If you happen to be the neighbor of Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman, please forgive him if he's frolicking gleefully around his front yard this morning. He's gotten some pretty good news over the last 24 hours.
After learning Tuesday that he'll get to throw to Vincent Jackson, he learned Wednesday morning that the game's best guard will be protecting him. The Bucs signed Carl Nicks, formerly of the New Orleans Saints, to a five-year deal worth $47.5 million. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that $31 million of that is guaranteed.
Add cornerback Eric Wright to the Bucs' haul, and it's safe to assume that the Bucs will make everyone's list of "winners" in free agency. If they wanted to jump up to the level of the Saints and Falcons in the NFC South, this is what they had to do ‒ make strong, bold moves. It doesn't hurt that this particular move weakens the Saints, either.
The financial risks aren't what you might imagine, either. According to ESPN's Paul Kuharsky, who has seen the contracts for Jackson and Wright, there's no signing bonus money prorated over the lives of the deals. The Bucs are using their huge store of cap space to front-load deals, leaving them the option to cut and run later if need be.
Josh Freeman's placed securely in the pressure cooker now, too. He may be happy that he's got new toys to play with, but these moves strip him of all excuses. After a brilliant second season, Freeman regressed in 2011; his quarterback rating dipping a full 20 points. As he went, so did the Bucs, bottoming out at 4-12 after going 10-6 in 2010.
Now he's entering his fourth year, and he's got the horses to compete. Right now is the time for Freeman. There is no more "He's young, give him time."
These aren't moves without risk. But if the Bucs wanted to affect the power balance in the NFC South, these contracts were necessary. They've got confidence in Freeman and in new head coach Greg Schiano, and felt like now was the time to invest some money and take the next step.
If things work out like they're anticipating, the Bucs just might find themselves in the mix at the top of the NFC.
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