Part One of a Two Part Story
For the past few years, your beloved Tampa Bay Buccaneers have decided to shop at Wal-Mart during the free agency frenzy. In most cases, that's probably the right route to go as the Redskins, Cowboys and Eagles can attest.
Yet, for the Bucs' ownership it's a bit different in 2012. As important as it is to supplement their young talent with steady veterans who can provide leadership when times are tough, this free agency silly season is more about repairing their relationship with a fractured fan base.
The Glazers have heard the biggest complaint among Buc fans - they're cheap. It's a strange assertion, considering that the boys spent to the cap almost every year during the Dungy and Gruden years. In fact, cap hell was the biggest reason why the 2002 championship squad was broken up.
Around the same time, though, the boys made a purchase of Manchester United soccer club. To us, it's just a soccer team. To the rest of the world, they're the New York Yankees. Since that billion dollar acquisition, the Bucs have been very frugal. The Bucs' fanbase - once with a waiting list of 10,000 (if you believe the propoganda) - eroded under suspicion that ownership was sending money overseas.
The mantra from 2004-2011 was "we're going to build through the draft". Allegedly, disagreements about the expenditures of the Glazers eventually saw Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen fired.
Raheem Morris' teams certainly lived the "build through the draft philosophy". It came to a head in last year's dismal 4-12 campaign. Most believe there wasn't enough veteran leadership on the team to steady the waters and the youngsters quit on Morris, costing him his job.
This off-season, the culture paradigm seems to have dramatically shifted. The rhetoric from GM Mark Dominik hasn't been the bland "our philosophy is to build through the draft" and has shifted somewhat.
"We'll be more active in free agency than we were last year," Dominik said. "We purposely rolled every penny we could into this year's cap. Clubs didn't have to do that, but we wanted to. We have plans."
Message to the rest of the league: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, flushed with $67 million in cap room, are open for business.
Already the Bucs have been connected in a LeBron style package deal with two of the top players in free agency - Corner Courtland Finnegan and Wide Receiver Vincent Jackson.
While fans continue to reserve judgement, most of the team's beat writers are saying the same thing. This year is different.
With that assumption in place - let's take a look at 10 NFL Offensive free agents who would look great in Pewter.
1. Vincent Jackson, WR, San Diego Chargers
I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised when the Bucs were connected to Vincent Jackson. No player would fill a need on the squad more than this talented wide receiver. He's had 1,100 yards receiving and caught at least 7 touchdowns in three of the last four seasons (the one exception was when he missed all but six games in a contract dispute with the Chargers).
He would give the Bucs the deep threat the so sorely need and the true number one receiver, enabling the rest of the core to shift to their rightful spots. It could also serve to rejuvenate Mike Williams, taking the pressure off him and allowing him to return to the guy we remember in 2010.
Nothing is more fun then kicking your opponent when he's down. Securing Nicks would be a nice kick in the pants to the suddenly besieged Saints and strengthen the Bucs interior offensive line.
With the re-signing of Jeremy Zuttah, it's quite possible a Nicks signing could signal the end of center Jeff Faine's tenure in Tampa Bay. Nicks would immediately plug into the LG spot, with Zuttah challenging Faine at Center.
What can be said about Nicks? All-Pro, great in pretty much every facet of blocking, just 26 years old. The question is would the Bucs want to tie up that much money in the guard position?
3. Mike Tolbert, RB, San Diego Chargers
With the Buccaneers focused on running the football this season, getting their hands on a jack-of-all-trades like Tolbert would be fantastic. Tolbert is a better skilled, younger version of Earnest Graham. He's terrific at short yardage, can block, can catch and will even put his nose in and play a little fullback.
Whether LeGarrette Blount, Trent Richardson or another back is the primary ball carrier, Tolbert would be a crucial piece to making the Buccaneer offense go.
Word is Vincent Jackson would prefer to stay on the West Coast. If he does, Pierre Garcon would be a good, cheaper consolation prize. Garcon has 16 touchdowns in his four year NFL career and is averaging 13.4 yards a catch. At 25, he's just coming into his prime and had his best season in 2011 hauling in 70 catches for 947 yards and 6 touchdowns.
5. Dallas Clark, TE, Indianapolis Colts
It was just two years ago that Dallas Clark went over 1,000 yards receiving as a tight end. Injuries have derailed the last two seasons of the 32 year old veteran.
Over the course of his 9 year NFL career, Clark has been Peyton Manning's safety net, catching 46 touchdowns. We've seen older top flight tight ends rejuvenate their careers in new places (Tony Gonzalez in Atlanta). Clark would be a great safety net for Josh Freeman and a nice duo with Kellen Winslow, Jr.
If Nicks is out of the Bucs' price range, a nice alternative could be Grubbs. He's a masher and has cleared the way for thousand yard rusher Ray Rice. At just 27 years of age, Grubbs fits in Tampa Bay's youth mentality and can grow with the rest of the offense.
No one has ever been hit harder by the Madden Curse than Peyton Hillis. After scoring 11 touchdowns and rushing for 1,177 yards in 2010, Hillis had an injured plagued, strange season in 2011. Teammates believed Hillis was "sandbagging" because of his discontent with his contract.
He fired his agent, who then put out a strange story that Hillis contemplated retirement and wanted to join the CIA.
After been inexplicably traded from the Broncos to Cleveland, one has to wonder if the running back's head and not his talent is in question.
With that said, Buccaneers love their bruising running backs and Hillis would bring many memories of another great number 40 in Pewter and Red.
A tremendous special teams player, he'd give the Bucs a threat at returner - something they haven't had since Clifton Smith was broken. Royal has proven he can contribute in the receiving game as well, catching 98 balls for 980 yards and 5 touchdowns in 2008.
He seems to be the forgotten man in Denver.
At age 32, he might be a little long in the tooth for the Bucs' liking, but McKenzie would definitely be an upgrade at the right tackle position.
Robinson is a bit of an enigma. After not doing much in Atlanta and St. Louis, Robinson exploded on to the scene in Dallas, hauling in 54 catches for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns. Blessed with size and great speed, Robinson has the ability to make teams excited but with literally no production before last season, you have to wonder if he was just a one hit wonder.
Coming Tomorrow: Top 10 Defensive Free Agents who would look great in Pewter.
Who Should be the Bucs Top Target on Offense in Free Agency?
Vincent Jackson (589 votes)
Peyton Manning (21 votes)
Carl Nicks (243 votes)
Mike Tolbert (28 votes)
Other (53 votes)
934 total votes