INDIANAPOLIS — When the Buccaneers travel this year, the offensive and defensive linemen will be in the front of the plane, travelling in first class. Based on how the offensive line played in 2013, that group should be glad it’s not travelling in coach.
“Offensive line-wise, we didn’t play as well as we need to,’’ Bucs coach Lovie Smith said Thursday at the NFL scouting combine. “The way we paid at the position (approximately $25 million to the starters), we should’ve been the best team in the league almost, and that wasn’t the case.’’
The situation is a difficult one for the Bucs. The starters are owed almost $28 million in 2014 — LT Donald Penn ($6.75 million), LG Carl Nicks ($7 million), C Jeremy Zuttah ($4.5 million), RG Davin Joseph ($6 million) and RT Demar Dotson ($2 million). With the exception of Dotson, whose play pleased GM Jason Licht, the Bucs aren’t sure they’ll get a good return on their investment.
There is a chance the Bucs will seek to rework the contracts of everyone but Dotson. But there is also a chance the Bucs will seek replacements in free agency, which begins with a three-day negotiating period on March 8.
“We say we’re evaluating it, and we are,” Smith said, “but you first compare it with the first step, which is free agency. What’s out there? Do we have a legitimate shot with certain guys. So I’ll just say we need to upgrade our offensive line play and leave it at that.’’
Since Nicks signed a five-year, $47.5 million contract with Tampa Bay two years ago, he has played in only seven games, including just two last year.
He had a season-ending foot injury in 2012 and a MRSA infection in 2013. Those ailments put Nicks’ career in jeopardy, but the team recently received encouraging news regarding Nicks’ recovery and his chances to be part of the team in 2014.
“He’s making progress,’’ Smith said. “He’s still not running full speed or anything like that. But this is a time when I want (players) to be away, and he’s up there rehabbing every day. So, we’re hopeful.’’
WR Mike Williams is making good progress in rehabbing the hamstring injury that ended his 2013 season after six games. But it’s not just Williams’ hamstring that needs rehabbing.
After and an incident in December led to Williams being charged with a count of misdemeanor criminal mischief and trespassing, Smith and Licht said Williams needs to rehabilitate his off-field reputation, as well.
“We’re disappointed in some of the off-the-field issues that have come up, and we just aren’t going to put up with it,” Smith said. “It’s as simple as that.”
Asked if Williams needs to prove anything, Licht said: “Mike needs to prove he won’t make headlines off the field, so let’s start with that.’’
Court documents say Williams about $200 of damage the front door of a woman’s house. He has an arraignment hearing on Monday.