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Bucs Beat

Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Agent: Bucs DT Roy Miller headed toward free agency

Bucs nose tackle Roy Miller will head elsewhere as a free agent if the current state of his negotiations with Tampa Bay holds.

Talks between the team and its 2009 third-round draft choice, scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on March 12, have broken off with the sides seemingly far apart.

It’s unclear what the team is offering Miller and his contract demands aren’t known. But Miller’s agent did nothing to dismiss the notion that Miller is destined to play in another uniform in 2013.

“Roy is excited to see what’s out there for him in free agency,” said his agent, Mike McCartney. “He has a lot to offer after an excellent season, helping a team that was last against the run (in 2011) go to No. 1 against the run last season.” …

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What the Bucs' Ronde Barber decision means for Mark Barron

Mark Barron’s optimum role might be playing in the spot Ronde Barber often does -- near the line of scrimmage where Barron can showcase his physicality.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Mark Barron’s optimum role might be playing in the spot Ronde Barber often does -- near the line of scrimmage where Barron can showcase his physicality.

No single factor is going to ultimately decide what path the Bucs choose when it comes to the future of veteran free safety Ronde Barber.

There are many facets, including Barber’s level of interest, the salary the team is willing to pay, Barber’s role and the ability of the club to find a replacement. But there’s one part of this decision that impacts another key member of the Tampa Bay secondary, too.

You might have read during the past few days in our newspaper references to the way the Bucs used Barber last season – often in the tackle box, much like a strong safety – and what that has meant for 2012 first-round pick Mark Barron, the team’s actual strong safety.

Barber is still an effective player, but this is where it gets dicey. The Bucs certainly want more out of Barron, and should expect it from a No. 7 overall draft choice. But Barron’s optimum role might be playing in the spot Barber often does – near the line of scrimmage where Barron can showcase his physicality. …

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Defensive backs heating up NFL Combine with fast 40s

Before we go any further, we must offer a disclaimer: No player will be selected in April’s NFL draft solely on the basis of his 40-yard dash time.

With that said, it’s been an interesting day at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, where defensive backs are running the 40-yard dash. You should be well-versed in the reasons their performances are relevant to the Bucs, who weren’t exactly solid against the pass in 2012 (they ranked last in pass defense).

Another reason we’re posting this: The 40-yard dash is more relevant to defensive backs than just about any position.

Already, a quintet of players have run 40 times under 4.4 seconds, more than the mere two defensive backs who managed that feat last year.

Mississippi State’s Darius Slay (4.36 seconds) is the clubhouse leader, with a blazing fast time. Slay isn’t seen as an early-round pick, but a 40 time that quick is going to get teams’ attention leading up to the draft.

Also impressing today were Alabama’s Dee Milliner, the class’ best defensive back, who ran 4.37. Washington’s Desmond Trufant, who is a player Bucs fans should become familiar with, ran 4.38 to follow up a strong performance at the Senior Bowl last month. …

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Bucs, agent optimistic about Mike Williams contract extension

Mike Williams, selected in the fourth round in 2010, has averaged 64 catches in his first three seasons and had a career-best 996 yards in 2012.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

Mike Williams, selected in the fourth round in 2010, has averaged 64 catches in his first three seasons and had a career-best 996 yards in 2012.

The agent representing Bucs receiver Mike Williams and the team’s general manager, Mark Dominik, had a “very productive meeting” at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, creating optimism the sides can agree on a contract extension.

But the agent, Hadley Engelhard, said the timeline has been pushed back, with the Bucs asking for time to get through the couple of busy months that lie ahead.

“I met with Mark and it was a very productive meeting,” Engelhard said. “We are progressing toward a new contract for Mike, but they’ve asked us to be patient to let them get through free agency and the draft. We’ve agreed to be a little less aggressive and give them some time. The target date right now would be some time in May.”

The financial aspects of the conversation don’t appear to have advanced too far, but Engelhard expressed significant willingness from both sides to reach a deal.

“Mike really likes Tampa, and they like Mike,” he said. “He’s definitely outplayed his fourth-round compensation, and they want him to be a part of the future.” …

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Are the Bucs lowering expectations for free agency?

One year after the Bucs made the biggest free-agent splash in club history, Dominik is being quite careful to address the Bucs’ 2013 free-agency plans in a measured and cautious fashion.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

One year after the Bucs made the biggest free-agent splash in club history, Dominik is being quite careful to address the Bucs’ 2013 free-agency plans in a measured and cautious fashion.

I haven’t quite mastered the trick of reading minds, something that would make being a reporter infinitely easier.

But reading between lines, that’s different.

We do that all the time, and here goes the latest attempt: When you listen to Bucs general manager Mark Dominik talk about free agency, it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that he’s lowering expectations of what the team will do during the signing period.

One year after the Bucs made the biggest free-agent splash in club history, Dominik is being quite careful to address the Bucs’ 2013 free-agency plans in a measured and cautious fashion.

Take Dominik’s comments last week, which were relayed by our Rick Stroud from the NFL combine in Indianapolis.

“It’s not the same overall (free-agent) class there was last year,” Dominik said. “Although there are some really talented players in free agency, there are 31 other clubs that may want to have them and one that already has them, so it’s going to be difficult. But we want to be positioned in case something makes sense.” …

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Bucs prepared to move on with Bowers at LDE; won't use franchise tag on Bennett

INDIANAPOLIS – Da’Quan Bowers spends part of the off-season playing lead guitar in a gospel band. But guess who is singing praises of the Bucs’ third-year defensive end?

General manager Mark Dominik says he believes a healthy Bowers can be among the NFL’s premier pass rushers. For that reason as much as any, the Bucs won’t use their franchise or transition tag on any player, particularly defensive end Michael Bennett, the team’s leading sacker who will become a free agent March 12.

“Da’Quan is a guy I thought continued to accelerate his play throughout the end of the season,’’ Dominik said. “The more we can get him on the football field, I think the better we are as a football team. Certainly, that’s part of the thought process going forward with our entire football team, hopefully getting Adrian Clayborn back and 100 percent healthy and then be able to pair him with a guy like Da’Quan who we feel can be a premier left end in this league. That certainly has to be part of the entire picture we’re looking at, not only with free agency, but how we’re putting this thing together.’’

The Bucs still are interested in re-signing Bennett, 27, who led the team with nine sacks last season. Dominik met with his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, on Friday at the NFL scouting combine. Certainly, Bennett has exceeded expectations since the undrafted free agent from Texas A&M was claimed off waivers from Seattle in 2009. His 13 sacks are the most of any Tampa Bay player over the past two seasons.

Bowers, 22, faces two gun charges after his arrest for trying to check a pistol on a US Air Flight at LaGuardia last week and team officials are hopeful the matter will be resolved favorably and he won’t miss games as a result. The second-round pick from Clemson in 2011, who plays guitar for the Legendary Singing Stars, was able to show the Bucs enough last year after returning at mid-season from surgery to repair a torn Achilles. In 10 games, he had three sacks and 13 tackles.

“We’ve spoken internally as an organization with ownership, certainly with Greg (Schiano) and me, and we’re not going to use the franchise or transition tag on any player on our roster,’’ Dominik said.

“We’re trying to meet with the agents of every single one of our free agents so they can understand the direction we’re thinking, where we’re heading. We’re still having negotiations or conversations with them. It’s hard to say whether they will be productive or not, but it’s certainly something we try to do is have meetings with the agents of our free agents and have meaningful dialogue.’’

The Bucs have $30.1-million in salary cap space, the fifth-most in the league. That figure could increase if linebacker Quincy Black and/or cornerback Eric Wright are released.

But Bucs fans probably should not expect a repeat of 2012, when the Bucs were big players the first day of free agency and committed more than $140-million to receiver Vincent Jackson, guard Carl Nicks and Wright.

“We’re not going to be in a rush to sign someone,’’ Dominik said. “With the way the cap is moving slowly, because we have room, we want to make sure we utilize it to its best potential. Whatever that is and however long it takes to be that way. As you see in this league, there are a lot of teams that are over the cap and in tough situations going into this free agency. So we don’t want to get in that position. We’re going to be very smart with how we use the actual salary cap we have currently and the amount going forward.

“In general, (2012) was the biggest free agent class that ever hit the market. This class isn’t that size. Without seeing all the tags come through in the next week or so, that will determine the market as well. It’s not the same overall class there was it last year. Although there are some really talented players in free agency, there are 31 other clubs that may want to have them and one that already has them so it’s going to be difficult, but we want to be positioned in case something makes sense.’’

The Bucs have 10 unrestricted free agents who could hit the market March 12, a class led by Bennett that also includes safety Ronde Barber, defensive tackle Roy Miller, tight end Dallas Clark and cornerback E.J. Biggers.

BUCS UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (10)
S Ronde Barber, DE Michael Bennett, CB E.J. Biggers, TE Dallas Clark, LS Andrew Economos, CB Brandon McDonald, DT Roy Miller, WR Roscoe Parrish, WR Sammie Stroughter, T Jeremy Trueblood.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (3)
RB LeGarrette Blount, LB Jacob Cutrera DE Daniel Te’o-Nesheim

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A gentler Schiano in second season with Bucs?

Greg Schiano is sensitive to criticism that he overworked his players in training camp and in practice, leading to a late-season swoon after a 6-4 start.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Greg Schiano is sensitive to criticism that he overworked his players in training camp and in practice, leading to a late-season swoon after a 6-4 start.

INDIANAPOLIS  -- Last year in a poll of NFL players, Greg Schiano was voted the coach they would least like to play for. The survey did not include Bucs players, who might have had a thing or two to say about being under the thumb of their heavy-handed head coach.

Schiano is wound tighter than the spiral on a Josh Freeman pass. Players still will have to have their toes on the line when it comes to stretching drills. But the Drill Sergeant approach may be a gentler one in Year 2, Schiano says.

“We had one big thing we had to do. We had to establish a culture in the building,’’ Schiano said. “Sometimes, you have to go overboard one way or another to get that culture established. But I think at this point, our football team understands who I am and how our football program is going to be run. I think that happened as the season went on.’’

The devil still is in the details for Schiano. He will continue to insist quarterbacks wear braces on the leg that strides into passes. Players may have to still carry two water bottles to meetings. But other mandatory rules could be suspended. Like what?

"Oh, just some mandatory things I don't think grown men need,’’ Schiano said. “Take mandatory meals. If a guy is meeting his weight -- we have goal weights a guy has to meet each week -- if a guy is meeting his weight, I don't think they need any of our staff making sure they check in for breakfast and for lunch. They're grown men, they're professional athletes. But again, we had to establish a culture of accountability. But now they understand. And if your weight isn't where it's supposed to be, you will get checked in.’’ …

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Bucs weighing whether or not to keep Eric Wright

Eric Wright was suspended four games for Adderall use and finished with only 39 tackles and one interception in 10 games.

LEAH MILLIS | Times

Eric Wright was suspended four games for Adderall use and finished with only 39 tackles and one interception in 10 games.

The Bucs have a decision to make soon on cornerback Eric Wright.

The former Lions free agent was a disappointment to the Bucs after signing a 5-year, $37.5-million contract last March.

Wright was suspended four games for Adderall use and finished with only 39 tackles and one interception in 10 games. The suspended voided the $7.5-million in salary guarantees for 2013.

General manager Mark Dominik would be foolish not to use that get-out-of-jail-free card. The only way the Bucs consider keeping Wright is if he agrees to a lesser salary and there are indications he may be willing to do that. …

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Quincy Black may be done with the Bucs

Quincy Black is scheduled to earn $5.5 million in base salary for 2014. If he is unable to play next season, he is eligible for injury protection worth as much as $1-million.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times

Quincy Black is scheduled to earn $5.5 million in base salary for 2014. If he is unable to play next season, he is eligible for injury protection worth as much as $1-million.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Quincy Black’s career with the Bucs may end soon.

The Bucs linebacker, who lost some movement and strength in his left arm following a tackle against Chargers running back Ryan Matthews last Nov. 11, had nerve graft surgery at the end of January and will need several months to determine whether it was successful.

Black is scheduled to earn $5.5 million in base salary for 2014. If he is unable to play next season, he is eligible for injury protection worth as much as $1-million. An additional $500,000 in injury protection would be made available to Black if the nerve damage is career-ending.

“This is a unique surgery and it’s going to take time to figure out if it was successful,’’ general manager Mark Dominik. “So you generally like to walk out of any surgery and say that was a successful surgery. But the reality is, that because of the nerve damage and the nerve grafting and everything, you won’t know if it’s successful or not for several months. It’s a tough injury and a unique injury and at the same point it’s hard for us to have any timetable or feel for it.’’

Black, 28, was a third round pick from New Mexico for the Bucs in 2007. He’s played in 81 games with 3.5 sacks, three interceptions, five forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

Since it is unlikely Black will return to the Bucs next season, they will need a new strong side linebacker. Veteran Adam Hayward filled in for Black the final seven games of the season.

“Yeah, I mean, we have some guys that are on the roster that would have an opportunity to maybe play for that,’’ Dominik said. “Obviously Adam Hayward filled in for the rest of the season. Jacob Cutrera. Najee Goode could go out to the Sam (strong side linebacker). Ideally he’s a Mike (middle linebacker).’’

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Bucs in no hurry to discuss Ronde Barber's future

Cornerback Ronde Barber is weighing whether to play a 17th season with the Bucs.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Cornerback Ronde Barber is weighing whether to play a 17th season with the Bucs.

It's hard to know if all the sand has run out of the hour glass for safety Ronde Barber, who is deciding whether to play a 17th season. But the Bucs aren't in a hurry to discuss his future.
 
Coach Greg Schiano confirmed Friday there has been no attempt to have a dialogue with Barber, who has no contract for 2014. General manager Mark Dominik said he plans to talk with Barber prior to the start of free agency March 12.
 
The reason? Schiano wants Barber to have sufficient time to heal from the bumps and bruises of an NFL season before making a decision. And the Bucs are also evaluating their options in the draft and free agency to determine what -- if any -- role they would have to offer Barber next season.

"We're going to have to see. We haven't talked yet,'' Schiano said. "Purposely. We're trying to figure out, we evaluated everybody, we're trying to figure out where we're going. He's trying to figure it out. I want to give him enough time to where the soreness is gone. He needs to get away and (say), "Now what do I really want to do?' Let's not make decisions based on, "my ankle still hurts.' When you get to the stage of the career where he is, things just take a little longer to get better. They heal a little slower. Once he starts feeling good again, he can make a decision.
 
"There's plenty of opportunity for us to make the right decision. We don't have to -- and I'm a true believer in that -- don't rush just so you can check off the box. Let things unfold, because sometimes decision have a way of working themselves out. Sometimes you make the wrong decision because you make it at the wrong time. We have time and I think it's on our side, I mean Ronde's and ours. Collectively, we'll communicate. One thing, as I said all year long, he was awesome for me and our team. He embodies what the Bucs are about.''

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Schiano believes Freeman can help Bucs reach Super Bowl

Josh Freeman became the first 4,000-yard passer in club history and set a team record with 27 touchdowns.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Josh Freeman became the first 4,000-yard passer in club history and set a team record with 27 touchdowns.

INDIANAPOLIS -- After time to reflect on his first season in the NFL, a rested Bucs coach Greg Schiano said he has belief that quarterback Josh Freeman can help the Bucs reach their goal of a Super Bowl.

"Josh Freeman is our quarterback and I believe that with Josh Freeman, we’ll be able to accomplish our goals,'' Schiano said. "That’s my belief and our organization’s belief. We’ve been busy working and I haven’t had a chance to clean that up so I’m glad I had an opportunity to today.''

Schiano said at the end of the season, when he indicated he wanted to bring in competition for Freeman, that statement got more attention than he intended. While he says competition is important at every position, it wasn't meant to diminish his belief in the Bucs quarterback.

"At the end of the season, the day after the final game, I probably said something that got a lot more attention than I meant for it to, and really it was about,'' Schiano said. "At that point, every year that I’ve been a head coach, I step back an evaluate every phase of our program and that takes a while. And I even said I don’t know if I was the right guy. let me figure that out first and we went through the staff and every player.

"The one thing I believe in is that competition is healthy. So I made the statement that I want competition at every position and it’s my fault, but it kind of stood out at the quarterback position more than any other.''

Freeman, who became the first 4,000-yard passer in club history and set a team record with 27 touchdowns, threw nine of his 17 interceptions in three games.

There is no single reason, but it is decision-making, right?,'' Schiano said. "He's got all the talent in the world and we've just got to make sure that we do a good job of preparing him and he does a good job of preparing himself and you go out and play. He's got the ability. We play a little better defense, and some of those losses are wins.''

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NFL Combine provides chance for contract talks with Bucs' free agents

Bucs general manager Mark Dominik said recently that he much prefers to conduct contract talks with agents in person.

Well, that means the coming days finally present that opportunity, with the NFL Combine kicking off in Indianapolis, making the city the center of the football universe for the next week. A majority of player agents attend the event, putting them in close proximity to Dominik.

It’s a key period for Dominik because, so far, he’s had little to no conversations with the Bucs’ key free agents. That includes defensive tackle Roy Miller and defensive end Michael Bennett.

The Bucs also have other free agents to consider, like safety Ronde Barber (is he retiring or returning?), tight end Dallas Clark, cornerback E.J. Biggers and restricted free agents like running back LeGarrette Blount and defensive end Daniel Te’o-Nesheim.

Whether the apparent lack of in-depth talks is indicative of anything is unclear. There’s still plenty of time to work with before any of these players hit the market. The NFL’s new year (and the free-agent signing period) doesn’t begin until March 12. …

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Da'Quan Bowers could get leniency from New York authorities

Bucs defensive end Da’Quan Bowers faces two counts of a felony gun charge in New York, but several factors could result in a favorable resolution, say New York defense attorneys.

Bowers, who was arrested Monday morning at LaGuardia Airport for criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree, told people close to him he unwittingly traveled to the city with the gun on Friday in a checked bag. When he alerted airline personnel about the weapon before departing Monday morning, he was arrested for the illegal possession because he lacked a New York license.

But if the weapon is legally owned in a different state and Bowers can show a lack of a criminal intent, he could get off with minimal discipline, attorneys said.

Also working in his favor: The jurisdiction. The Queens County District Attorney takes a more lenient approach to possession cases like Bowers’, according to attorneys.

“The state of New York doesn’t care what the federal law is or what other states’ laws are,” said attorney Jay K. Goldberg, who does not represent Bowers. “But the Queens DA has a very pragmatic approach if the gun is registered somewhere else.” …

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Will Da'Quan Bowers get the benefit of the doubt from prosecutors?

Da'Quan Bowers, who registered three sacks coming off the bench, is possibly in line to take over a starting role with left defensive end Michael Bennett scheduled to become a free agent next month.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Da'Quan Bowers, who registered three sacks coming off the bench, is possibly in line to take over a starting role with left defensive end Michael Bennett scheduled to become a free agent next month.

The Bucs might have harbored concerns about Da’Quan Bowers’ ability to stay healthy given his recent history. But one thing no one has obsessed over is whether he could stay out of trouble.

Bowers has consistently been a player of high character since joining the Bucs in 2011, a guy known to play guitar in his late father’s gospel band during its travels around the Southeast U.S.

That’s why seeing Bowers involved in a messy situation involving felony possession of a handgun on Monday was surprising, to say the least.

Not surprising were the apparent circumstances, which seem to involve no ill intent: We’re told Bowers unwittingly carried the gun on his last-minute flight to New York from North Carolina before the weekend, only to realize after his arrival that it was in his checked bag.

How does that happen? As told to us, Bowers' girlfriend surprised him with the trip and they left the same day, packing in a hurry to catch their outbound flight. It appears he tried to do what he thought was the right thing before returning Monday morning, informing airline personnel about the weapon while seeking to transport it back to North Carolina. …

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Bucs' Da'Quan Bowers arrested at New York airport on felony gun charge

Defensive end Da’Quan Bowers was a second-round draft pick of the Bucs in 2011.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Defensive end Da’Quan Bowers was a second-round draft pick of the Bucs in 2011.

Bucs defensive end Da’Quan Bowers, the team’s 2011 second-round draft pick and one of its most promising young players, was arrested at New York’s LaGuardia Airport Monday morning for alleged felony possession of a Smith & Wesson .40 caliber firearm – a charge that could potentially put him behind bars.

Port authority police arrested Bowers at the check-in counter in Terminal C, an authority spokesman said. Bowers was scheduled to fly from New York to Raleigh, N.C. on a US Airways flight but now is being charged with criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree. Bowers was scheduled to be arraigned Monday evening and was expected to post bail.

The charge Bowers faces is the same one originally levied against former Giants receiver Plaxico Burress after a 2008 firearms incident in a New York nightclub. Burress served 20 months in prison after pleading to a lesser charge following an accidental discharge that resulted in his gunshot wound. …

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