Third-round pick Mason Foster signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers early on Tuesday, making him the first draft pick signed by the Bucs (and the first signed by any NFL team). His signing has since been overshadowed by the signing of first round pick Adrian Clayborn, but Foster's signing is significant too. How so? He could spell the end of Barrett Ruud's time in Tampa Bay.
Short snippet from Pewter Report:
Dominik heaped heavy praise on Foster, who will play middle linebacker for the Bucs, indicating that he was going to play a big role in Tampa Bay's defense for years to come. Dominik was non-committal about the return of unrestricted free agent middle linebacker Barrett Ruud, and the fact that the team made sure Foster was the first draft pick signed is a strong indication that Ruud's days in Tampa Bay could be over.
The Bucs could still sign Ruud, but it seems as though the writing is on the wall. Their defense has had issues stopping the run for the past few seasons, and while Ruud has been the Bucs' leading tackler, the Bucs seem to want a change from the linebacker position. Maybe they feel that bringing in someone new could help change their run defense, as they seem ready to handy to hand the starting job to Foster already:
"I knew that Barrett had played six years in Tampa and he would be an unrestricted free agent regardless of whether free agency was four years or six years. At that point, you have to start preparing in case you don't have Barrett Ruud. The draft came and fell to us in a way that we liked Mason Foster where we got him. We are happy to have him on this football team. Those are the two components that came together and that's why we made sure that Mason Foster was the first to get signed on the first available day to sign draft picks and get him in the building and get him prepared with the coaching staff." (GM Mark Dominik, via Pewter Report)
As it is, the Bucs are going to have a very different looking defense already. First round pick Adrian Clayborn and second round pick Da'Quan Bowers should both help immensely, so Ruud's departure shouldn't be viewed as a death-knell for the Bucs' defense. It's a risky move and it could take time for all the young players to adjust, but the Bucs will still more than likely have an improved defense in 2011. The only question is, how much?