Free agency is among us...
Is anyone really expecting to see Drew Brees in a jersey that's not black and gold or Ray Rice not lining up behind Vonta Leech? Even though Wes Welker was "honored" at Copley Square after the Super Bowl, is it fathomable that Bobby Kraft would make the same mistake the Dolphins did and let "Mustache Wes" leave? (Realistically, the only negotiations involving these top tier guys are whether the cash will be delivered by Wells Fargo or Brinks). I'm sure there will be plenty of articles in the next few weeks covering these questions plus V-Jax's eventual landing destination (I'm predicting Carolina) or if DeSean Jackson will still be an instrument of Vick or if Toddy Haley really needs Mike Wallace with Brown and Sanders lurking or if Matt Forte is lobbying for Goodell to change the franchise tag rules to playground tag rules so he can limp to the dome climber and yell "SAFE!!!".
My point is, this upcoming free agency will be full of targeted speculation and rumors about the premier names and I worry the middle tier players will get lost in the shuffle…they deserve love too. So let me be the first to throw out a sleeper prediction and point out a potential partnership that fits like a glove big enough for Orenthal's hand… Peyton Hillis in a Bucs uniform!
What's the first thing that pops in your head? It seems so obvious to me because I immediately think of Mike Alstott Version 2.0. Physically, Hillis is a clone of Alstott; both are 6-1 and range between 240-248 lbs., Hillis ran a 4.64 40 during his combine/Alstott ran a 4.66 and both started their careers as FBs with the speed of a RB. In reality, there isn't a better market or team that would welcome Peyton with open arms and actually treat him like the all-star RB he was in 2010; I make this assumption solely on the void Alstott left as a player and personality for the Bucs and the city of Tampa.
Besides the obvious marketing campaign and much needed resurgence of Buccaneer fan support, there is some concrete evidence that makes me believe Tampa could make a move on Hillis based on their current depth at this position, their upcoming schedule and that Greg Schiano has a history of running the ball.
1.) Their offense is still young (minus Winslow) and in desperate need of a RB to compliment Blount. Blount was a pleasant surprise in 2010 (seeing as he went undrafted and was eventually poached off Tennessee's practice squad), but as we saw this past year, he didn't do as well as a featured back (781 yds. and 5 TDs) and at one point looked to be Earnest Graham's back-up. Going forward, I envision a Blount/Hillis tandem as dangerous as Ron Dayne and Tiki Barber back in the day. Can you imagine the dread defensive lineman and linebackers would feel in the 4th quarter when these guys are just pounding the ball? Can you imagine the relief Josh Freeman would feel knowing he doesn't have to be Eli Manning in the 4th quarter of every game? Can you imagine the incredibly cool nicknames we can give them…"Sledge & Hammer", "Bash Brothers" (ala Mighty Ducks) or just "Lethal Weapon" as homage to Riggs and Murtaugh. These two bull dozers could be a nasty duo especially in a strong NFC South.
2.) It's a safe assumption that most free agents take multiple factors into consideration when choosing the best deal. They look at a team's style, personnel, history, location, depth, longevity, terms of the deal and of course the team's upcoming schedule. I'm sure Richard Dawson would say "Money" as the #1 answer, but "Schedule" has to be #2, right? A player's opportunity for success and to prove their worth (or paycheck) results in what they are immediately up against and how they perform. With that said, Hillis couldn't argue that Tampa's schedule, against the run, would be mouthwatering. Tampa will play 10 games against teams who ranked in the bottom half against the run in 2011: Rams (31st), Raiders (27th), Chiefs (26th), Panthers (25th), Broncos (22nd), Chargers (20th), Giants (19th), Redskins (18th) and Eagles (16th). The other 6 games are against the Saints (12th), Vikings (11th), Dallas (7th) and Atlanta (6th). Like I said, the hardest game Hillis is looking at is Atlanta and just to be clear, 3 of Tampa's 4 wins last year were against Atlanta, Saints and the Vikings.
3.) Greg Shiano loves to run the ball…as a college coach. During his11 years at Rutgers (2001-2011), Shiano's players executed 5040 rushing attempts compared to 4148 passing attempts. He clearly prefers to run the ball, but he also had Ray Rice for 3 years (which made those decisions easier). Point being, I can't imagine a scenario where Mark Dominik and Malcolm Glazer would hire Schiano only to make him change the way he approaches football. They've given him carte blanche to assemble his staff and this is obvious with his first three hires being former Rutgers coaches. He will look to build a physical team that runs the ball well, but this can only happen if he adds a serious upgrade/compliment to the current roster. For a split second, the thought crossed my mind of a Rice and Shiano reunion but there is no way Uncle Ray Lewis would let that happen. Seattle will retain Lynch because the idea of Justin Forsett scares no one and Forte is almost guaranteed to get the tag -- which leaves Tampa with a clear cut option…Peyton Hillis.
Oh let's not forget the NFL's salary cap for 2012 is $124 million and even grazing the ceiling isn't a concern for the penny wise Buccaneers who have only spent $98,899,458 (Currently the 5th smallest amount committed in the NFL). Surely Hillis will not demand a high price tag, which leaves plenty of room to also grab Carlos Rodgers as Ronde's replacement.
The strongest argument for Peyton Hillis to sign with Tampa is that he wears #40 which was also Mike Alstott's #...coincidence or fate?