O-line becomes strength for Bucs

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ agreement with wide receiver Vincent Jackson on Tuesday night was big. Their signing of guard Carl Nicks on Wednesday morning might be even bigger.

Yeah, I know it’s hard to imagine the arrival of a guard topping the presence of a receiver who has a history of making big plays down the field. But the Bucs just might have pulled off that trick by signing Nicks to a five-year deal that’s worth $47.5 million.

Jackson was perhaps the top receiver in free agency. But Nicks is pretty much the unquestioned best guard in the NFL.

He’s also only 26 and may be just hitting his prime. Jackson is going to give quarterback Josh Freeman a big target downfield and, in theory, should open things up for the rest of the receiving corps. But Nicks might end up being even more important.

He’s going to give Freeman plenty of time to find targets downfield. Nicks is dominating as a pass-blocker. He’s also dominant as a run-blocker. The Saints averaged more than 6 yards per carry when running to Nicks’ side last season.

With Nicks and Davin Joseph, the Bucs now have two of the NFC’s Pro Bowl guards from last season. They’ll move Jeremy Zuttah from guard to center. They’ve also got Donald Penn, who is an above-average left tackle. Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood has taken lots of criticism in the past, but his level of play should improve with those four guys around him.

We’ll see how it all shakes out in time. But, on paper, the Bucs suddenly have what could be one of the NFL’s best offensive lines. New coach Greg Schiano has pledged to make the Bucs more physical in all areas, and the arrival of Nicks certainly makes the offensive line much more physical.

But this move has implications beyond Tampa Bay. The loss of Nicks is a blow to the Saints. They wanted to keep him, but found it impossible with a tight salary-cap situation. Nicks also fell third in the pecking order after the Saints put the franchise tag on quarterback Drew Brees and re-signed receiver Marques Colston.

With Nicks and Jahri Evans, the Saints had what many said was the best guard tandem in the league. Nicks and Evans made tackles Jermon Bushrod and Zach Strief and center Brian De La Puente look better than they really are. The Saints have Baltimore's Ben Grubbs in for a visit, and he's decent.

Evans remains and he’s very good. But the Saints no longer have the best guard in the league.

The Bucs do.