With training camp still nearly three months away, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are down to one unsigned rookie.
Defensive end Noah Spence, the first of two second-round picks made by the Buccaneers in the 2016 NFL Draft, signed his first NFL contract on Thursday afternoon. Of the seven players drafted this year by Tampa Bay, only the other second-round selection, kicker Roberto Aguayo, still needs to complete a deal.
Take a peek at photos of the newest Buccaneer.
Five other draftees got their contract work done last weekend during the Buccaneers' rookie mini-camp, beginning with fourth-round safety Ryan Smith and fifth-round offensive lineman Caleb Benenoch last Thursday. First-round cornerback Vernon Hargreaves inked his deal the next day, with sixth-round linebacker Devante Bond following later that same afternoon. Finally, sixth-round tight end Danny Vitale put pen to paper on Saturday.
Draft-pick deals have been easier to complete since the new CBA in 2011 put a rookie salary structure in place. Still, considering that several of this year's picks – particularly Hargreaves and Spence – figure to see significant playing time in the regular season, it's helpful to get such distractions out of the way early. Spence, for instance, signed his deal after participating in a rookie field session as part of Phase 2 of the Buccaneers' offseason program. Soon, the Bucs will begin full-fledged OTA practices as Phase 3 begins.
Spence finished his college career at Eastern Kentucky, where he racked up 11.5 sacks, 22.5 tackles for loss and 15 quarterback hurries, 63 tackles and three forced fumbles last fall. Prior to transferring to EKU, Spence was the Ohio State Buckeyes' leading sacker in 2013 with 8.0, along with 14.5 tackles for loss and 52 tackles overall. Considered one of the best pure pass-rushers available in this year's draft, Spence was the 39th player selected overall.
Spence is one of two key additions made to the Bucs' defensive line this offseason as they seek to improve their pass rush significantly. The team also signed coveted unrestricted free agent defensive end Robert Ayers, who had nine sacks for the New York Giants last year. The Buccaneers are hoping to find their first double-digit sack artist since Simeon Rice in 2005.