Part I: Beefing up the secondary through free agency

In this first of three looks at free agent safeties this offseason, the focus is on a couple of teammates from Green Bay. Strong safety Atari Bigby and free safety Nick Collins were key players on the Packers’ 2nd-ranked defense (5th against the pass) in 2009.

Both are currently unrestricted free agents, meaning they can sign with any team they like when free agency opens on the evening of February 26. However, if no collective bargaining agreement is reached by the March 5 deadline, which is likely, both will become restricted free agents under the uncapped system, meaning the Packers will have a chance to match any offer from another team and could receive draft choice compensation if the player is not retained.

Regardless of their free agent status, both would be solid solutions for a Bucs secondary that struggled often in ’09.

 

Bigby, 28, recorded 37 solo tackles and four interceptions in 13 games last season. With a reputation as a hard-nosed run-stopper, the 5-foot-11, 213-pound Bigby would compliment free safety Tanard Jackson’s hard-hitting style, and would fit well in Raheem Morris’s cover two defense. His major downside is his 4.65 speed, which hinders him in man coverage, especially against some of the smaller, quicker receivers he usually faces.

Contrarily, his teammate, 26-year-old Nick Collins, would be an even better fit in Tampa Bay. Collins’s 38 solo tackles and six interceptions in ’09 earned him a Pro Bowl selection. He also recorded a sack and recovered two fumbles. Collins’s speed at the free safety position allows him to shorten the field and close off throwing lanes quickly, particularly in a zone defense like the Tampa Two. With a 4.28 40-yard-dash time, he is one of the fastest defenders in the NFL.

Current free safety Tanard Jackson is versatile enough to play strong safety if the Bucs signed Collins. Jackson played cornerback while in college at Syracuse, and Collins displays much better speed. The Bucs could also use Jackson’s physicality in run support.

Bigby has a reputation as a big-play safety and Collins emerged in ’09 as an elite defensive player. Both have big upsides, but Collins is younger than Bigby and has an additional year of NFL experience, likely making him a better immediate fit for the Bucs. Coming off a Pro Bowl season, he’ll also demand a larger contract than Bigby, but at least the Glazers would be getting what they’d be paying for with a player like Collins.

Keep your eye on both of these safeties, as they will both be highly sought after in free agency. Tomorrow two more free agent safeties will check in, and we’ll continue to discuss how they could fit into the Buccaneers’ secondary in 2010.
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