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.
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