By restructuring the contracts of Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks to free up cap space next season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have made their intentions clear: they will spend some money this offseason. Whether that means they'll be extremely active in free agency remains to be seen, but you don't free up an extra $18 million in cap space, hurting your cap space in future years, to then do nothing with it. The Bucs now have around $30 million in cap space for next season, although signing their rookies will take around $6 million of that space. They can easily free up another $13 million by cutting Quincy Black and Eric Wright, though. Black is almost certainly gone, while Wright is far from safe.
So where will the Bucs spend? That's tough to say, as they have plenty of options. They could re-sign their own free agents, they could hand out some contract extensions or they could delve into the free agent market. Let's go through the options.
Re-signing (un)restricted free agents
DE Michael Bennett
Likely cost: $7-9 million per year
Re-signing Bennett really should be the team's number one priority this offseason. He's versatile, outstanding against the run and has gotten better every year. He leads the team in sacks with nine this season and has been the second-most important player on the defensive line, behind Gerald McCoy. The only thing potentially stopping this re-signing is the price. With Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers the Bucs already have two talented defensive ends and may feel like they're over-committing to one position. However, the fact that Bennett can play inside on passing downs should help get him a new deal. Even if he's a nominal backup, he's likely to play some 60 snaps per game.
DT Roy Miller
Likely cost: $2-4 million per year
Roy Miller has been an outstanding run stopper this season, after several years of up-and-down play. The Bucs should make attempts to re-sign him, but there's no need to break the bank. While Miller's a very good anchor at nose tackle, he brings next to nothing as a pass-rusher. He should come fairly cheap because of that, but if they can't reach a deal, letting Miller walk won't be the end of the world.
CB E.J. Biggers
Likely cost: $1-2 million per year
Biggers has consistently played more than he really should be playing. He's not the best tackler, lacks some physicality and just gets beat a little too often. He's not a horrible cornerback by any means, but he shouldn't be much more than a nickel or preferably dime cornerback. The Bucs may not want to spend much money there, even though it's one of the weakest positions on the team.
RB Legarrette Blount
Likely cost: $1-3 million for one year
Given the fact that Blount has been used extremely sparingly this season (41 carries), he's unlikely to return. However, the Bucs could tender the restricted free agent for between $1.25 and $2.7 million depending on the compensation level. This would keep him in town for one year. This seems unlikely
TE Dallas Clark
Likely cost: $4 million per year
The Bucs had Dallas Clark in town, and he turned out to be a serviceable if limited tight end. He hasn't threatened anyone down the field, but he was a pretty reliable move-the-sticks receiver. Still, will they want to shell out around $4 million per year to an aging, over-the-hill tight end, or will they look elsewhere?
FS Ronde Barber
Likely cost: $3-4 million for one year
Ronde Barber has played at a high level at his new position, and the Bucs have made it clear they want him back. This deal will happen if Ronde wants to return. It's as simple as that.
RT Jeremy Trueblood
Likely cost: $2-3 million per year
Demar Dotson has been pretty decent at right tackle, but the team does lack depth at the position. They could bring back Trueblood at a low price point to be a backup, although he's limited in that role because he can only play right tackle.
WR Sammie Stroughter
Likely cost: $1-2 million per year
Stroughter has been a serviceable if injury-prone return specialist and slot receiver with the Bucs. Re-signing him would be cheap and useful, and fairly risk-free as they're unlikely to give him a lot of guaranteed money.
Offering players contract extensions
WR Mike Williams
Likely cost: $5-8 million per year
It's hard to gauge Williams' price point, but he's played well this season. Williams should be a part of this team going forward, and with 2013 being his final contract year the Bucs could look to extend him this offseason.
QB Josh Freeman
Likely cost: $10-17 million per year
There's a lot of leeway in price here, because I honestly have no idea what it would take to re-sign him. This is slightly unlikely, but it would hardly be a bad move, if they manage to get the right price. Locking up a young quarterback while leaving outs in case he really doesn't develop is a solid idea.
T Demar Dotson
Likely cost: $3-5 million per year
Demar Dotson has one year left on his contract and has looked like a pretty decent right tackle this season. Given his lack of experience it is reasonable to expect some more growth, and re-signing him now could be a good idea.
LB Dekoda Watson
Likely cost: $1-2 million per year
Watson is a beast on special teams and has shown some potential as a strong side linebacker. He's a pretty good backup, and with just one year left on his contract they could look him up long-term for a small investment.
Signing free agents
Every year, we see a number of fairly high-quality cornerbacks hit the market. This year will be a little different, as the Bucs obviously won't go after Aqib Talib after trading him for a fourth-rounder earlier this season. But Brent Grimes, Sean Smith, Chris Houston and a few other players could be intriguing for the Bucs to draft.
The number one thing to remember here is that the Bucs want physical corners who will do the dirty work in the run game. They don't want cover corners who shy away from tackling (like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie). That will limit their choices, although they c
Another thing to keep in mind: a lot of these players won't actually be available. The Falcons will almost certainly re-sign Brent Grimes, while Quentin Jammer is unlikely to leave the Chargers. But the Bucs could and probably should go after a cornerback in free agency, unless they keep Eric Wright and draft one in the first two rounds.
The eternal free agency caveat applies: a few of these players probably won't hit the market. In fact, all of these players are likely to re-sign with their teams. But if one of them does slip through the cracks, I would look for the Bucs to make a run at them. They're missing the kind of tight end who can both block and catch, and all of these players (except maybe Fred Davis and Jared Cook) can do just that.
The Bucs aren't going to spend here, quite frankly. They have a lot of talent on the defensive line, and their first priority should be to re-sign Bennett. To then spend some more money on pass-rushers would be close to irresponsible.
The Bucs may want to find a backup for Gerald McCoy or a nose tackle, but I wouldn't think they're likely to spend a lot of money at the position. Never say never, though.
Another position where the Bucs might spend, if they let Quincy Black walk. This is again unlikely, though. Especially so because they still have rookie Najee Goode on the roster.
If Ronde Barber walks, the Bucs have to find a new starter at free safety. Ahmad Black has performed admirably this season in dime packages, but I don't know if he's fit to be an every-down free safety. Unfortunately, the pickings are slim in the free agency market. Please come back, Ronde.