From Comcast SportsNetTAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Greg Schiano glanced to his left where the three newest members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were seated and smiled broadly. All-Pro guard Carl Nicks, two-time Pro Bowl receiver Vincent Jackson and well-regarded cornerback Eric Wright comprise the biggest one-day free agent haul in franchise history and figure to play key roles in whether the first-year coach makes a successful transition from Rutgers to the NFL. "I think they're a perfect fit ... for what we want to do," Schiano said. Schiano noted that Nicks is a punishing blocker who will help the running game, Jackson is a proven deep threat who'll make the passing attack better and Wright is a much-needed addition for a defense that must improve if the Bucs are to rebound from a 4-12 finish that included 10 consecutive losses to end last season. Barely 14 hours after making a splash by signing Jackson to a five-year 55.55 million contract Tuesday, general manager Mark Dominik closed five-year deals Wednesday with Nicks, one of the key blockers for Drew Brees on the Saints' record-setting offense, and Wright, who's coming off a solid season with the Lions. Nicks received a 47.5 million deal that the four-year veteran called "humbling." Wright, who matched his career high with four interceptions for Detroit last season, got a 37.5 million package -- meaning Dominik negotiated deals totaling more than 140 million in one day after not spending much at all on other team's free agents the past two years. And it appears the spending spree -- the Bucs entered free agency more than 42 million under the league salary cap -- is done. "Our eyes are turned toward the draft," where Tampa Bay has the fifth overall pick and will seek to address other needs, Dominik said. "We've made our mark," the general manager added, "for what we wanted to accomplish." Jackson gives the Bucs the legitimate No. 1 pass catcher they've lacked since Keyshawn Johnson helped Tampa Bay win its only Super Bowl title 10 years ago. The three-time 1,000-yard receiver had 37 TD receptions in seven seasons with the Chargers and provides a deep threat for young quarterback Josh Freeman. Jackson's contract, which will pay the receiver 13 million in each of his first two seasons in Tampa Bay, was done in all 5's in honor of Freeman, who wears jersey No. 5. The 29-year-old was excited to be available after earning nearly 11 million in 2011, when San Diego put franchise tag on him. He missed most of 2010 in a salary dispute. Like Nicks and Wright, Jackson said money was the only lure to Tampa Bay. Each of them like the nucleus of young talent the Bucs have assembled since deciding to rebuild with youth after the 2008 season. Former coach Raheem Morris led the team to a surprising 10-6 record, narrowly missing the playoffs two years ago. The team took a step backward last season, when Freeman threw 22 interceptions (compared to just six in 2010) and Tampa Bay's defense set a franchise record for most points allowed. "They have the tools here to do big things," Jackson said. "I'm just looking to do my part." Nicks made the Pro Bowl in New Orleans that past two seasons and is considered one of the best pass blockers in the NFL. He's also excited that Schiano's blueprint for success revolves around what the coach hopes will be a productive running game that'll take some of the pressure off Freeman. The Saints led the NFL in total offense and threw for more yards than any club in league history last season. No disrespect for what his old team approach, but he is looking forward to opening holes for the run-oriented attack that Schiano expects to open things up for Freeman and the passing game. "We were pass first, pass second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth," Nicks said, adding that it will be "interesting" facing his old team twice a year in the NFC South. Wright, a five-year veteran, was with the Lions last season after spending four years in Cleveland. With Ronde Barber's future with the Bucs up in the air after 15 seasons and Aqib Talib confronting a legal matter off the field, the Bucs felt it was essential to pursue a proven cornerback in free agency. Jackson, who during last year's lockout was one of 10 named plaintiffs in the Brady V. NFL antitrust suit filed against club owners, said he doesn't anticipate the size of his contract creating pressure for him to be anyone other than the same type of player that made him one of the most attractive players available in free agency. Nicks and Wright expect to blend in well, too, although they know all eyes will be on them and Jackson. "We're not the big three like the Miami Heat," Nicks said, smiling. "But hey ..."
Coach Joel Quenneville didn’t mince words. Finding out his good friend, former assistant coach Mike Kitchen was fired not long after the Blackhawks’ postseason ended, frustrated him.
“That day, I was not happy. I was a little disappointed,” Quenneville said on Thursday. “We lost a great coach and somebody I had been working with for a long time. It was tough and we’ve moved on now, but I wasn’t excited at the moment.”
In moving on the Blackhawks have revamped their coaching staff, adding another old friend and teammate of Quenneville’s in Ulf Samuelsson and a former member of his St. Louis staff in Don Granato. Quenneville said Samuelsson will take over Kitchen’s responsibilities while Granato will handle a number of tasks.
“Whether he’s pre-scout, helping Kevin [Dineen], helping Ulfie, helping me. He’s helping the young guys like Stan [Bowman] said,” Quenneville said. “We have input with all areas and all coaches and it’s a fun thing, drawing up practices or talking to guys, preparing meetings and evaluating performances. But I think he’s excited to be a part of that as well and Ulfie, he’ll be doing something he’s been doing and he’s excited to work with some of our defense as well.”
As far as the Blackhawks’ defensive style, Quenneville doesn’t foresee it changing.
“I think there are some areas how it ended or after a playoff series, there’s always some tweaks we like to do in games, in playoffs or in series," Quenneville said. "It’s obviously disappointing. But I think there’s a lot of positive things we accomplished last year and how we played without the puck, I don’t think that was too much of an issue.
"But we have a defense that can play both ways and we still want offense from our defensive part of our game. That’d be one of our strengths. But when it’s time to defend, how we want to play in our own end without the puck is something that’ll be very close to how we play.”
There’s been plenty of talk regarding Marcus Kruger, and whether or not he’ll remain with the Blackhawks. Whatever the future holds for the center, general manager Stan Bowman wouldn’t say on Thursday.
“Yeah, there have been a lot of these rumors around, but Marcus is no different than any other player. I’m not going to comment on rumors out there, but people are stating it as if it’s a fact,” Bowman said of Kruger being at the center of trade rumors. “There’s a lot of speculation, but it’s not fair to the players for me to be commenting on what’s been rumored out there. I don’t really have anything to add on that front.”
Trevor van Riemsdyk was Vegas’ selection in Wednesday night’s expansion draft. But a source said it’s still possible the Blackhawks trade Kruger to the Golden Knights.
Tony Andracki, Scott Changnon and Jeff Nelson react in real time to the breaking news that Kyle Schwarber was demoted to the minor leagues. Plus, the trio play around with expansion drafts and who the most indispensable players on the Cubs are.
Patrick Mooney also goes 1-on-1 with Cubs swingman southpaw Mike Montgomery about the lanky lefty’s role and how he got here.
Check out the entire Podcast here.