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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs take significant turn with free-agent signings

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 01:54 PM
TAMPA -

When Matt Monteleone heard the news early Wednesday that the Buccaneers had signed free agents Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks and Eric Wright, he decided he wanted to be part of the moment.

So, he wrote a home-made welcome sign on a large red poster board, gathered up three of his buddies and headed down to One Buc Place, where he spent the afternoon waiting under a tree for a glimpse of the team's newcomers.

"We're here to show them some Tampa love,'' Monteleone, 28, said.

Why not? Jackson, Nicks and Wright had already been shown some Tampa money.

On what general manager Mark Dominik referred to as a "great day in Buccaneer history," the team introduced a trio of impact players whose contracts are worth a combined $141.05 million.

Jackson, a two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver from San Diego, signed with Tampa Bay just hours after the free agent period began on Tuesday. Nicks, a two-time Pro Bowl left guard from New Orleans, and Wright, a five-year veteran cornerback from Detroit, signed early Wednesday.

The three deals include a combined $67 million in guaranteed payouts and represent a significant turn in the organization's direction.

After three years of renovating a franchise that was torn down to its core at the beginning of his tenure, Dominik announced that the rebuilding of the Buccaneers has reached its end.

"I think we're tired of rebuilding,'' Dominik said after introducing Jackson, Nicks and Wright at an afternoon news conference. "That's not what we want to be.

"We want to be the best team we can be in 2012, and we know that these guys can help us become that. I'm a big believer in quality, and today showed we're going to do this in a quality way."

They'll do it, however, without veteran center Jeff Faine.

Hours after acquiring Nicks, who will push Jeremy Zuttah from guard to center, Tampa Bay released the 30-year-old offensive team captain after four seasons. Faine was due to make $5.925 million in 2012 as part of the six-year deal he signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent in 2008.

The newcomers, though, were not about to argue Dominik's claim about quality. Not after the Bucs dispatched what co-chairman Joel Glazer jokingly referred to as the team's "fleet'' of private jets to bring them to Tampa.

"I'm not the smallest guy, but flying in that jet, I felt totally special,'' said Nicks, a 6-foot-5, 343-pound four-year veteran who flew in from New Orleans late Tuesday.

"The ownership definitely started out on the right foot by flying us in like that,'' said Jackson, who flew from Los Angeles with Wright and both players' wives. "And coach (Greg Schiano) was right there to pick us up at the airport. That says a lot about his character and what he's about.''

Schiano is about family. He made that point during his introductory news conference in January and during his recruitment of the new players.

"What was stressed about Tampa is that it's family,'' said Wright, a 5-foot-10, 190-pound veteran from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. "And I noticed that right out of the gate.

"I know a lot of people on this team, and they all say the same thing, that this is a team that you want to play for and be a part of because everyone has one goal, and that's to win.''

None of the newcomers are strangers to winning. They all came from playoff-caliber teams that attempted to re-sign them.

Each, though, thought playing for the Bucs offered an opportunity to grow with a young team.

"We believe in what they have here,'' said Jackson, 29, whose five-year contract is worth $55.5 million. "If you want to call it rebuilding you can call it that, but we think there's a lot of good things happening here in this city.''

Wright, 26, considered signing with the Bucs a year ago when he opted to sign with the Lions. His five-year contract is worth $38 million.

The Bucs were in need of help at cornerback. Starting right corner Ronde Barber is contemplating retirement, and starting left corner Aqib Talib is slated to stand trail on March 26 in Texas for his role in a March 2011 shooting incident. Charged with felony aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, Talib faces possible jail time as well as a possible NFL suspension.

Nicks, meanwhile, is excited about the chance to play in a run-first offense.

"No disrespect to (New Orleans), but they are a pass-first, pass-second, pass-third, fourth, fifth, and sixth kind of team,'' said Nicks, 26, whose five-year contract is worth $47.5 million.

"They may slide a run in at the end, but here it's a little different. We have big guys, bruisers. We will pound the ball, pound the ball, then go over the top (to Jackson).''

Schiano smiled at the thought. The scenario Nicks laid out is precisely how Schiano envisions his offense and, Schiano said, the additions of Jackson and Nicks make that possible. Adding Wright improves the defense's ability to get the ball back.

"When I look at these three guys, it's a perfect fit for what we want to do here,'' Schiano said. "So, my hat goes off to Mark and (scouting director) Dennis Hickey. I certainly didn't know the league well enough to know that these three guys were the perfect fit for what we want to do.''

Dominik said the Bucs are all but done in free agency, at least in terms of adding starting-caliber players, though he didn't rule out adding depth.

The team likely will look to add a quarterback to replace backup Josh Johnson, who is expected to leave in free agency. The Bucs are talking to former Lions, Texans and Colts backup Dan Orlovsky, Dominik said, but a deal was not imminent.


rcummings@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7979

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