Adrian Clayborn's future uncertain with Buccaneers as he enters contract year

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been overhauling their roster at record speed, and Adrian Clayborn may be the next player to go.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers declined to pick up Adrian Clayborn's fifth-year option, which was built into his contract as it is with every first-round pick under the new CBA. The fact that the Bucs didn't pick up that option has to be concerning, as the list of players whose option wasn't picked up is essentially a list of busts. Only 8 players didn't see their options exercised (three players weren't eligible): Derek Sherrod, Mark Ingram, James Carpenter, Nick Fairley, Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker and Adrian Clayborn.

That's not a very flattering list, and Andrew Brandt of The MMQB makes it sound even worse:

In fact, the only way I would not apply the option for 2014 is if the player has a tenuous future for 2014, let alone 2015. The risk of serious injury is small; the reward of contract control is potentially significant.

Andrew Brandt's opinion as the former Green Bay Packers vice president is notable, and likely to reflect at least some executives' opinions around the league. Take that at face value, and we can say that Adrian Clayborn's presence on this roster is in doubt. But not every executive may see things the same way. "I have to ask myself is he a $5.5 million player?" Detroit Lions GM Martin Mayhew said of Nick Fairley's option.

Similarly, Lovie Smith noted that Clayborn is one of the guys they're counting on this year. "We like what Adrian did last year," Smith said. "He's one of the guys we're counting on this year and he needs to play well this year no matter what we do and he realizes that."

"He knows he's going to be with us and that's all that any of us is promised is this year to play ball. If I was a betting man I would say he's going to have a heck of a year."

But if Lovie Smith was really convinced that Clayborn was going to break out, why would the Bucs not hand him that fifth-year option, which is guaranteed for injury only? One explanation may be that they may want to extend Clayborn, but that the fifth-year option's price point is too high almost regardless of Clayborn's production this year. That makes sense, given the fact that it would cost them a whopping $6.969 million (based on Cameron Jordan's pricetag). Exercising that option would make it difficult for the Bucs to re-sign Clayborn at a lower price point, as he could force them to either cut him, or keep him at that salary.

Adrian Clayborn's confident he can excel under Lovie Smith, though. "It's been a rough two years for me with me being hurt and then last year not playing the way I wanted to," Clayborn told Pat Yasinskas. "I feel like, with this system, it's really prime for me to have a good year. It's up to me to make it happen."

Still, there are valid reasons to question Clayborn's future on the roster, even this year. Stephen White previously made the point that the fourth-year defensive end will struggle to play base defensive end, and that there's no place for him on the other side with Michael Johnson there.

The number one job for any defensive end in a Tampa 2 defense is to be a dynamic pass rusher, and Clayborn has never been that guy. He wasn't in college, where he had one year topping 10 sacks but had a lackluster senior season from a production standpoint. In the NFL he has 13.5 sacks in 35 games, and those numbers don't hide a high number of pressures the way they do with Gerald McCoy and Michael Johnson.

That kind of production is okay, but it's not the kind of disruption the Bucs are looking for. Clayborn has been characterized by his work ethic, his hustle, his violent movement and his hard hits, but he hasn't been a consistent threat as a pass rusher. If he wants to be a Buccaneer beyond 2014 and perhaps even in 2014 (he wouldn't be the first productive player to be moved off the roster), he'd better learn to be that guy quickly.

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