TAMPA, FL - NOVEMBER 13: Defensive lineman Michael Bennett #71 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers celebrates after a tackle against the Houston Texans November 13, 2011 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have probably finished renovating their roster for this offseason. At this point, unless injuries strike, the players they take into the season should be on their roster already. But a number of those players are signed only for the upcoming season, and that means the Bucs will have to make decisions about the future of those players after the season. Two key players in that respect are Aqib Talib and Michael Bennett, as noted by Brian McIntyre at NFL.com. Both of those players are playing on relatively low salaries, and both players could be cornerstones for the future of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
And in both cases, these players may walk after the season, for wholly different reasons. Aqib Talib is one of the most talented cornerbacks in the NFL, but his play has remained a little inconsistent at times. Still, even with that inconsistency, he's a high-level starter deserving of a long-term contract. The problem, though, is that the Bucs may not be able to trust his off-the-field behavior. Since the felony charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon against him was dropped, we've seen dozens of positive stories on Aqib Talib. He's supposed to be a changed man, taking his job seriously and staying out of trouble. So far, that's true. But do the Bucs feel the same way - and do they think he'll keep it up? Those are the questions they face if they want to give him a contract extension.
With Michael Bennett the issues they face are different. Bennett is squeaky-clean off the field and a model citizen in Tampa. But he's also surplus to the requirements, if Da'Quan Bowers returns from his Achilles injury. Bennett and Bowers both play left defensive end, and Bowers is the more talented (but less developed) player. Do the Bucs want to pay Bennett like a starter if they're going to use him in a rotation? Having a deep group of defensive linemen is important, as the New York Giants can certainly tell you, but Bennett will demand a lot of money on the open market.
More importantly, perhaps, is that the Bucs may not be sure he's worth that money. While Bennett has gotten better each season and was especially dominant against the run last season, his production as a pass rusher wasn't stellar. His four sacks in 14 games are nothing special, although sacks don't give us a full picture of his contribution as a pass rusher. Bennett is still developing as a player, and he could easily put up monster statistics this season. But as it stands now, the Bucs may not want to reward him with a rich contract because of his relatively limited production.