What happened in 2011
Cornerback was a problem spot for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season, but it wasn't as big a liability as a few other positions. Despite severe issues in the passing game, a few cornerbacks played some decent football - specifically Aqib Talib and Ronde Barber, while Elbert Mack showed some skills as a slot cornerback for the first time in his career.
First, there is Aqib Talib. Despite reports of his 'growing up' last offseason, the cornerback once again got into trouble. This time he got into an altercation involving his mother, his sister and his sister's boyfriend. The result: shots fired and a trial date set for March, when he'll have to appear in court for assault with a deadly weapon. But despite all those problems, Talib fared well when he was on the field. He was inconsistent early in the season, but had a couple of stellar games by midseason - before missing most of the rest of the season with various injuries.
Ronde Barber is the other cornerback to play well, though mostly when he was lined up in the slot in nickel sets. He did his best work against tight ends, but struggled as a tackler and outside cornerback. Barber is starting to show his age and is once again a free agent. Another free agent: Elbert Mack, who had his first good year of his career. He operated mostly as a second slot cornerback in dime sets, and provided some splash plays as well as solid coverage on third receivers and tight ends.
But after those three cornerbacks came two players with major issues: Myron Lewis and E.J. Biggers. The former simply did not develop, despite his considerable physical gifts. He was constantly out of position, could not play through apparently minor injuries, and was essentially a disaster when on the field. Meanwhile, Biggers struggled to compete with quality second and third receivers and was regularly exploited. While Biggers plays hard and made a number of crucial plays as well, he was the weak link in the secondary. Coupled with his lack of tackling ability, that was a real issue for the Bucs this season.
The Bucs appear set to have an extremely different group of cornerbacks next season, but much will depend on whether the team wants to bring back Aqib Talib and Ronde Barber. Talib can be a quality starter in the NFL, but he will obviously have to avoid jail time, and he will have to fit in to the new head coach's philosophy. Schiano has said that Talib would get a clean slate, but those slates are very easy to fill quickly.
Ronde Barber is another case entirely, as he is nearing the end as a quality starter. While he could play a role on the team as, for instance, a nickel cornerback, the Bucs need to find a replacement for him as a starter. In addition, Ronde Barber might not even be interested in returning as anything but a starter.
That replacement is not currently on the roster: E.J. Biggers doesn't have the talent, while Myron Lewis hasn't shown the skills. With Elbert Mack a free agent who can't do much other than play as a nickel cornerback, the Bucs lack any kind of depth - and can't even field two quality starters. The Bucs must add depth and quality to the position in free agency, the draft, or both.
Luckily for the Bucs, this is a very good year to be looking for new cornerbacks. The team will have plenty of options, both in free agency and in the draft. The Bucs have already been linked with free agent Cortland Finnegan, but Brent Grimes, Brandon Carr, Carlos Rogers, Terrell Thomas, Rashean Mathis, Aaron Ross, Eric Wright, Richard Marshall and Tracy Porter could all be available in free agency.
Meanwhile, the 2012 draft class of cornerbacks is deep and filled with quality players. LSU's Morris Claiborne is the top cornerback in the draft, and the Bucs will have a very good chance to select him with their first-round draft pick. In addition, cornerbacks like Dre Kirkpatrick, Alfonzo Dennard, Janoris Jenkins and others could be available late in the draft.
If the Bucs want to completely overhaul their secondary, they can do so fairly easily through free agency and the draft this season. They need to at least add talent.
Projected 2012 depth chart
New addition, new addition, Ronde Barber, E.J. Biggers, Myron Lewis