Kevin C. Cox
The Bucs go into this offseason with one big need: cornerback. But where else do they need help?
We haven't yet looked at the team's needs this offseason, and they have plenty of them. Which positions should the Tampa Bay Buccaneers look at, who should they (re-)sign and who should they draft? Find out here!
Now that's a great list of cornerbacks, isn't it? A quality player who will almost certainly be released, a third-year seventh-round pick, an undrafted free agent, a failed third-round pick and another undrafted free agent. The Bucs need cornerbacks, they need lots of them, and they need them fast. They don't even have one worthy starter on the roster right now.
Re-signing players: E.J. Biggers could be resigned. He played well the past season, but may be best suited to a role as a nickel or dime corner on the outside.
Free agency: This is the most likely place for reinforcements. A few names set to hit the market who could intrigue the Bucs: Brent Grimes, Sean Smith, Cary Williams, Derek Cox, Mike Jenkins, Greg Toler, Tony Carter, Darius Butler, Chris Owens and Keenan Lewis. There's not a lot of high-end talent there, but there is a lot of depth and the Bucs could find multiple starters with a bit of luck.
As usual, you should expect a bunch of names to be off the market when free agency actually hits in March. Teams will re-sign their own quality players, rather than let them hit the market. Still, there should be room to find at least one capable starter, if not two.
Draft: Like free agency, there aren't a lot of very high-level starters in the draft. Cornerback Dee Milliner, at least, is one of them and Johnthan Banks looks like a quality player as well. There is a lot of depth in this draft class, though, and you could see the Buccaneers passing on a first-round cornerback to find better value in the second and third rounds of the draft.
Free agents: Ronde Barber
Why is this a need? Just look at the starters. There's not a ton of talent there. Ahmad Black did well as a dime safety this season, but he hardly made an impact on the field. The rest barely got any playing time, though I did like what little I saw of Keith Tandy late in the season. Whether this will be a need hinges on one thing, and one thing only: Ronde Barber's desire to return to the NFL.
Re-signing players: If Ronde Barber wants to return for an eighteenth season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will have him. He was outstanding as a starter this past season and looked like he had a few more seasons in him. That's all Barber's decision, though, and until he commits one way or the other it's hard to say which way he'll lean. Still, Barber to me seems like the kind of player who will hang around until the NFL forces him to stop playing.
Free agency: There's one high-level starter in free agency: Jairus Byrd. And he's likely to be re-signed by the Buffalo Bills. They have $20 million in cap space, so they can easily do so, or use the franchise tag to retain him. Behind him, Kenny Phillips, William Moore and Dashon Goldson would be intriguing options, but they don't scream "difference makers" as much as "solid starters".
Draft: One player has caught my eye in this year's draft so far: Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro. He's fast, has the ability to cover players in man-to-man, is a hard hitter and looks like he can play center field (although that's hard to evaluate without all-22 tape). He's outstanding in coverage, and looks exactly like the free safety the Bucs need. If the team has a need at free safety once the draft rolls around, I would not be surprised to see them pick Vaccaro. Behind him, a few more players may come on the radar, but most of them are more safety to a Mark Barron-like strong safety role.
Free agents: Dallas Clark
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could use a lot of help here. Luke Stocker is a decent blocker and mediocre receiver, and that's the best player on the roster. Nate Byham looked like a very good blocker, but didn't get much playing time. The rest is mostly unproven, although Zach Miller has a bit of upside as he used to be productive in Jacksonville.
Re-signing players: Re-signing Dallas Clark would help a little, but he doesn't have much speed left to be a difference maker as a pass-catcher.
Free agency: Tony Gonzalez is a free agent! And no, he's not coming to Tampa. He's either retiring, or re-signing with the Falcons. There are more intriguing options, though. Fred Davis is on the market, and he's an outstanding pass-catcher who has had to face a suspension in the past. He may not fit the team. Dustin Keller is an outstanding all-around tight end, a former first-round pick and he could hit the market with the Jets facing massive salary cap problems. Martellus Bennett intrigues a lot of Bucs fans, as he's a great blocker and has the potential (but not the consistency) to be a matchup nightmare in the passing game. Can his brother lure him to Tampa, or will the opposite happen? The Giants are currently over the cap, and that could force them to let Bennett walk.
Draft: Three players stand out in this draft class: Zach Ertz, Tyler Eifert and Jordan Reed. All three of them are mostly receiving tight ends who won't bring much as blockers. Eifert is probably the best player in the group and a late first-round pick, but one of them should be available for the Bucs' second-round pick.
Free agents: Daniel Te'o-Nesheim (restricted), Michael Bennett
Despite a lot of draft picks invested in pass rushers, the Bucs still have a bit of an issue there. Da'Quan Bowers looked like a future star toward the end of the season, and he has unrivaled physical gifts. Adrian Clayborn is a very solid player, but he doesn't have Bowers' upside. Meanwhile, McCoy is a deserved Pro Bowler. Morgan flashed a little bit of ability as a speed rusher at the end of the season, too, although he wasn't very consistent. That's a lot of talent, but Clayborn will be coming off a knee injury and having just Bowers and McCoy healthy will not be enough. So there's a need for a pass rusher there.
Re-signing players: Michael Bennett should be the team's main priority. They have to re-sign him: a young, high-level defensive lineman who's dominant against the run and was the team's leading sack artist last season -- even though he was playing with a shoulder injury for most of the season. Te'o-Nesheim should be less of a priority: he'd be nice of depth, but he's hardly a high-level starter.
Draft: The draft has a lot of high-level pass-rushing talent, surprisingly. Damontre Moore, Bjoern Werner, Jarvis Jones, Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo and Dion Jordan are a few names to keep your eye on. If the Bucs find a pass-rusher with a high grade falling to them in the first round, don't be too surprised if they grab them. You can never have too many pass rushers.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have one high-level starter: Gerald McCoy. The rest remains to be seen. Gary Gibson is okay, but he's an old journeyman who's hardly a worthy starter. Matthew Masifilo didn't show me much, either. The Bucs need to find some more depth at defensive tackle, preferably someone who can hold up at nose tackle in the running game and still provide something as a pass-rusher. That's a lot easier said than done, however. If they can only find run-stoppers, the Bucs are likely to use Michael Bennett as a defensive tackle in pass-rushing packages.
Re-signing players: The Bucs should try to re-sign Roy Miller, who was an outstanding run-stopper this past season. He should come fairly cheap, and would be a good investment. Corvey Irvin is likely to be kept at the low-low price of minimum salary.
Free agents: There's not much here. Henry Melton is the only player who would be a really good signing, but the Bears have plenty of cap space to re-sign him and no reason to let him walk. Behind him we come to Richard Seymour, who has been inconsistent and very limited in snap counts. And that about it does it for the quality options.
Draft: This is a draft with quite a lot of talent at defensive tackle, really, although it seems unlikely that the Bucs are willing to spend a first-round pick on a nose tackle. They're more likely to look for some depth in later rounds. Still, if the right talent falls to them in round one, they could always grab an interior lineman.
Free Agents: none
The Bucs have made it clear that they want competition for Josh Freeman, as they're apparently not satisfied that Dan Orlovsky is really threatening Freeman. They're not going to extend the young quarterback, which means they'll use this season to further evaluate him. It also means they're likely to look for a talent that could replace him if they do decide Freeman is not the answer.
Free agency: Good quarterbacks almost never hit the market. Joe Flacco is scheduled to be a free agent, technically, but there's no way the Ravens are letting him walk. That leaves Matt Moore, Jason Campbell and David Garrard as the main options. Yeah. Good luck with that.
Draft: This is a weird draft for quarterbacks. There's no clear number one on the board, although Geno Smith is likely to be the first QB off the board. Greg Schiano probably loves Geno Smith: he played for West Virginia, the team that Greg Schiano could never beat, and threw for over 500 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions against Schiano in two outings. But he's extremely unlikely to be available for the Bucs at any point.
Other than that, there's not much guaranteed first-round talent, and even less talent that would fit the Bucs' scheme: a strong-armed quarterback who's not afraid to pull the trigger on deep throws or tight-window throws, and also someone who doesn't turn the ball over much. No quarterbacks like that are really available, but a slew of talented quarterbacks who could develop into that kind of player should be on the board in the later rounds: Tyler Wilson, Mike Glennon, Tyler Bray, Zac Dysert, E.J. Manuel, Ryan Nassib and Landry Jones could be options for the Bucs late in the draft.