On Monday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced that they have re-signed fifth-year linebacker Adam Hayward to a three-year contract.
Hayward's pact marks the fourth of the Buccaneers' own unrestricted free agents to return to the team. On Friday, Tampa Bay re-signed linebacker , guard Davin Joseph and tackle Jeremy Trueblood.
To make room for Hayward on the 90-man training camp roster, the Buccaneers released rookie running back Deonte Jackson.
Hayward has been one of the Buccaneers' best special teams player since he was drafted out of Portland State in the sixth round in 2007, and last year he also emerged as a valuable asset on defense. As evidenced by Friday's signing of punter and kickoff specialist , Tampa Bay's brass places a high importance on the special teams phase of the game.
In four seasons with the Buccaneers, Hayward has racked up 58 kick-coverage stops, almost exactly one per contest during his 59-game NFL career. Last year, he was the team leader in that category with 20, and the season before he ranked third with 15. His teammates elected him as their Special Teams Captain in 2010, and his coverage skills helped the Bucs rank seventh in the NFL in opponent punt return average and eighth in opponent kickoff return average.
Two injuries to starting strongside linebacker Quincy Black, including one that landed him on injured reserve for the final three games of the season, caused the Buccaneers to turn to Hayward and rookie Dekoda Watson at the position for a good portion of last year's playoff stretch drive. Hayward started three games and contributed 20 tackles, three tackles for loss, one sack, three passes defensed and one fumble recovery. The Buccaneers won all three games that Hayward started, including a season-ending victory in New Orleans that kept the team alive in the playoff race until late on the last day of the regular season.
Overall, Hayward has played in 59 games and recorded 45 tackles on defense, plus one sack and three passes defensed. In addition to his 58 stops on special teams, he has also recovered one fumbled kickoff and returned one kickoff for eight yards.
Jackson joined the Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent on Thursday. He rushed for 2,700 yards in four seasons at the University of Idaho.