TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are trying to determine if Richie Incognito is a good fit for their struggling offensive line.
Coach Lovie Smith confirmed Monday he was going to meet with one of the central figures of the bullying scandal that engulfed the Miami Dolphins last season, but also cautioned the “visit” might not necessarily end with the free agent guard resuming his career with the Bucs.
An NFL investigation determined Incognito and two other Dolphins offensive linemen engaged in persistent harassment of teammate Jonathan Martin, who left the team in the middle of last season. Incognito was suspended and missed the final eight games before becoming a free agent when his contract with Miami expired.
Smith said it would “jumping the gun” to assume the Bucs will sign Incognito but that he would enter the meeting late Monday with an open mind.
“If you know my history, I do believe in second chances. To me, nobody should have a death sentence. If you should, you’re probably in jail,” Smith said.
“From there, what does it hurt to talk to someone? For me, as we go forward, I’m not holier than thou. I’m going to give everybody the benefit of the doubt until I have information that tells me otherwise,” the coach added. “That’s where we are right now. Part of that process is Richie coming in.”
The Buccaneers overhauled their offensive line after last season, beginning with the release of two-time Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph in a cost-cutting move.
Plans for the restructured unit suffered a setback on the opening day of training camp when general manager Jason Licht announced the team was parting ways with another incumbent starter, guard Carl Nicks, who missed most of last season with a MRSA infection.
Smith bristled when he was repeatedly asked if bringing in Incognito for a visit, and possibly signing him, might upset the locker room.
“We look at all available guys, period. What does it hurt to look at someone who’s available,” the coach reiterated.
“Would I have a football player on our team that I thought would mess up our team chemistry? The answer is no. Simple as that,” Smith added. “But I can’t assume that’s the case. To me, you go through the process. You look and you talk face to face with everybody that’s available. That’s what we’re doing.”
Incognito has long been labeled one of the NFL’s dirtiest players with a reputation for out-of-bounds behavior off the field.
“I’ve heard what happened down (in Miami). But for me, I think it doesn’t hurt anything to talk face to face with anybody that’s available,” Smith said, later adding: “I can’t go on hearsay. I need to see for myself.”
Several players, including quarterback Josh McCown and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said Incognito would be welcomed to the team if Smith and general manager Jason Licht winds up signing Incognito, who has also played for the St. Louis Rams and Buffalo Bills during a nine-year career.
“I don’t know him personally. In these situations, you trust Jason and Lovie and the guys as they try to help our football team,” McCown said. “No matter who it is, if someone is an addition to our team, Lovie always talks about embracing them and making them feel like one of us. So if that’s the case, we’ll do that with him.”
“As long as he can help us win, then that’s all I’m concerned about,” McCoy said. “If there’s a problem, we’ll deal with it accordingly. As long as he’s doing what he’s supposed to do on the field, I’m not concerned about anything else.”