Ronde Barber is doing his annual "do I want to retire" internal debate. The man is a borderline Hall of Famer, has given the Buc’s 17 years of dedicated service, and has earned the right to make his decision on his time. However that does not mean Tampa Bay does not need to look at other options "in case" Ronde decides it is in fact time to hang it up. That gives Tampa Bay three options: promote from within, sign a free agent, or draft a young player to free safety.
To evaluate Free Safety options the scheme a team uses dictates what skills that safety needs to bring to the table. If we were still a primarily cover 2 team the free safety skill set would be different. Coach Schiano’s defensive scheme has evolved from a combination of coaching at Penn St. in the early 1990’s and later under now Tampa special teams coordinator Dave Wannstedt,. You can see the trends in today’s Bucs defense. The strong side safety is used like a human missile; allowed to roam free (aside from man assignments and covering the shallow middle when the Mike linebacker blitzes). The free safety is used more like a center fielder able to track the ball while patrolling 15 to 20 yards deep. The prototypical free safety for this scheme would be former Bears FS Mark Carrier (now the DB coach in Cincinnati). This suggests a certain skill set, the Bucs free safety must be:
Long with the ability to elevate: This is really the #1 skill now in our scheme, playing press on the corners means that occasionally even a good corner (which we do not have) will get beat. The free safety needs to be able to roll over the top and break up some long receptions.
Take Consistent Tackling Angles: This is particularly important and how Barber was able to perform well even without length. The free safety must seal the weakside on miss direction running plays and ,more importantly, take quality angles on underneath completions ensuring that 7 yard completions do not turn into 17 yard completions – he doesn't necessarily need to make the tackle – he needs to seal the play to one side and direct the action back towards the rest of the defense.
Range: Being on "deep patrol" you can get range in a number of ways, either through intuition and reading the QB’s eyes or through athletic talent and speed (a combination of both would be ideal).
So who fits, who doesn’t, and what options do we have.
Ahmad Black: at just 5’9" 184 my fellow Lakeland Senior Highschool graduate just does not fit either the length or range criteria. He’s played well at times and I hope he sticks on the roster for a long time to come but he’s unlikely to be viewed as anything but a stop gap starter.
On the Market:
Jarius Byrd 5’11" 203lbs 26yrs old Cost Estimate: 9.5 million per season
Up front I DO NOT expect Byrd to reach the free agent market. Byrd is looking to be the top paid safety in the NFL the problem for him is that the franchise tag for safeties is only 6.4 million and Buffalo has 20.6 Million in cap space this off-season. They also don’t have long term implications on their cap because jettisoning Ryan Ftizpatrick next offseason will save them plenty of space. Byrd is however a perfect scheme fit, may be an inch or two short but has more than good range and can elevate to compensate for the lack of height.
Dashon Goldson 6’2" 200lbs 28yrs old Cost Estimate: 9.25 million per season
A couple years older but Goldson is still in his prime. He also is not likely to hit the free agent market: the 49ers used the franchise cap on him last season. This means that to do so again they will have to pay the same amount plus 20%, so Goldson would cost the 49ers 7.5 million this season. With only 3.8 million as their current cap number they will have to make some moves. He is a solid fit for our free safety needs though, and if by some miracle the 49ers decide not to keep him we could be on his doorstep day one.
Ed Reed 5’11" 205lbs 34yrs old Cost Estimate: 10.5 million
Reed is an okay, but not great scheme fit at this point in his career, but he’s still a future Hall of Famer playing at a high level. Reed will not be back in Baltimore next season, the question is will he retire outright? He hasn't missed a game the past two seasons so the health complications maybe overblown but he’s a big name and someone will pay him big for name recognition alone. I also don’t think Reed will want to come to Tampa as he may look for a team closer to being a competitor, however, If Reed decides he wants a big pay day, Tampa could cut him a huge two year deal and let the chips fall where they may.
LaRon Landry 6’2" 220lbs 28yrs old Cost Estimate: 6 million
Landry is a very good athlete, if he is healthy. He finally played 16 games last season after appearing in just 17 the previous two seasons. He has the athletic ability to be a force and age is not really a factor(durability is). Despite that, Landry does not always take the most reliable tackling angles. He has great range and the length to compete for over the top passes but may not fit our scheme.
Glover Quin 6’0" 207lbs 27yrs old Cost Estimate: 5.5 Million
Quinn would be an ideal scheme fit possessing the range, playmaking ability, and consistency that Schiano would want. The problem, since he’s not elite, is that he is not going to break the bank in Houston and they have 12 million or so in cap space, so he will probably be retained.
Charles Woodson 6'1" 210lbs 37yrds old Cost Estimate: 4.5-6 Million
Signing Woodson would be going from one aging great to another. However as a scheme fit he would be ideal. His health issues from last season are a bit troubling and we would need to do a sales job and see if he really wants to play here.
Chris Clemons 6’1" 214lbs 27yrs old Cost Estimate: 3.3 Million
Chris Clemons was adequate if not spectacular in his first year as a starter in Miami. Clemons would be welcome back in Miami but may also wish to test the free agent market, meaning we’d have to outbid the Dolphins who do not want to go above 2-3 million for Clemons. As a scheme fit for us he has length but not a great vertical, he does take consistent angles but isn’t the most rangy. He'd be a solid starter and may well develop more, but he is not an elite athlete. All in all better than Black, but still….
Ryan Mundy 6’1" 209lbs 27yrs old Cost Estimate: 1.25 Million
Mundy is not exactly starter material. He struggled when asked to fill in for Ryan Clark who plays almost the exact same type of free safety game as Schiano wants. Mundy’s been primarily a special teamer prior to this season (punter’s personal protector) and with limited playing time he may deserve one more look for an inexpensive price.
Travis Daniels 6’1" 195 30yrs old Cost Estimate: 750 K
Daniels is more likely a backup type for anyone rather than a starter. He is a veteran and steadying influence but is always on the fringe of an NFL roster.
Matt Giordano 5’11" 204 30rs old Cost Estimate: 750K
The Raiders had him as their starting FS last season. He got toasted early and often. Below average talent level and will be looking for a new home.
Others Who are Not a fit:
VIA the Draft
Kenny Vaccaro 6’1" 210 Texas , 1st Round
Vaccaro fits just about every NFL scheme, his skill set is just too versatile but if your template is Mark Carrier this guy fits like a glove.
Tony Jefferson 5’11" 210 Oklahoma 2nd Round
Yep another ideal fit, range, athleticism, and instincts. Not quite the quality hands of Vaccaro or the vertical ability but really sound in all other aspects of the game. Call this the "better than good option"
D.J. Swearinger 5’11" 210 South Carolina Rounds 3-4
I looked at Swearinger again and he’s probably a better fit for Tampa’s defense than he is for most NFL schemes. The big liability for D.J. is his vulnerability to play action and pumps fakes, which is a big concern. Both areas are mitigated somewhat by him not having to react to the run the second he sees it. He is going to need to get more consistent with route diagnostics to be an every day starter but he would probably be a struggle-early-swim-late kind of guy for us.
Vaughn Telemaque 6’1" 207 Miami(FL) Rounds 5-7
Telemaque does not have the quickest hips and if forced into man coverage will be a liability. Telemaque is actually above average in terms of route recognition and has adequate, but not good recovery speed. He has nice length though, and his ability to elevate should earn a look from the Tampa staff.
IT FITS WITH SOME WIGGLE:
Matt Elam 5’10" 207lbs Florida, Late 1st Round
Aside from being out of position to draft him, Elam is not exactly the elevator and ball-high-pointer Schiano will want. Elam could still work quite well though because he is such a consistent tackler and almost always in position on deep balls.
Phillip Thomas 6’1" 208lbs Fresno St. Round 2-3
If you are rooting for him to be a Buc, forget about it: he has some character concerns. Beyond that he is long and can attack the ball at it’s highest point but tends to freelance and play undisciplined at times.
Duke Williams 5’10" 195lbs Nevada, Rounds 3-4
Has issues of length and being disciplined when being misdirected. Is susceptible to play action, which he got away with in the MWC because of exceptional comparative athletic ability. Will need work on play recognition before starting.
Eric Reid 6’2" 208 LSU Round 1-2
He could excel in a number of other schemes but this is a poor one for him. He takes inconsistent angles in run support and pass protection. While he has length and can bring big play potential; for our scheme he would become a liability.
John Cyprien 6’1" 212 Florida International, Rounds 3-5
I’d personally place him at SS, but many teams will want him as a FS because he strikes downhill in the secondary. The problem is that he plays the receiver -- not the ball. For our scheme where the FS needs to close from midfield to the sideline based on a read that’s not a trait that is beneficial.
Baccari Rambo 6’1" 206 Georgia Rounds 3-5
Baccari is just a poor tackler and while he should be a good tackler against smaller players he’s squared up on, he’s actually not. Rambo does have great range but probably also has too many character issues for Coach Schiano.