The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will attempt to sign two starting cornerbacks in free agency this season. That, at least, is what Pewter Report's latest column suggests. Pewter Report has recently removed the paywall from its weekly "SR's Fab 5" columns, and they're really required reading for any Buccaneers fan. They're packed with insight, although I don't always agree with their analysis, and a lot of inside insight. But this week's column was especially illuminating.
Scott Reynolds mentions four cornerbacks the Buccaneers are explicitly interested in: Sean Smith, Brent Grimes, Greg Toler and Keenan Lewis. I haven't made my love of Sean Smith a secret, so I find it reassuring to see that the people at One Buccaneer Place appear to feel he's a good player, too.
But what the Bucs scouts like is the fact that he is around the ball, and has 40 career pass breakups, including 12 in 2012, and three forced fumbles to go with 210 tackles in his time with the Dolphins. And it isn't like Smith doesn't have a track record for creating turnovers.
The eternal emphasis on creating turnovers for cornerbacks is a bit amusing, I must say. By that standard, Deangelo Hall must be one of the best cornerbacks to ever play the game. He's not. He's undisciplined and incredibly inconsistent, but has a good closing burst and is a massive gambler. Interceptions, and big plays at the same time. Just playing good coverage and knocking away balls is very valuable, and that's exactly what Smith is pretty good at. Not elite, but good enough to warrant a contract the size of Eric Wright's contract.
But what's interesting about that whole column isn't that the Bucs are interested in Sean Smith. You didn't need insider access to figure that out. It's that the Bucs will go hard after multiple cornerbacks, and that signing either Smith or Grimes seems like a given for the Buccaneers. With the Falcons just clearing a bunch of cap space presumably to franchise tag or re-sign Brent Grimes, the Bucs can probably scrap him off their wishlist. I love me some Grimes, but he came with some question marks: he will turn 30 and has missed 19 games the past two seasons. Extrapolating, this means the Bucs will sign Smith. Or, well, that's what I can make up from Pewter Report's column, as they note that if "the Buccaneers can only lure one top-tier cornerback to Tampa Bay -- either Miami's Sean Smith or Atlanta's Brent Grimes -- Pewter Report has learned that the team will likely target a lesser-known corner."
They name two lesser-known corners: Keenan Lewis and Greg Toler. The latter two have gotten quite a bit of buzz this season, although they don't have a history of outstanding play. Toler has a history of injury issues, but played very well last season. He's physical, aggressive, but perhaps a bit shorter than the Buccaneers would prefer at 5'11" and 191 lbs. With five career interceptions in 39 games he's not exactly a ballhawk, either, but he has earned widespread praise around NFL media. He played mostly in a nickel role for the Cardinals, but the Bucs could tab him as a starter. One has to at least wonder why the Arizona Cardinals would let him walk, though.
Keenan Lewis is a bit different. He was a nickel cornerback in 2011 for the Steelers after two seasons of languishing on the bench as a third-round pick in 2009. He earned a starting job last season and performed well enough with a whopping 23 pass defenses and a slightly disappointing one interception. He played on what was a lackluster Pittsburgh team, and generally matched up with opposing teams' second receivers. He did well enough and would be a competent starter, though he'd hardly be a difference marker.
Keep in mind that this wouldn't be the first time for a report to turn out be off base this offseason, but it is certainly very plausible. Free agency has yet to happen, and we don't know who the Bucs will sign. But one thing's sure: the Buccaneers' secondary will look very different next season.