TAMPA — J.R. Sweezy has the difficult task of replacing Logan Mankins as the Bucs' new left guard, but he already shares the seven-time Pro Bowl player's love of clearing a path for running back Doug Martin.
"I love run blocking. That's what I live for," Sweezy said Thursday, a day after signing a five-year, $32.5 million contract that includes $14.5 million guaranteed. "I take a lot of pride in it. I want to run the football. It's what I'm about."
The Bucs hope Sweezy, 26, can bring a winning mentality to their improving team — he started in 10 playoff games in four seasons in Seattle, including consecutive Super Bowls in the 2013-14 seasons. Last season, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson called him "the best guard in football."
Tampa Bay's top priority was re-signing Martin to a five-year deal Wednesday, but its next move was to bring in Sweezy, who also takes over Mankins' role as the team's highest-paid lineman.
"We identified J.R. early on as one of our top targets in free agency," Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht said in a statement. "He has all of the attributes we look for in an offensive lineman: tough, physical, smart, athletic. And he is a winner. We are excited to have him onboard with us."
Sweezy played right guard exclusively with Seattle, but he said he will move into Mankins' spot at left guard, allowing Ali Marpet to stay in the position he played as a rookie last fall. Sweezy played defensive tackle in college at N.C. State, flipping to offense as a rookie selected in the seventh round in 2012, so it's an easy transition by comparison.
"Switching from D-line to O-line was enough," said Sweezy, at ease in a Bucs polo and camouflage shorts during his introductory news conference. "Being right-hand dominant, it was easier to start with the right. But now, after playing it for four years and finally understanding and being comfortable with the position, I feel fully comfortable in being able to play left."
Taking over for Mankins won't be easy, as the Bucs are also losing a team captain. But Sweezy said his leadership is more by his actions than his words.
"I'm not a big vocal guy. … I choose to lead by example, by doing right over and over until the job's done," he said. "That's how I feel I should lead."
The Bucs can only hope that the success Sweezy enjoyed in Seattle can follow him to Tampa — the Seahawks went 46-18 in his four years there with a Super Bowl championship, while the Bucs went 19-45 in the same span.
"I wanted to go somewhere to be valued, to be part of something special," he said. "This is where I feel like I'm supposed to be, and I'm excited to be a Buc."
Tampa Bay might not be done upgrading its offensive line. Minnesota TV station KSTP reported that the Bucs were interested in Bengals right tackle Andre Smith, who has 73 starts in seven seasons. If true, that's not a ringing endorsement for veterans Demar Dotson and Gosder Cherilus, who played right tackle last season and are both under contract for 2016.
The Bucs still haven't addressed their defense; they brought in Lions linebacker Tahir Whitehead for a visit Thursday morning but saw him decide to go back and sign a two-year deal to stay with the Lions.
The Bucs had brought Giants defensive end Robert Ayers in for a visit Wednesday night, but he left without a contract and reportedly was visiting the Jaguars, who entered free agency with the NFL's most salary cap room and spent aggressively in the first 24 hours of free agency.
Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.