Tampa Bay Buccaneers have two of the four best NFL guards

Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have probably given their two starting guards more money than any other team in the NFL, giving Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks contracts worth a combined $100 million. That has given the Bucs the single most expensive offensive line in the NFL, but the question really is whether those two guards are worth that kind of money. How many wins can two starting guards really give an NFL team?

That's a difficult question to answer, but I can tell you this: at least Nicks and Joseph are two of the best guards in the NFL. That's what Dan Pompei hears from pro personnel men, too.

2. Carl Nicks, Bucs. He is another huge (6-5, 349) blocker who physically overwhelms defenders. "You can't move him," a pro scout said. Nicks is so wide that he's difficult to beat with quickness, too.

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4. Davin Joseph, Bucs. He is one of the most athletic guards in the NFL. He is solid in run blocking and pass protection. "He has no area of weakness," a pro personnel director said.

Combine those two with center Jeremy Zuttah, and you have the best-paid interior offensive line in the NFL. Still, there's one issue there: those two guards combined to play just 9 games last season, both having suffered season-ending injuries. That could be an issue going forward, if they can't stay healthy or if they can't return to form. By all accounts they are both close to fully rehabilitated and should be fine going into the season, but you never know if they can play at the same level they once performed at.

A healthy offensive line should help Josh Freeman at least reach his considerable potential. The offensive line struggled down the stretch of last season, and with an interior offensive line consisting of Ted Larsen, Jeremy Zuttah and Jamon Meredith that really shouldn't be a surprise. In fact, it was surprising how well they did for most of the season without two starters.

But how big of a difference can two interior linemen really make? Actually, the answer to that is: a huge difference. Quality offensive guards help your run game immensely, especially the Bucs' run game which is predicated on power and runs up the gut. Creating more room for Doug Martin to do his thing will allow the Bucs to have a more consistent, sustaining run game. That in turn will help the passing game, forcing a safety into the box to stop the run.

The effect on the passing game can be considerable, as well. Freeman struggles when he gets pressure in his face, as do all NFL quarterbacks. The issue for Freeman is that he tends to throw the ball off his back foot, fading away from the throw when he feels pressure. Getting a clean pocket inside will help his footwork, and thus his accuracy.

Overall, getting two of the team's highest-paid players back in the lineup should give a significant boost to the Bucs' offense. And if it doesn't, well, perhaps that money was a little ill-spent.

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