The Buccaneers offensive line has been in flux for years, and there is already more movement coming. Tuesday afternoon, former starting center Joe Hawley confirmed via Instagram that the popular bearded Bucs center/guard will not be back in 2018. At least, Hawley won’t be back at the $2.5 million option he is owed.
First, Hawley was gracious about leaving Tampa Bay:
When I was released by the Falcons 3 seasons ago, I was devastated. It was after final cuts so most NFL rosters were set. I had no idea where or if I would have an opportunity to play the game that I loved. That was until I got a call from Dirk here in Tampa. He called me up and said they needed a swing backup center/guard. He knew I could play both from our time together in Atlanta. I knew I was a starter in this league but opportunities were slim. So they signed me as a back up and I was happy to be on a roster. The week I got there they asked me if I was healthy enough to dress for the game because I was still recovering from ACL/MCL surgery from the previous season. I said hell yeah, or course I’m ready. First drive of the second half our starter goes down with an ankle injury. I get thrown into the fire after being there for about 4 days. I didn’t even know the names of some of the guys I was playing next to. It was wild. But I went in there and played the way I knew how to, with a lot of energy, confidence and finish. I went on to start the next 30 games. I’ve had such a great experience in Tampa and just wanted to say thank you to Dirk and Jason for giving me a chance when no one else would. Thank you to Bucs nation for all the love and support over the past 3 seasons. If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this story it’s that if you trust the process of life and work your ass off to get what you want, you will end up exactly where you are meant to be. Although my time here is finished, I truly believe that what ever comes next is going to be bigger and greater than anything I can imagine. Bring it on. I can’t wait!!
And as he points out, he did a tremendous job in his first season of showing up and getting acclimated and eventually, helping the Bucs run game become #2 in the NFL in 2015.
Hawley was also the center on the 9-7 2016 team, that continued to excel with QB Jameis Winston at the helm.
However, the Buccaneers wanted to turn to young guard/center Ali Marpet, who is bigger and more athletic than Hawley, for 2017. And that basically relegated Hawley to a reserve role.
What puzzled many, including us at F.F.I., is that Hawley was often a healthy inactive on Sunday, despite his fiery personality and willingness to mix it up with opposing defenders who might be trying to pile on ball carriers, get an extra shot in on Winston, etc.
We wrote during the season, as the Bucs floundered offensively, that we believed they were missing some of that fire and attitude with Hawley on the sidelines in street clothes. Hawley eventually was active and did play some, once Marpet was out for the end of the season with a knee sprain.
Nevertheless, he’s not part of their immediate plans for 2018 and they obviously notified him that he will be a free agent come next week. Now there is a real outside shot, that if no one else makes Hawley a good enough offer he could end up back in Tampa Bay fighting for a job in training camp. But that’s remote.
Hawley departing isn’t likely the only change on the Bucs line. There is speculation that the team will let fellow guard/center Evan Smith “walk,” as well. This after his four year $14.25 million deal expired.
And it’s expected that the team will either ask veteran guard J.R. Sweezy to take a pay cut from his $5.25 million salary or may release him outright soon. Sweezy would only count $1.8 million in “dead cap” money for 2018 and $1.2 million next year.
Is the FitzMagic Show Over?
I think I know now why Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter stuck with Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB for Sunday’s game against the Giants. It seems the plan all along was to stick with Fitz until he exceeded Jameis Winston’s pick total.
That would make a move back to Winston seem warranted and to the surprise of few, Fitzpatrick obliged on Sunday by throwing three picks, including a pick-six, during a 38-35 loss at Giants Stadium.
That brought Fitzpatrick’s season pick total to 12, two more than Winston, and so FitzMagic is gone. His magic touch has been gone for a while, but now he and his magic touch are gone for good. Unless they’re not.
You never know with these Bucs, so let’s break this one down.
Let’s start with Winston, whose redemption tour began in fine fashion. After replacing Fitzpatrick early in the third quarter he engineered four straight scoring drives to give the Bucs hope in a game in which all hope seemed lost.
It wasn’t always pretty. Winston got lucky when Mike Evans fell on his fumble in the end zone at the end of his first drive and got lucky a couple more times when the butterfingered Giants couldn’t hold on to a couple of tipped passes.
But Winston was more good than bad and was at times spectacular in completing 12 of 15 passes for 199 yards and two touchdown tosses before a last-ditch throw wound up in the Giants hands with 13 seconds left.
Not only that, but the return of Winston to the lineup Sunday seemed to bring a sense of normalcy to this team, a feeling that this is how it’s supposed to be, how it was supposed to be all along.
Like Winston a few weeks ago, Fitzpatrick more than earned his place on the bench. His three picks Sunday gave him seven in the three games he started ahead of Winston and they came at critical junctures.
The first came on a throw from his own 30-yard line, which means it wiped out a scoring chance. The second was a pick-six and the third was simply thrown up for grabs at a point when the Bucs still had time to rally.
Oh, and let’s not forget that the Bucs caught a break when the Giants didn’t challenge a would-be Fitzpatrick fumble on second-and-11 from the Giants 15 early in the game.
At the end of the day, Fitzpatrick’s giveaways led to 10 points for the Giants, and the Bucs wound up losing by three. It’s easy to say then that without those picks, the Bucs could have easily won.
The defense never had a chance in this one. Before the game even started, the Bucs were without linebackers Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David, safeties Justin Evans and Chris Conte, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and defensive lineman Vinny Curry.
That’s more than half this team’s projected starters on that side of the ball, and nowhere are the Bucs thinner than on defense, where they just don’t have enough quality depth, particularly in the secondary.
Throw on top of that the fact that the Bucs spent the bulk of the first half blowing their gap assignments in the running game and it’s no wonder they spent the day playing catchup.
They mostly struggled to stop Barkley, who ran 27 times for 142 yards and two touchdowns, but they were equally ineffective against quarterback Eli Manning, who matched a career-best start by completing each of his first 11 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown.
For one week at least, the kicker wasn’t an issue. Cairo Santos, who was brought in this week to replace Chandler Catanazaro, who was finally fired after missing two more field goal tries last week, five for five on PATs. He did not attempt a field goal.
Gameday- Bucs searching for win in New York
Who: Bucs (3-6) at Giants (2-7)
When: Sunday 1 p.m.
Where: Metlife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ
Spread: Giants by 2 1/2 points (Courtesy of VegasInsider.com)
Here’s what to watch:
Bucs Must be better in Red Zone
There is no disputing of the Buccaneers move the football between the 20 yard lines last week to the tune of 500 yards of total offense. There’s also no disputing that the Bucs were 0 – 5 in the red zone on scoring points and lost 16 – 3.
Tampa Bay ran 12 plays last week in the red zone and had -8 yards to show for them. That has to be better against a Giant defense that has been vulnerable. Some of that is the fault of QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (above), who has five turnovers in the last two Bucs games, and two of those were inside the opponent’s 20 last week.
Further, in their last three games the Bucs are 27th in red zone touchdown percentage converting on just 41.6% of them.
It’s Not the Only key for the Buccaneers offense, but if they get inside the 20 yard line, it’s a big one.
Pressure Eli Manning
One area where the Buccaneers have to have an impact if they want to win is putting pressure on Eli Manning. He has been knocked around like a pinata this season, as the Giants have given up 3.6 sacks per game so far this year. That’s 31st in the league.
Their protection was better in the Monday night 27-23 win over the 49ers, where Manning was only sacked once.
Buccaneers defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul has registered eight sacks so far this season in nine games and is anxious to have a chance to hit Eli Manning for the first time in his career.
If Manning consistently gets time to throw, the Buccaneers are going to be in big trouble.
The Buccaneers have been horrible in this category with just 6 takeaways so far in 9 games. That is 31st in the NFL trailing only San Francisco with five. Also the Buccaneers turnover differential is the worst in the NFL at – 19.
Now, the Giants aren’t much better. In fact they have only 9 takeaways on the season, but their turnover margin is just – 1.
It’s safe to say then if either team can take it away two or maybe three times in this game, it will likely decide who wins.
Final injury updates for Bucs and Jaguars Sunday games
As the Buccaneers get set to head to New York to play the Giants and the Jaguars are preparing to host the Steelers Sunday, it’s time to take a look at the injuries in those two games. (Reminder the Dolphins have their bye week for this weekend.)
Here’s a look at the latest:
For the Bucs, there Friday injury report has defensive names littered all over it and the news is not good for some of them.
After we were told by a source that Lavonte David was going to try to play Sunday, he apparently was overruled by the training staff and head coach Dirk Koetter, etc, and the Pro Bowl linebacker will be inactive with his sprained knee. Likewise, Vinny Curry will miss another game at defensive end, his fourth in the last five with a sprained ankle.
It’s the same situation with second year safety Justin Evans, who will miss the game with an injured toe suffered in the game with Washington last week. Defensive end Carl Nassib, who’s been a pleasant find off the waiver wire at the beginning of the season, is questionable with a left elbow injury suffered agains the Redskins, although he was able to practice on Friday.
The Bucs also list their receiver Chris Godwin as questionable with an ankle injury, and another important injury is starting center Ryan Jensen, who’s questionable with a hamstring injury. If Jensen is unable to play Sunday, then Ali Marpet, starting at left guard this year, but who played center a lot of 2017, would likely take his place.
The Buccaneers opponents, the Giants, had four players on their injury list this week, but all of them are now slated to play in the game on Sunday.
For the Jaguars match-up, they have two significant injuries to update, starting linebacker Telvin Smith was able to practice this week with his shoulder injury and is listed as questionable, but expected to play against Pittsburgh. There is concern for defensive tackle Marcell Dareus with a triceps injury and he is also listed as questionable. Dareus will likely be a game time decision.
Defensive back A.J. Bouye has been bothered by a calf injury, but he is also expected to play after being able to practice Thursday and Friday and listed as questionable. Coach Doug Marrone also announced that tackle Erik Flowers, who left last week’s game with tendonitis in his knee will start on the makeshift Jaguars line.
As we wrote earlier in the week, Jacksonville placed Center Brandon Linder on injured reserve with a knee injury suffered in last week’s lost Indianapolis.
The Steelers have no significant injuries, despite Ben Roethlisberger and James Conner both being on the injured list,. They will both be playing on Sunday. Connor was a much bigger concern having been in concussion protocol earlier after suffering one in the win last Thursday night over Carolina.
However, he cleared the protocol and was able to fully practice this week.
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