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After a productive offseason, Bucs should compete in 2012

There’s reason to believe that the 2011 season was the true aberration for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – not 2010.

Behind the solid play of quarterback Josh Freeman, the Bucs won 10 games in 2010 only to transform into a laughingstock in 2011. Led by the usually cheap Malcolm Glazer, Tampa Bay kicked off the 2011 season by making punter Michael Koenen their prized free agent piece. The Glazers clearly assumed that they could win with the same roster they had in 2010 and the plan backfired in their faces.

First round pick Adrian Clayborn turned out to be a stud but the defense as a whole was horrific, finishing 21st in pass defense, 30th in overall defense and dead last in run defense. The Bucs also allowed 30.9 points per game, which was most by any team in the NFL.

The offense wasn’t much better, finishing 16th in passing yards per game, 30th in rushing and 21st overall. Their 17.9 points per game average was the sixth fewest by any team in the league.

But thanks to a successful offseason, the Bucs have bounced back.

It’s not known whether Greg Schiano will be a successful NFL head coach but there’s little doubt that he’ll bring toughness and discipline to a team that was lacking in each category last season. The Glazers also surprised by breaking out their checkbook in order to sign free agents Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks and Eric Wright. The team’s most underrated move was bringing back defensive end Michael Bennett, who was solid in all facets of the game last season.

The Bucs’ draft was a success, too. Mark Barron is best when playing in the box but thanks to Nick Saban’s tutelage, he can hold his own in coverage as well. Trading back into the first round in order to select Boise State running back Doug Martin was also solid as he’ll force LeGarrette Blount to be a more rounded player if he hopes to get carries in Schiano’s offense. Linebacker Lavonte David was a first-round talent that the Bucs drafted in the second round, while sixth-round pick Keith Tandy is a physical cornerback who could push for playing time down the road.

Assuming the Saints re-sign Drew Brees, they’re still the class of the NFC South but the bounty scandal has left them without a head coach for the entire year, as well as several players for the first few weeks of the season. The Falcons will be good again but the Bucs always seem to give Atlanta trouble (especially in Tampa Bay) and the Panthers are a couple of defensive pieces shy from competing for a playoff spot.

Thus, the division is wide open this year. Granted, Jackson and Nicks have to stay motivated after signing long-term deals, Freeman has to bounce back from a rocky 2011 performance, and Schiano has to prove himself in the ultra-competitive NFL. But this is a team that has significantly upgraded their roster in just one offseason. So much so that they could contend for a division title this season.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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Report: Drew Brees “livid” about franchise tag

A New Orleans Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees reacts after walking off the field after a three-and-out against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Banks Stadium in Baltimore on December 19, 2010. UPI/Kevin Dietsch

WIST-AM New Orleans is reporting that Drew Brees is “livid” about being franchised tagged and will not sign his tender.

Drew Brees is “livid” about being franchise tagged and not receiving a long-term contract, according to WIST-AM in New Orleans. The radio station cites sources in the Brees camp that he will not sign the franchise tag deal. Brees and the Saints have until July 15 to hammer out a long-term deal. If a deal isn’t struck, Brees must sign the franchise tag deal or hold out.

Brees doesn’t seem like the type to be “livid” about anything, so there’s a chance that this report isn’t accurate. But if it is, how bad could things continue to get in New Orleans?

I don’t think there’s a chance in Hades that the Saints don’t figure out a way to lock up Brees long term, but they’re facing some major issues right now. They’re currently awaiting punishment from the league for their “bounty program” fiasco, their best offensive lineman (Carl Nicks) and No. 1 receiver (Marques Colston) are about to hit the open market, and Brees’ contract situation is a mess. They’re even scheduled to work out Randy Moss on Tuesday for cribs’ sake.

The Saints have been a NFL powerhouse for the last three years but their roster could look very different come next fall. Don’t forget that along with Nicks and Colston, Robert Meachem is also a free agent and there’s talk that middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma will be released. The team did well to hire Steve Spagnuolo to replace Gregg Williams as their next defensive coordinator but their linebacker corps remains weak and outside of Will Smith, the cupboard isn’t exactly stacked with quality pass rushers.

Things will eventually start to stabilize again in New Orleans. But by that point, will they have forked over a couple of draft picks and watched some of their top players depart in free agency?

NFL Offseason Report: Brees, Saints remain far apart in contract talks

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees talks to teammates on the bench as the Saints play the Carolina Panthers in an NFL football game in Charlotte, North Carolina on October 9, 2011. New Orleans won 30-27. UPI/Nell Redmond .

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the New Orleans Saints and free agent Drew Brees remain “well apart” in contract talks, which presents a problem with Monday’s franchise tag deadline approaching fast.

As of right now, the issue isn’t whether or not the Saints will be able to re-sign Brees. The issue is whether or not they’ll be able to re-sign him by Monday and therefore avoid having to tag him so he doesn’t hit the open market come mid March. Brees hasn’t given any indication that he wants to leave New Orleans but the Saints can’t risk losing their most valuable player.

If the two sides don’t come to an agreement by Monday and the Saints do use their franchise tag on Brees, then they’ll risk losing fellow free agents Marques Colston and Carl Nicks. Colston is the team’s No. 1 receiver while Nicks is one of the best guards in the league. Both players have stated that they want to return to New Orleans but they’re also due pay raises.

Per Schefter’s report, Brees told the New Orleans Times-Picayune last week that he was confident he would reach a deal with the Saints. But he appears to be targeting a contract that will make him the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL and when you’re dealing with that kind of money, a deal takes time to structure.

But time isn’t on the Saints’ side. Again, the Saints aren’t in immediate danger of losing Brees but if they would be in much better shape if they can get a deal done this weekend and then at least have the option to tag either Colston or Nicks.

The top five best, worst and most improved offensive lines in the NFL

There’s a secret that most good fantasy football owners don’t want you to know: Knowing how good (or how bad) an offensive line is could be the difference between you making the playoffs in your league, and winning the whole damn thing.

The bottom line is that the offensive line is the key to whether or not an offense is going to be successful in any given season. They’re the reason why guys like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brews are able to rack up terrific passing yards year in and year out, and why Brandon Jacobs, Michael Turner and Adrian Peterson continue to be solid fantasy backs. So knowing which O-lines are quality and which act like revolving doors to their team’s backfield will give you an edge on draft day.

Below is a ranking of the top five best lines, the top five most improved lines and the top five worst lines in the NFL heading into the ’09 season. Use these rankings as a tool to help you make better decisions on draft day and to also aid you when you’re stuck between a couple of players in later rounds.

Granted, we’re not advocating bumping certain players to the top of your pre-draft rankings just based on these rankings. The Lions offensive line is the worst in football, but if Kevin Smith is there for the taking in the 5th round, by all means jump on him. This article is purely meant to be a helpful aid; obviously you still have to use solid judgment on draft day.

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