TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have agreed to terms with center Joe Hawley on a two-year deal, bringing back valuable leadership and experience to an offensive line looking to improve off a disappointing season last year.
Here's more on the move:
Terms: The salary is not immediately available, but it's a two-year deal.
ESPN 150 ranking: 118
Grade: B-. Although Hawley had a knee injury for the majority of the season, he still managed 15 starts and played 928 snaps, which was the fourth-most snaps for the Buccaneers’ entire offense.
What it means: It doesn't necessarily mean Hawley is the starter again for next season. He'll have to compete for that job, like everyone else. The Bucs have options along their interior, thanks to their belief in cross-training their offensive linemen, and with the expectation that starting left guard J.R. Sweezy will be healthy after missing all of last season.
Evan Smith, who backed up at both center and guard and was previously the starting center, will be back this year as well -- he just got a $1 million roster bonus Wednesday. There's also the option to move Ali Marpet to center. Kevin Pamphile, who started in Sweezy's place last year at left guard, could line up both inside or move back to his role as the swing tackle.
What’s the risk? There was more of a risk in not re-signing Hawley than re-signing him, given the injuries suffered by the offensive line last year and the subsequent shuffling that would accompany a new starting center. His knee injury was an issue all last year, but if he can regain his health, he could win the job again. It should be noted that this was a left knee injury, whereas the one he suffered with the Atlanta Falcons was to his right knee.
The Bucs' offensive line has to do a better job of protecting the quarterback and creating holes in the ground game. They averaged 3.6 yards per carry on the ground last season, 29th in the league after boasting the league's fifth-best rushing attack the previous year. They also allowed 109 quarterback hits in 2016 -- fifth-most in the NFL.
Head coach Dirk Koetter and general manager Jason Licht have stated that they're happy with the current group of offensive linemen they have. They believe that they can be coached up from last season's performance. It's hard to feel good about that, however, after facing the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders last season and seeing how their offensive lines completely dominated the line of scrimmage. Both of those teams invested significantly in those units through the draft and in free agency.