NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah's predictions for the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft.
Quick trivia blitz: Name the three Tampa Bay Buccaneers whose very last NFL game was a Pro Bowl?
If you somehow didn't see the answer right here and knew it was Lee Roy Selmon, Tony Mayberry and Dave Moore, kudos to you. That's one you can use to win your next bar bet…just make sure you pay attention to a possible update to the list.
A few weeks ago, Logan Mankins played in his seventh Pro Bowl, and his first as a Buccaneer. That came at the end of his 11th pro campaign, including two years in Tampa. The veteran guard, who will turn 34 on the second day of the NFL's free agency period, anchored a surprisingly effective Bucs O-Line in 2015 and was part of a record-breaking season for Tampa Bay's offense. He did not broach the subject of retirement after the season but was quizzed on that topic several times, including once during his week at the Pro Bowl. Mankins did not rule it out.
Which way Mankins chooses to go could determine how interested Tampa Bay is in the pool of interior linemen in this year's free agency period. Then again, given that the Bucs' offensive front was a strength in 2015 despite only having one lineman – rookie left tackle Donovan Smith – start all 16 games, they might be interested in the idea of depth no matter what Mankins decides.
In the weeks leading up to the start of free agency on March 9, Buccaneers.com is taking a position-by-position look at the players who may be available when the market opens, hoping to determine the ones who could be good fits for the Buccaneers. The usual caveat applies: This is not meant to reflect the opinions or strategies of Tampa Bay General Manager Jason Licht, Head Coach Dirk Koetter or any of their assistants. In fact, since the players mentioned below are still under contract until the start of the new league year, Licht and company could not comment on them specifically even if they wished to do so, lest they be guilty of tampering.
After surveying the field at defensive end and wide receiver, we now turn our attention to…
Guards/Centers: Given the versatility of such players as Evan Smith and Kevin Pamphile, the Buccaneers could probably work either a guard or a center into the mix without difficulty. Still, with Joe Hawley coming off a strong season at center and Smith also quite capable of manning that position, one would expect the team to have more interest in guards.
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For that reason, the Buccaneers are probably not first in line for center Cleveland's Alex Mack, if he chooses to opt out of the last three years of his contract before the March 4 deadline to do so. If Mack hits the market, the three-time Pro Bowler should be highly coveted, and given that the deal he'd be opting out of is already pretty lucrative, he won't come cheap. Mack would certainly go to a team with a more demonstrable need at center than the Buccaneers.
NFL.com Draft Analyst Chad Reuter shares his first round Mock Draft.
Beyond Mack, the top earner among free agent linemen is likely to be Baltimore's Kelechi Osemele. Osemele has mostly played guard for the Baltimore Ravens, but he's also demonstrated an ability to work at left tackle, and that should significantly increase his earning potential. Again, given that the Bucs are probably not gunning for the opt of the O-Line market, Osemele isn't a likely target. In addition, the Ravens may still use their franchise tag to keep this excellent blocker from leaving town.
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Even if Mack and Osemele are unlikely options, there is going to be plenty of available interior-line talent on the market. That starts with the San Francisco 49ers' Alex Boone, who has a clause in his current contract prohibiting the team from using a franchise or transition tag on him. Boone should have no shortage of suitors if he doesn't re-sign with San Fran before March 9.
The Bucs could try to corner the market on blockers named "Evan" by going after the Broncos' Evan Mathis, who is coming off a Super Bowl win. Mathis ended up in Denver after he was let go by Chip Kelly's Eagles, and while he is actually older than Mankins he may have plenty left in the tank, as he was only a regular starter for one of his first six seasons. The other side of the coin is the Houston Texans' Brandon Brooks, who is due to hit free agency for the first time. A third-round pick in 2012 who has started the last three years, Brooks was a standout pass-blocker for the Texans in 2015. As we noted while checking out the potential wideout free agents, the idea of adding a player just entering his prime is particularly attractive in free agency.
One of the more intriguing free agents at any position is guard Richie Incognito, who just wrapped up a Pro Bowl season in Buffalo. Incognito played on a one-year deal for the Bills after sitting out the 2014 season following an unhappy exit from Miami due to a much-publicized issue with a Dolphins teammate. Incognito made the most of his second chance with the Bills, excelling as both a run and pass-blocker, and should have no problem finding another opportunity in 2016. Buffalo may be particularly motivated to keep him around.
Wide receivers invited to the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine - presented by Lazydays RV.
Like Incognito and Mathis, Stefen Wisneiwski is hitting the market again after doing well on a one-year deal. In Wisniewski's case, that was in Jacksonville after four years in Oakland. Wisniewski took a while to land with the Jaguars last year but should find work more quickly in this year's market. It will be interesting to see if the same holds true for Jahri Evans, the former Saints guard who did not want to take a big pay cut from the Saints and thus got his release. The 32-year-old Evans had his six-year run of Pro Bowl invites snapped this past year but might have several strong seasons left. The Buccaneers are obviously familiar with his body of work.
And there's more. Manny Ramirez is another player, like Mathis, who is in his early 30s, has had some very solid campaigns and could still help a team. Pittsburgh's Ramon Foster played well in his seventh NFL season last year as part of an explosive Steelers offense and has a shot at cashing in during free agency. Kansas City's Jeff Allen had the best of his four NFL years last fall, which worked out well for him on the cusp of free agency.
Photos of Kelsey from the 2015 season.
The Giants' Geoff Schwartz, the Texans' Ben Jones and the Cardinals' Lyle Sendlein were all starters in 2015 and all are set to become free agents. If the Buccaneers or any other team is interested in adding interior-line depth this spring, they should find plenty of options.
Bucs' Overall Interest Level at the Position: Moderate
Tampa Bay had more veteran depth on its O-Line in 2015 than it had enjoyed in years, and the results were clear. Even when several starters missed time due to injury, the offensive front remained solid and contributed to a 6,000-yard season. The Bucs would love to have that kind of depth again in 2016, and that could involve testing a deep pool of free agents in the upcoming market.