another of his uncles is currently a professional soccer player in Jamaica.
Taylor signed with the Packers after last April's draft and made it to the team's final cut in September. After being released on September 6, he did not join another team until the Bucs called this week. Though he signed on the third day of the NFL's veteran free agency period, that was coincidental; Taylor was already a free agent before the new league season began on Wednesday.
At Bridgewater, an NCAA Division III school, Taylor started all four seasons and helped the Eagles compile a 45-6 record in that span. He was an American Football Coaches Association All-America pick during his last two seasons and was the Old Dominion Atlantic Conference Player of the Year both seasons (sharing the honor in 2003). As a senior, he racked up a school-record 148 tackles in 14 games to go with five sacks, 20 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and one interception. Taylor was also a standout on the Eagles' track team, winning conference championships in the 100-meter dash in each of his last three years.
The Buccaneers hit the open market with a long list of unrestricted free agents on their own roster, 16 in all. However, they have only one restricted free agent to deal with in 2005: fourth-year linebacker Ryan Nece.
Players who have accrued three but not four NFL seasons become restricted free agents if their contracts expire. A player in this group is free to negotiate with other teams, but his original team may match any offer and retain him. In addition, if a team signs another team's restricted free agent, it must send the original team a draft pick commensurate with the tender offer the player received from his original team.
The Bucs had three players who could have fallen into this group, but they chose not to extend tender offers to cornerback Corey Ivy and wide receiver Frank Murphy. Ivy and Murphy become, in essence, unrestricted free agents, and may re-sign with the Bucs or sign with another team at any time.
Nece received a tender offer, however. He may accept that offer – in effect, a one-year contract – and return to the Buccaneers. This is the path that a majority of restricted free agents in the NFL choose. Nece and the Buccaneers may also work out a longer-term contract if they so choose.
Last year, the Buccaneers had four potential restricted free agents, though defensive end Ellis Wyms removed himself from that list in February by signing a multi-year contract before free agency began. Fullback Jameel Cook, defensive tackle Chartric Darby and safety John Howell, the other three RFAs, all re-signed with the team and are now unrestricted free agents this year.
Won't Pass on a QB
The Buccaneers have three quarterbacks on the roster after re-signing Brian Griese on Sunday, but they want one more. Griese is joined by promising young passer Chris Simms and former first-round pick Akili Smith, who will play in the NFL Europe League this spring. The team wants to take at least four passers into training camp in July.
That fourth quarterback could be a veteran on the free agent market, or it could be a much younger player.
"Yes, we're looking for a veteran quarterback," said General Manager Bruce Allen. "Last year, we went to camp with four quarterbacks; three you could say were veteran quarterbacks, and a young Chris Simms. We'll probably do that again, and we're seriously looking at the draft for a quarterback."
Allen immediately added that quarterback was not the likely target with the fifth overall pick in the draft. However, the Bucs have high picks in every round of the draft this spring, as well as extra selections in the third, fourth and sixth rounds. While there is less consensus about the top QB talent than in most years, there is still an intriguing crop of passing prospects to consider.
"We're looking at this group of quarterbacks and it looks like we're going to have a nice pick in each round," said Allen.