TAMPA — Last week the Bucs made Quincy Black rich with a contract worth $29 million. Earlier, they invested a third-round pick in Mason Foster and have talked him up as the future at middle linebacker.
On Monday the Bucs made a less-heralded but important move within the linebacker unit.
By re-signing Adam Hayward to a three-year contract, the Bucs gave their special teams a major boost and much-needed leadership and depth to practically all three linebacker spots.
"He has the ability to play a little (strongside) linebacker, which he started at for us," coach Raheem Morris said. "He also knows a little (weakside) linebacker and he's been a part-time (middle) for us, not to mention what he does in some of our packages.
"He's become a very valuable person around here."
Hayward chose between offers from the Chargers and Bucs. San Diego employs former Bucs special teams coach Rich Bisaccia, who valued Hayward's special teams contributions.
"Tampa really stepped up to the plate. It's good to be back," Hayward said.
"It definitely does (give you confidence) knowing that they respect you to come in here and be a leader and take care of that phase. It's a quiet phase, and for the head coach and the general manager to respect me enough on the field and all the stuff I do off the field to keep me around, it's awesome."
The Bucs are likely done addressing the linebacker spot.
NICKEL BATTLE: The Bucs don't have many position battles during this camp, but one position to watch is nickel cornerback.
Third-year veteran E.J. Biggers and second-year man Myron Lewis will fight it out for the spot. The Bucs use the nickel package extensively, with an extra defensive back replacing an outside linebacker in passing situations.
Biggers is probably a bit ahead, but Lewis closed the gap with his strong performance late last season. While Biggers took over as a starter when left cornerback Aqib Talib was lost to a hip injury, Lewis became the nickelback and was impressive.
"In the secondary, we're pretty clear-cut, but we do have Biggers and Myron Lewis," Morris said. "They're battling. Biggers had a great season but Myron Lewis really came on at the end played well for us down the stretch."
HURRY UP AND WAIT: Players who signed contracts as unrestricted or restricted free agents since the lifting of the NFL lockout last week haven't been allowed to practice and won't be permitted on the field until Thursday. That means they'll miss the first couple of days in pads and might not be in so-called "football shape."
Still, Morris said he believes it's possible for them to join padded practices from the outset.
"We did it last year," he said. "That's how we started our training camp last year (in pads). All you (media) said I was crazy and we ended up going 10-6 and having a pretty good season.
"We'll make sure they're safe. It's my job to protect them, too."
BENN NOT READY: WR Arrelious Benn watched his teammates don pads Monday and wished he could join them, but he said the team's medical staff has decided he should wait "a couple weeks" before participating in contact as he is coming off a season-ending knee surgery.