ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 01: Curtis Lofton #50 of the Atlanta Falcons intercepts a pass for a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Georgia Dome on January 1, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
After two weeks of inactivity, the linebacker market has finally started to move - and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in danger of missing out on all the fun. The most significant signing occurred a couple of days ago, when middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch re-signed with the Detroit Lions for an underwhelming $25.5 million with $11.25 million guaranteed over five years. That deal seems to have set off a flurry of re-signings, however, as OLB Erin Henderson re-signed with the Minnesota Vikings and MLB Jameel McClain returned to the Baltimore Ravens. Linebackers Dan Connor and Joe Mays had signed with different teams earlier in free agency, and this leaves the Bucs with few options in free agency.
Linebacker, however, is still a major position of need for Tampa Bay. Mason Foster seems to be penciled in as a starter - but whether he stays at middle linebacker or moves to the outside will depend on possible new additions to the team. Outside of Foster, the Bucs have seemingly no starters locked in: Quincy Black is coming off a terrible 2011 campaign, while Adam Hayward and Dekoda Watson have been nothing more than solid backups so far in their careers. Rennie Curran provides some depth and competition, but while he's somewhat talented, he's hardly reliable.
The Bucs must address the linebacker position this offseason. The easiest and most surefire way to do so, is in free agency - and there are still two players the Bucs could add who could come in and start immediately: Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne. While the Bucs made an early run at Lofton, it's not entirely clear whether they're still interested in the four-year veteran. Len Pasquarelli reports the Bucs aren't as interested in Lofton anymore, and that reports of an out-standing offer are only "technically true". It's possible Lofton returns to the Falcons, although it seemed like that ship had sailed just last week.
The Bucs must upgrade their linebacking corps, as the group they currently have is simply is not good enough. Whether they can do so in free agency, or in the draft remains to be seen however.