Tampa Bay Buccaneers

One Buc Mailbag: Moving on to '17

This week, we tackle questions about J.R. Sweezy, field goal holders, Hall of Fame shockers and potential free agency targets.

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See every first-round Draft pick ever selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Each week during the offseason, Senior Writer/Editor Scott Smith will dip into the inbox to answer questions from  Buccaneer fans. We have a mixed bag this week, with questions ranging from the status of guard J.R. Sweezy to the Hall of Fame to free agency.*

Fans can submit questions for upcoming mailbags via Twitter to @ScottSBucs (#BucsMailbag), through a message on the Buccaneers Official Facebook Page or via email at *tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com.  The One Buc Mailbag runs every Thursday and is not necessarily meant to reflect the opinions of the team's management or coaching staff.

*1. Two in One. What's the story on that lineman Sweezy. Is he still a Buc? Also, do you remember when the 2nd string quarterback did the holding on placekicks? Gave the option of a fake kick more viability.

- Ken Mack (via email to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com)

Well, those are two wildly unrelated questions, aren't they? Can I at least get an awkward segue from one to the other, like, "Speaking of guys who protect the quarterback, remember when the second-string quarterback did the holding …" Etc. See how that flows?

That's okay, I like both questions. Let's start with Mr. Sweezy.

First of all, yes, J.R. Sweezy is still a Buccaneer. He was placed on the reserve/physically unable to perform (PUP) list prior to the start of the regular season, and since he was never activated from that list that's where he ended 2016, as well. Now that the season is over, you can just consider him and all the guys who were on injured reserve to be back on the active roster.

Sweezy signed a five-year deal with the Buccaneers as an unrestricted free agent last March, so he is most definitely still under contract. In other words, unless the team chooses to make a roster move with Sweezy, he remains a Buccaneer.

The bad news, of course, is that Sweezy was never able to suit up for the Buccaneers, even to practice, in his first year with the team due to a back injury. When the Bucs first signed him, they envisioned him stepping in as the starting left guard to replace the retiring Logan Mankins. That didn't happen, of course, and Kevin Pamphile seized the opportunity to win a starting job instead.

It was clear relatively early in the 2016 season that Sweezy was not going to be able to make an impact on the team in his first year. Obviously, then, one turns their attention to the next season: Could the Buccaneers get some delayed gratification from that free agency signing, adding depth and a potential starter to the front line in 2017? Head Coach Dirk Koetter admitted right after the 2016 season that the answer to that question was not year clear.

"I'm not a doctor, but what I do know is, we haven't seen him on the field," said Koetter. "So at this point, it's been over a year since he's played and we really don't know what we have because until we see him on the field healthy, that's an unknown. I think if it ever comes to that point where we have a healthy J.R. Sweezy on the field and he's the player he was that we thought we were getting when we were looking at the Seattle tape, then I think he just adds another one to the depth I already talked about at O-line. But, do we ever get to that point? I do not know that."

Okay, now the good news. Since Koetter laid out the situation on January 2, Sweezy has taken a big step towards returning to the field. He has been cleared to return to action, which General Manager Jason Licht confirmed while the team was at the Senior Bowl in late January. As Koetter noted, it's impossible to know how confident to feel about Sweezy until he begins practicing again, but at least now it appears the team will get an opportunity to make that evaluation.

Photos from Dirk Koetter's first season as head coach.

As for your second question, Ken, I most certainly do remember the days in which the backup quarterback was most often the holder for placekicks. I also remember when the simple math for figuring out a field goal's distance was to add 17 yards. That is, if the line of scrimmage was the 23, you knew it was going to be a 40-yard field goal. Through the years, and I think this shift happened in the late '90s, that math changed to plus-18 as special teams coaches began instructing their holders to kneel down eight yards behind the line of scrimmage instead of seven. That was no more trouble for the long-snapper and the coaches figured it was worth adding one yard to the kick in order to keep the defenders a little farther away from blocking it.

But I digress. Ken's point is that, when it was a quarterback doing the holding, you had a more viable option to run a fake that included a pass. I suppose that remains true, but I don't think it's worth it to the special teams coach for a couple of reasons. Such as:

  1. Kickers, punters and long-snappers usually have a very different practice schedule than the rest of the team. They spend most of their time on a distant field, away from the rest of practice, working together on their kicks while offensive and defensive players install game plans and serve as scout teams. If your second-string quarterback is needed to hold for the kicker on the other field, he can't be involved in the offensive snaps at the same time. By making the punter the holder, he and the snapper and the kicker have virtually unlimited time to work together and get the procedure down perfectly. Personally, I've always been a little bit amazed that more snaps and/or holds don't go wrong. It's not nearly as easy as it looks, but those three practice together enough to become a well-oiled machine.
  1. A lot of punters have pretty decent arms. Fake field goals are sadly uncommon these days (Note: I'm basing that on zero research, but it feels true), but even when they happen they don't generally involve any particularly difficult throws. The ones I've seen in college ball in recent years have often just involved a quick flip, but even if the holder has to stand up and throw it's probably just a quick lob to a guy who has released from the line out towards the sideline.
  1. Like I said above, we probably don't see enough fake field goals to make it worth the trouble. As an unabashed lover of trick plays, that bums me out, but so be it.

2. Hall Shockers.

So, as you may have heard, the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee held its annual pre-Super Bowl meeting on Sunday and selected the Class of 2017. Former Buccaneer great John Lynch was among the 15 finalists for the fourth year in a row, and he once again made the initial cut from that number to the final 10 on Saturday. The committee members once again selected the maximum number of five inductees (plus two more from a separate "contributors" pool), but Lynch was not among them. Instead, the newest Hall of Famers will be Morten Andersen, Terrell Davis, Jason Taylor, LaDainian Tomlinson and Kurt Warner.

Those are five deserving players, to be sure, but I'll admit to being disappointed that this wasn't Lynch's year. I truly thought he was going to make it this time. In fact, as you can see above, I shared my predictions after the fact on Saturday and promised to provide a picture of the whiteboard in my office where they had been recorded. Here it is:

finalists.png

There were other people who added their predictions to the right on this board, but I cropped the picture so as not to embarrass them. Nobody has beaten me in four years of these predictions.

Ah, but I can't brag. Three out of five isn't great. Perhaps I was a bit biased on Lynch (nah, he should have made it) but I have to admit I'm at least as shocked, if not more, that Terrell Owens was denied again.

Listen, I get it. The committee members can only admit five players each year, so there are surely many men and women in that room who have to exclude candidates that they truly believe are worthy of the hall. That leads to a backlog of good candidates year after year, and so sometimes even a player who, on the face of it, is an obvious Hall of Famer sometimes has to wait.

Photos from Mike Evans' 2016 campaign.

I guess that's the case with Owens. He was a first-year candidate in 2016 and I fully expected (and predicted) that he would be passed over that year. Yes, Phil, I think his "behavior" was part of the reason for that first-year exclusion. Here, "behavior" is a perfectly fine catch-all word that we will use so as not to go through everything the player may have done through the years to rub some people the wrong way. I also believed that the extra time that Cris Carter, Andre Reed and Tim Brown had to wait before getting in during the last few years had established something of a pattern for the new receivers hitting the ballot.

Even if you're fine with all of that reason, I am still shocked – SHOCKED, I say – that Owens is being made to wait more than one year. Let me put it this way: Next year, Randy Moss is going to be on the ballot for the first time. Doesn't Moss feel like an obvious first-ballot Hall of Famer, the way LaDainian Tomlinson did this year and Brett Favre did the year before? There's usually one or two of those guys every year, and next year that's probably Ray Lewis and Moss.

Okay, now let me ask you this: Which of the two stat lines below is Terrell Owens and which is Randy Moss?

209-chart1.jpg

The correct answer, probably, is that it doesn't matter which is which. Which line is more impressive? Gun to my head, I'd probably take Player B, which is Moss, but it's extremely close. Owens ranks second to the great Jerry Rice in league history with his 15,934 receiving yards, is third behind Rice and Moss in touchdown catches and is eighth (Moss is 15th) in catches.

Owens went to six Pro Bowls, was a five-time first-team Associated Press all-pro and played in one Super Bowl without getting a ring (with Philadelphia in 2004). Moss went to six Pro Bowls, was a four-time first-team Associated Press all-pro and played in two Super Bowls without getting a ring (with New England in 2007 and San Francisco in 2012).

And Phil's right, T.O. is no Pete Rose. However you feel about Rose and what MLB has done with him and the Hall of Fame, his gambling transgression is a far more serious matter than anything Owens ever did. Rose can't even be on the ballot in his sport; Owens is on the ballot and has been good enough to be a finalist his first two years. Blame his longer-than-expected (by me at least ) wait on the annual backlog of good candidates and, yes, his "behavior."

3. Free Agency Targets.

Well, Faxon, let me just start off by saying, yes, if there was a "Randy Moss type player" available in free agency I would wholeheartedly be in favor of signing him. I fear, however, that the Buccaneers and the NFL's other 31 teams may have to set their sights a little lower than that.

I just received a handful of free agency questions on Twitter and I'm going to save some of them for next week. Thank you for sending them and for your patience. I chose Faxon's to put in this week's mailbag because it mentioned Moss and thus was a nice follow-up to the previous question.

One thing I have to make clear is that, until the new league year begins and the market opens on March 9, I can't really discuss any potential free agents specifically in the mailbag. Even though it should be clear that anything I write here is my opinion and not meant to reflect that of Jason Licht, Dirk Koetter or any other team decision-makers, discussion of a player under contract with another team (which all pending free agents still are until March 9) might be considered tampering.

However, that's not really a problem here because the only player Faxon asked me about is a retired one, which he's using here as an example of the type of free agent the Bucs might add. I joked a little bit above about that because I think Moss is one of the three or four best receivers in NFL history and you aren't likely to find that in any given free agency class.

But I do get your point, Faxon. You mean another receiving threat, particularly one who could be a weapon downfield, and a veteran who could share his experience with Mike Evans. As to that second point, I don't think that would be a real motivating factor when Jason and Dirk are contemplating players to sign in March. Evans is three seasons in now and has spent all of that time learning alongside a highly-respected veteran receiver in Vincent Jackson. Evans has surely learned how to play the game, and play it for a long time, from Jackson. I don't think a "mentor" is something he specifically needs right now.

Remember last year when it was pretty clear that the Buccaneers needed to find help in the offseason at defensive end and cornerback? Licht then found Brent Grimes and Robert Ayers in free agency and Vernon Hargreaves and Noah Spence in the draft. All worked out well. This year, I think it's pretty clear that a major need for the team is more explosive playmakers on offense. This isn't some grand analysis on my part; it's pretty much exactly what Koetter himself said in his final press conference of the season.

So I fully expect that issue to be addressed either in free agency or the draft, and perhaps in both. I think the Buccaneers will be looking for a player, or players, who can turn small plays into big ones, receivers who can add yards on after the catch, or YAC. The Bucs' offense was pretty good in 2016, but not great, and it was pretty far down the league rankings in YAC.

So why not go after that in free agency, if there are players available who fit the bill? You could still address the issue again in the draft, if the opportunity presented itself. Signing Grimes didn't stop the Bucs from drafting Hargreaves in the first round. Once we get to March 9 and the list of players who actually made it to free agency is out, then we can start talking specifics.

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