When this lockout finally ends, the Buccaneers will have some tough choices to make, especially at the linebacker position where the majority of players are no longer under contract. Who do they bring back? Who is shown the door?
Barrett Ruud catches a lot of flak for not being the physical, imposing presence desired in the middle of the field. At the end of the day though, Ruud is a sure tackler who also plays well in coverage. Do the Bucs believe he's worth his probable price tag? Considering they haven't locked him up long-term yet, and instead gave him a restricted tender last year, the answer appears to be no.
Ruud is not the only starter looking for a contract, however, as both Quincy Black and Geno Hayesare also unsigned. Granted, only Black would be considered an unrestricted free agent even under the old CBA, while under the 2010 rules both would be restricted. 3rd round draft pick Mason Fosterwas drafted to bring some physicality to the Bucs' defense, and he and Tyrone McKenzie, who played well last year with the opportunities he got, will likely battle it out for the starting MLB position.
As for the outside positions, it is probable both are brought back, especially if the 2010 rules are used and Black can be kept for the cheap price of a restricted tender. Still, there is not much behind them, and veterans should be brought in to compete with them.
If a CBA is reached and free agency reverts to the old rules, the Bucs should kick the tires on both of the Browns' starting MLBs from last year. Chris Gocong and D'Qwell Jacksonwould both be scheduled to be UFAs under the old rules, and the Browns are only likely to keep one, if they keep either. Goncong and Jackson have yet to make a reputation as imposing forces, but Jackson has laid the foundation for one at least. Also, neither plays coverage quite as well as Ruud either. The upside to either of them though, is that neither will command the price tag that Ruud is likely to. It may seem pointless to bring in a MLB with Mason Foster and Tyrone McKenzie around, but both can play other LB positions as well.
If the 2010 rules are used, however, MLB should be avoided in FA as there would be no young MLBs projected to be available that could be considered upgrades over either Foster or McKenzie. For the most part the same can be said about OLB, with one exception; Thomas Davis of the Panthers. Being only 28, Davis is still young enough to play out a long-term contract at a high level. The concern with Davis has been his durability, but when healthy he has flashed dominance.
Going back to the old rules opens things up a bit at OLB, as additional players become eligible for UFA. Players like James Anderson, also of the Panthers; Justin Durant of the Jaguars; and Ernie Sims and Akeem Jordan of the Eagles. Of those, I believe Ernie Sims would be the best fit for what the Bucs are looking for. He is known for his big hits, as well as his durability, and also has above-average cover skills for a LB. Having just completed his rookie contract, Sims will not come cheaply. He won't carry the price tag of the best at his position, but will likely command a salary near the top of the second-tier FAs. Since he will only be a UFA if a new CBA is reached, and a CBA will likely contain a salary floor, Sims could be a smart investment as they'd need to spend the money regardless.