This post was written by Leo Howell of The Pewter Plank.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers head into the NFL Free Agency period in a very good situation, with a team that showed signs of improvement in 2012 ready to be reinforced with new talent thanks to the Bucs favorable financial standing. Buccaneers General Manager Mark Dominik has handled the checkbook with care, and he’s set the franchise up to have another offseason where big name free agents will have to strongly consider Tampa Bay as a destination. Just like the 2012 offseason, when the Buccaneers shocked the NFL world by bringing in a haul of Carl Nicks, Vincent Jackson, and Eric Wright, the Bucs could be set for another impactful opening act to the free agent frenzy.
Let’s take a moment to consider the Buccaneers’ current free agency situation, starting with in house players who are out of contract. Michael Bennett, a defensive end signed up a few years ago after being released from the Seahawks, has played out his contract and is set to hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent. Bennett was the main contributor to the pass rush in 2012, totaling 9 sacks and logging 3 forced fumbles. It was a breakout year for the Texas A&M product, the first season in his NFL career that he played in, and started, all 16 games.
Defensive backs Ronde Barber and E.J. Biggers are also up for free agency, and are at two completely different phases of their careers. Barber is a Buccaneer legend, and is unlikely to choose to spend the 2013 season anywhere but at home or in Tampa Bay. Biggers, on the other hand, was a late round draft pick who has developed into a solid role player at the cornerback position and will definitely draw some attention in the free agent market.
Roy Miller isn’t the biggest name, but the defensive tackle was a big man in the middle of a solid run stopping defensive line. However he failed to make much of an impact outside of eating up space. He is young and still has potential, and it will be interesting to see how he fares when he hits the open market. Tight end Dallas Clark has seen his one year deal with Tampa Bay come and go, and will only be back in red and pewter for the right price after a somewhat mediocre 2012. Other free agents include Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, Jeremy Trueblood, LeGarrette Blount, Sammie Stroughter, and Brandon McDonald.
The Buccaneers are also likely to create free agents out of currently signed players, as Eric Wright and Quncy Black will likely be let go before being paid any of their 2013 salaries. Black is recovering slowly from a devastating neck injury that caused nerve damage that has limited the use of one of his arms. Wright is an off-the-field problem that does not fit in with head coach Greg Schiano’s ideals, and gave the Buccaneers a get-out-of-jail-free card by voiding his guaranteed money in his contract due to off-the-field incidents.
With all of these contracts opening up, and the previous season’s salary cap space included, the Buccaneers will have over 30 million dollars to spend this offseason. Add in the release of Wright and Black, and that number shoots up over 40 million. So where can the Buccaneers look to spend this wealth?
Cornerback is the number one position of need. The team will be without both starting corners from the 2012 preseason depth chart, as Aqib Talib was already traded during the season, and Wright will likely be released. If E.J. Biggers is not re-signed, the need for corners will be that much more dire. The Buccaneers may target big name corners, like Cary Williams and Sean Smith, or they may opt for a wiley veteran like Sheldon Brown.
Another name to keep an eye on is Greg Toler, the Arizona Cardinals cornerback who is a bit under the radar this offseason and could certainly fit in with the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay may also need a safety this offseason if Barber does not return, meaning Dashon Goldson might be a target for Mark Dominik and his front office crew. The Bucs could also use depth in the front seven, but will likely look for more affordable options in this area, as Mark Dominik has expressed his confidence in many of the players currently on the roster at these positions.
Offensively, the Buccaneers need a slot receiver and a tight end, meaning players like Brian Hartline and Jared Cook could be courted by Tampa Bay. They could also use a backup running back to spell Doug Martin and depth at offensive tackle, although neither position is considered a pressing need and will likely be addressed with less costly players.
With over 40 million dollars to spend and a nucleus of players that showed a glimmer of hope in 2012, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in a good position heading into the 2013 Free Agency period. Don’t be surprised if the Bucs are key players in the 2013 offseason, making a run at several key players to add to a team that is just a couple of pieces away from making a playoff run in the fall.