The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the NFL's most aggressive team in the early hours of the 2012 free agency period, quickly reeling in such coveted players as Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks and Eric Wright. By General Manager Mark Dominik’s own estimation, that big haul at the opening bell would represent the bulk of the Buccaneers' work in free agency, with the team's attention then turning to the upcoming NFL Draft.
That did not mean, however, that the Buccaneers would ignore further opportunities to improve roster depth through free agency, should they arise. And clearly, one has.
On Monday, the team officially signed sixth-year defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, an unrestricted free agent who originally entered the NFL as a first-round draft pick of the Houston Texans in 2007. The team's agreement with Okoye was confirmed on Saturday evening (and announced via the team’s official Twitter feed), and the newest Buccaneer arrived in Tampa on Monday to sign his deal.
Even if it comes after the first hurried wave of free agency, Okoye's signing is an encouraging one for a team determined to upgrade every corner of the depth chart in 2012. While the Buccaneers consider such young defensive tackles as Gerald McCoy, Brian Price and Roy Miller to be a strength of the team, injuries have tested the depth at that position over the past two seasons. Okoye, who has played in 78 of a possible 80 games during his first five NFL seasons, gives the Buccaneers' experienced and proven depth on the interior line regardless of what happens with the other players at the position in 2012.
Okoye (6-2, 292) actually fits in quite well with the Buccaneers' youthful defensive line, despite the fact that he's been in the league for five years already. Okoye is only 24 (he turns 25 in July), which makes him a perfect contemporary of McCoy (24), Miller (24) and Price (turns 23 on Tuesday). Okoye was only 19 when he was drafted by the Texans, that year becoming the youngest player to appear in an NFL game since 1967.
Over his five seasons and 78 games in the NFL, Okoye has logged 59 starts and contributed 165 tackles, 15.0 sacks, two forced fumbles and six passes defensed. Despite starting just one game last season for the Chicago Bears, Okoye racked up 4.0 sacks, the second highest single-season total of his career.
The Texans drafted Okoye out of Louisville with the 10th overall pick of the 2007 draft. As a rookie he compiled a career-high 5.5 sacks while starting 14 games at right defensive tackle. He was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month in September of '07 after racking up four sacks. Okoye remained the Texans' starter at RDT throughout his four seasons with the team but was released in July of 2011 after the arrival of new Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips signaled the team's switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 base defense.
Okoye started at Louisville at the age of 16 and became the youngest player in the college football ranks. He finished his undergraduate degree in three and a half years and, on the gridiron, capped his career with an eight-sack senior season, garnering second-team AP All-America honors. A native of Nigeria, Okoye came to the United States at age 12 but did not start playing football until his sophomore season in high school.