Part Two of a Two Part Story Read Part One Here
As we mentioned yesterday, the Bucs have made it known they plan on being aggressive when the bell strikes at 4pm on Tuesday.
No side of the ball is in need of a complete overhaul than the defense. It's where the Bucs will likely devote most of their free agent dollars and probably a few of their top draft picks.
We don't have to remind Buccaneer fans of the historically bad nature of the 2011 Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense. From a lack of consistent pass rush to terrible linebacker play to the shoddy coverage and tackling in the secondary - there wasn't a piece of the defense that didn't fail.
With that said, the Bucs did have some bright spots. Last year's first round pick Adrian Clayborn appears to be a keeper. Gerald McCoy was effective when he played and his loss devastated the interior of the defense. DaQuan Bowers showed flashes and Michael Bennett displayed some ability at rushing the passer.
In the linebacking core - it was obvious that Mason Foster was overwhelmed at Middle Linebacker. Even so, there were flashes that he could develop into a consistent linebacker for the Bucs, just perhaps not at MLB.
The secondary is the deepest concern. Ronde could retire. Aquib could be in jail. Tanard is one blunt away from a lifetime ban and Sean Jones sucks. EJ Biggers couldn't cover me.
So, with that in mind and believing the Glazers have wheel barrels of money ready to be spent in free agency, let's talk targets.
Yes, I know - everyone is on the Cortland Finnegan bandwagon and he might be the best corner out there. For my money, I think Brandon Carr is the guy the Bucs should target. Carr gets the ultimate respect of NFL Quarterbacks - teams don't throw in his direction. As a result, his interception numbers are down with just 8 over 4 seasons (4 last season). He's three years younger than Finnegan and probably won't cost as much.
Carr is also a pretty clean player, has solid wheels and has a good football mind.
2. Cortland Finnegan, DB, Tennessee Titans
I think Finnegan would be a good addition as well, I'm just concerned that the Bucs will overpay for his services. Finnegan has just 3 interceptions in the last two seasons. Where he makes his bones is on tackles, where he's a machine - reaching 100 tackles in 2010. He's a veteran in every since of the word and plays a nasty brand of football.
He could bring some bite back to the Buccaneers.
The Bucs desperately want a veteran voice calling out the plays in the huddle. The best available middle linebacker in free agency hand down is Stephen Tulloch. The 6 year veteran out of N.C. State is just 26 years old and started every game for the Lions in 2011. The season before in Tennessee, Tulloch registered a Hardy Nickerson-like 160 tackles for the Titans (111 solo). As a former Titan, he has experience working with Finnegan.
Mario Williams would top this list if not for the injury bug that has plagued him the last two seasons. When healthy, Williams is dominant, registering eight or more sacks in four of his six NFL seasons. At just 27 years of age, Williams could be coming into his prime.
If Tulloch gets away or costs too much money, veteran David Hawthorne is a good back up plan. Hawthorne has gone over 100 total tackles in each of his last three seasons and last season developed into a playmaker, pulling down 3 interceptions (one for a touchdown) and a fumble recovery.
6. Reggie Nelson, S, Cincinnati
The former Gator Reggie Nelson has a reputation around the league as being a big-time hitter. Nelson registered 85 tackles last season (59 solo) and 4 interceptions while sacking the quarterback twice. He also forced two fumbles. At age 28 and entering his 6th season in the league, he could provide some added speed, toughness and talent to the Tampa Bay secondary
7. Amobi Okoye, DT, Chicago
I really liked Okoye coming out of college. He's only 24 years old and is entering his sixth season in the NFL. While his numbers don't jump off the page, he is finally growing into his body and becoming an NFL player. Playing sparingly for the Bears, Okoye still managed 4 sacks and has 15 over his five year career.
The Giants were devastated to lose their top corner, Thomas, to an ACL injury in the pre-season of 2011. He put up outstanding numbers the previous season, registering 101 tackles (81 solo), 5 interceptions and 4 forced fumbles. If Thomas is healed, the Bucs could have a golden opportunity to dramatically upgrade their secondary for a guy who shouldn't cost too much coming off injury in a contract year.
9. Wesley Woodyard, OLB, Denver
A special teams demon the first few years of his career, Woodyard was pressed into duty last season and didn't disappoint, registering 97 tackles (67 solo) and 3 forced fumbles. At just 25 years of age, he wouldn't cost much and may bring competition to the linebacker position.
10. LaRon Landry, S, Washington
The Hulk could be coming to Tampa Bay. Landry's monstrous frame has been damaged in recent years, as he's failed to complete his last two seasons. When he's healthy, Landry is a physical presence that can bring the thump to run defense. He's also active on the ball, making plays and displaying a lot of range on the ball. With back-to-back injury riddled seasons, Landry may be a bargain addition.
As the Bucs embark on Free Agency, Tampa Bay fans certainly await with baited breath to see if Ownership is truly dedicated to improving the talent level of the team. They certainly appear to have plenty of young, exciting talent to choose from.