Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman will sleep well this weekend.
There should be no nightmares of blind-side hits and high-priced mercenaries breaking through the lines to impair his ability to carry out his mission.
The guys who earn their living banging heads in the anonymity of the trenches proved their value, though they didn’t even swat a fly.
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The number of offensive linemen who showed up to the player-organized three day workouts at IMG this week was more than Freeman had a right to expect.
There was no one there for them to hit and no complicated schemes to decipher.
But their loyalty was evident, and that means a lot in the violent world they embrace. There were enough to fill up a two-deep depth chart.
It had to make Cadillac Williams think he can get a few extra years out of a career that is running on fumes, and somewhere on the West Coast Bucs running back LeGarrette Blount had to be smiling.
The voluntary workouts showed Freeman he has offensive linemen willing to go to any length to keep him upright.
The biggest question at One Buc Place is whether he can count on the front office to keep all of them when the labor dispute is settled and the lockout ends.
Depending on what kind of agreement is reached, some key guys up front are going to see some big paychecks waiting for their signature. The one likely to garner the most on the free agent market is guard Davin Joseph, who was instrumental in helping Freeman organize the “mini-camps.” Jeremy Trueblood could be close behind.
Joseph wants to stay, but not enough to cheat himself out of what is likely to be the best contract of his career.
“With Donald (Penn) and Jeff (Faine) and Jeremy and the others, we’ve had some success, and it feels like we are getting to that happy place,” Joseph said. “Whatever the rules might be in free agency, it’s going to be hard to keep some of our guys together. But I know our hearts are here, and this is where we want to play.”
Translation to the Glazers: Pay me!
Penn, who last year became the first Bucs offensive tackle selected to the Pro Bowl, couldn’t have been happier with the turnout.
“Everybody who played (the O line) last year was here, and that speaks volumes on what we are trying to build,” Penn said. “That fire is burning again. We look at last season and think we could’ve been like Green Bay. Davin is one of the best offensive linemen in the league, and James Lee is coming off a great year. To break up our O line would be a great damper.”
No one wants to see those offensive linemen return more than Freeman, who wasn’t sure if any of them would show up and would not have blamed them if they had worked out alone.
“The thought of getting all those guys back is huge, especially in the mind of a quarterback. You want an offensive line you can trust,” Freeman said.
Some retired veterans criticized players for conducting these workouts, saying it helps the owners in the labor dispute. Freeman doesn’t think that way.
“This thing is eventually going to end and when it does nobody is going to be saying, ‘Were you guys working out or not working out?’ The talk is going to be about are you winning football games,” he said. “This was a little bit of a refresher, and it’s going to have us ready whenever this thing ends. We want to get back to playing football, but we also want to get a good deal.”
The workouts even attracted former players in suspended defensive back Tanard Jackson and the expected-to-be-suspended cornerback Aqib Talib. On Thursday, Talib’s attorney, Frank Perez, told the St. Petersburg Times that Talib’s trail on an aggravated assault with a deadly weapon indictment is set for March 26.
They came to see the right person in Freeman, who at times this week sounded like someone running an orphanage for homeless football players.
“He is part of this team,” Freeman said about Talib. “Obviously he has things going on that is out of everybody’s control, but it was great to see him here. He was in good spirits and we praying that everything will work out for the best.”
Head coach Raheem Morris will surely say “Amen” to that one.