On Friday evening, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made official the good news they've been working on all week: linebacker Quincy Black, guard Davin Joseph and tackle Jeremy Trueblood will all be returning to the team.
Black signed a five-year contract with the team that drafted him in 2007, while Joseph inked a seven-year deal and Trueblood a two-year pact with the club that drafted them in 2006.
All three Buccaneer veterans became unrestricted free agents when the new collective bargaining agreement was finalized on Monday. The Buccaneers (and other teams) could begin negotiating with them on Tuesday morning, but no formal offer could be extended or signed until Friday at 6:00 p.m., and in fact the team could not officially announce their contract agreements until that time.
It was no surprise by Friday, however, that all three key veterans would be returning to the team they helped take to a 10-6 record and the cusp of the playoffs in 2010.
Joseph and Trueblood have been the team's primary starters at right guard and right tackle, respectively, since they were taken in the first two rounds of the 2006 draft. Joseph finished the 2010 season on injured reserve and Trueblood was behind James Lee on the depth chart to finish the season, but both are considered important parts of the team's plan moving forward. With the Bucs' future heavily tied to the success of rising-star quarterback Josh Freeman, providing protection for the passer is a primary goal in Tampa.
"We're always talking about building around Number Five," said Head Coach Raheem Morris. "We talk about getting after the quarterback and we talk about protecting the quarterback. We're able to get after the quarterback, hopefully, with what we've been able to do in the draft the last couple years. And now hopefully we're able to protect the quarterback with [these] free agent signings. We're really excited about having those guys back and keeping that line intact for Freeman. We'll continue to build pieces around him. I feel great about what's going on with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and every fan should, too."
Meanwhile, Black was a priority among the Bucs' defensive free agents, as he is considered a playmaker on the rise and a potential star in Tampa Bay's defensive scheme. The Buccaneers drafted Black in the third round in '07 but primarily used him on special teams while running free agent acquisition Cato June at strongside linebacker. When Morris and General Manager Mark Dominik took over the reins in 2009, they made it a priority to find out what the team had in such young and untested players as Black and Geno Hayes.
Black has thus manned the strongside spot for the past two seasons, and while he missed five games due to injury last season he has been a productive player during the other 27 contests in that span. In 2009, he played in 16 games with 13 starts and produced 93 tackles, seven tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, five quarterback pressures, one interception, five passes defensed and one forced fumble. Despite missing roughly a third of the season last year, he essentially matched those totals, with 88 tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks, two quarterback pressures, one interception, six passes defensed, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. He was the only player on the Buccaneers' defense last year to make a mark in each one of those eight statistical categories.
Joseph immediately won the starting job at right guard in 2006 (he missed the first month of the regular season due to a preseason injury) after being selected 23rd overall in the first round. He started all 16 games the following season as the Buccaneers won the NFC South title, and by 2008 had emerged as the team's first Pro Bowl offensive lineman since 2000. He is considered one of the best run-blocking guards in the league and was largely thought to be one of the most coveted free agents on the entire NFL market.
Trueblood needed only four games in his shared rookie season with Joseph to move into a starting spot, and he subsequently became a fixture on the line. Prior to a knee injury suffered in the sixth game of the 2010 season, he had opened 67 consecutive games at right tackle, the second-longest starting streak on the team at the time to Ronde Barber. Trueblood missed two games and in his absence second-year man James Lee nailed down the starting spot. In the one game Trueblood started during the remainder of the season, a 38-15 Week 16 win over Seattle, the offense racked up 439 total yards, including 208 on the ground.