Tampa Bay took safety Mark Barron out of Alabama with the seventh selection of the 2012 NFL Draft as a countermeasure to tight end Jimmy Graham of NFC South rival New Orleans, a former Buccaneers special assistant said.
The information was gleaned by Mike Florio of NBCSports.com from testimony in Graham’s franchise-tag grievance hearing. New Orleans and the NFL wanted Graham’s position listed as tight end for franchise-tag purposes. Graham, who doesn’t always line up in the normal tight end spot, wanted to be classified as a receiver. The difference in pay between a franchise-tag receiver and a franchise-tag tight end is about $5 million this season.
When Tampa Bay drafted Barron, Graham was coming off his first season as a starter, with 99 catches for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011. He had 13 receptions for 202 yards in two games against the Bucs.
Butch Davis was a special assistant to head coach Greg Schiano when the Bucs drafted Barron.
“We took Mark Barron in the first round simply because of Jimmy Graham,” Davis said.
The idea was to have the Alabama All-American cover Graham on short and intermediate routes with help on deep routes, Davis said.
Tampa Bay moved back two picks when it drafted Barron, swapping its No. 5 choice for the Jacksonville Jaguars’ pick at No. 7 and a fourth-round selection. The Jags made Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon the No. 5 pick in 2012.
Davis’ testimony backfired on Graham’s case when the NFL’s lawyers asked if the Bucs would draft a safety to cover an elite receiver such as Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions. Davis said a cornerback would be the preferred pick.
Graham lost the hearing.
The verdict on the Barron pick since the testimony came out on Tuesday is that the Bucs’ strategy didn’t work because Tampa Bay has lost all four of its games against the Saints in the past two seasons. However, Barron and Graham were on the field together in only two of those games.
Graham did not play in New Orleans’ 35-28 victory on Oct. 21, 2012, and Barron missed the Saints’ 42-17 victory on Dec. 29, 2013. Graham caught five passes for 71 yards and a touchdown in that game.
In New Orleans’ 41-0 victory over the Bucs on Dec. 16, 2012, Graham caught five passes for 69 yards and Barron made eight tackles. In the Saints’ 16-14 victory on Sept. 15, 2013, Graham caught 10 passes for 179 yards, including a 56-yard touchdown reception. In that game, Tampa Bay free safety Dashon Goldson had Graham in man-to-man coverage for most of the first half, when the New Orleans tight end caught eight passes for 156 yards and a touchdown. In the second half, Graham had two catches for 23 yards with Barron taking most of the coverage duty on him. Barron finished with 10 tackles.
In light of Davis’ remarks, that raises the question: If the Bucs drafted Barron to cover Graham, then why wasn’t he used that way to stem the tight end’s big half?
Barron is a former prep standout at St. Paul’s in Mobile. He missed the final two games of last season with a hamstring injury and was limited during OTAs and minicamp, although he still drew praise for his “first on the field, last to leave” attitude. New Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith said at the end of minicamp: “Mark Barron is getting better.”
The Bucs will hold their first practice of training camp on July 25 in Tampa. They visit the Jacksonville Jaguars for their first preseason game on Aug. 8.