Once upon a time, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had linebackers envied by teams around the league, but that ended when they unceremoniously let go of future Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks.
Linebacker play for the past several years has been woeful, marked by poor instincts and an inability to tackle. As the position most devoid of consistency and discipline, the Buccaneers need to shake up the linebacker corps, stat.
Line item one? Go after this year’s top free-agent linebacker, Stephen Tulloch. This one is easy. He’s going to command a lot of money, especially given the deal D’Qwell Jackson received from the Browns, and the Bucs have a lot of money to spend.
Tampa also needs a veteran leader, and Tulloch’s play and experience make him not only an ideal acquisition but a necessary one.
Mason Foster displayed promise in his rookie season. He plays physical, hard-nosed football, and for the first half of the season, he made a fair share of splash plays.
Unfortunately, Foster did not excel in his role as defensive play-caller—unfair as it may be to judge a rookie on running a defense. If the rumors of moving Foster to the outside are true, Foster should impress in 2012.
General manager Mark Dominik made a huge mistake giving LB Quincy Black a five-year, $29 million contract last year. Nothing Black did prior to signing warranted such a big contract, and his play in 2011 proved Dominik’s folly.
Black is a physical freak, but he lacks instincts.
Given the amount of money coming Black’s way, the Bucs cannot simply cut Black in 2012. The entire defense was awful in 2011, and while Black may be overpaid, he is not entirely a lost cause.
Mark Dominick needs bring in another linebacker to push Black for the starting Sam linebacker position. To find that linebacker, the Bucs must first address what they have on the roster to see if they already have a starter.
LB Geno Hayes should be gone. He should not be a Buccaneer in 2012, having spent his last ounce of goodwill with the organization. He has lacked consistency and displayed a penchant for disappearing during games.
In fact, his inevitable departure means the Bucs have to find two potential starting linebackers during the offseason.
Special teams leader Adam Hayward is the next linebacker on the depth chart but has proven that he cannot be relied upon as a starter.
Pass-rush specialist Dekoda Watson is cut from the same cloth as Quincy Black—musclebound, fast and utterly devoid of instincts.
Clearly, the Buccaneers will need to look to the draft and free agency for starting options.
One viable option is Rocky McIntosh. The soon-to-be former linebacker for the Redskins struggled in the 3-4 but was solid in the 4-3. Considering his poor performance in 2011, he might come as a steal.
Obviously, the draft holds a number of options for the Bucs, but a lot has to happen between now and then.
Taking a veteran linebacker like Tulloch or McIntosh will affect where the Bucs will draft a linebacker. Look for the Bucs to scope out Nebraska’s Lavonte Davis, TCU’s Tank Carder and Texas’ Emmanuel Acho.
Diagnosis: A Tulloch transplant and infuse Foster to the weak side.