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Unfilled Needs Show the Buccaneers' Strategy For Free Agency

No offensive linemen was drafted in the 2011 draft by the Bucs. Does this mean Davin Joseph will be back?
No offensive linemen was drafted in the 2011 draft by the Bucs. Does this mean Davin Joseph will be back?

The Buccaneers addressed a number of critical needs in the 2011 NFL Draft, most notably defensive end and linebacker. But the picks they didn't make say a lot about their approach to free agency, both in terms of re-signing players and going after other teams' free agents. Before the draft there was some speculation the Bucs could go after a top notch defensive end in free agency, but that is obviously off the board as the Bucs selected DEs Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers with their first two picks of the draft. Similarly, with two tight ends selected the Bucs aren't going to be adding any tight ends in free agency - not that that seemed likely in the first place. 

The most obvious need the Bucs didn't fill was offensive line. While the offensive line performed decently at the end of last season with a lot of injuries, the Bucs lack great players on the line aside from Donald Penn. They could really use some talent at right tackle, where James Lee filled in decently last year, and at right guard, where Davin Joseph is a free agent. I don't think the Bucs are going to go out and grab a tackle in free agency, as James Lee was pretty decent last year and they still have developmental talent Demar Dotson on the roster. But right guard is a real concern, and they will need to bring someone in to fill that need. Well, what better player to bring in than Davin Joseph, the Buccaneer who is scheduled to be a free agent? While he had a poor 2010 season he was dominant in seasons before that. The Buccaneers know exactly what they have in him, and they've already tendered him in case 2010 CBA rules are instated. With no offensive lineman selected in the 2011 draft, I fully expect to see Davin Joseph in a Buccaneer uniform the coming years. 

The 2010 draft also shows that the Buccaneers either aren't quite done with Aqib Talib yet or they're going to sign a free agent cornerback. I don't think the Bucs want to go into the season with Ronde Barber and E.J. Biggers starting, Myron Lewis as the nickel cornerback and Anthony Gaitor at dime back. While they can win with those cornerbacks, they have a serious problem if anyone's injured and they shouldn't be willing to take that risk. Either the Bucs want to bring back Talib, or they're going to try to sign Nnamdi Asomugha or more likely Johnathan Joseph, who's a little younger. 

The Bucs will also look to add some linebackers somewhere. While they added Mason Foster to the team the Bucs still lack depth, as the only players with any real playing experience on the roster are Dekoda Watson and Geno Hayes. Tyrone McKenzie is likely to compete for starting time, but that's about it. With Adam Hayward, Barrett Ruud and Quincy Black free agents it seems likely they'll bring at least one of those guys back. Adam Hayward is the most likely candidate to be re-signed, as he'll be cheapest, is very versatile and proved he can function well as the SAM linebacker. Quincy Black could return as well, as the athletically gifted linebacker had defensive packages created for him last season. Barrett Ruud is a coach's favorite, but he has his flaws and he'll likely demand a premium contract which the Bucs may not be willing to pay. I think we see at least one and likely two of these players return to the Buccaneers next season. 

Finally, I think the Bucs will look to add a third-down back somewhere in free agency. They could bring back Cadillac Williams, or they could find someone else in free agency, but I don't see anyone on the roster who can really function as a pass blocker and pass catcher. Sixth-Round draft pick looks to be a short-yardage back who will split some time with Legarrette Blount on early downs, but neither Blount nor Bradford is a good pass-catcher or blocker, and the Bucs really need one. If all else fails they could use Earnest Graham in that role, who can certainly pass block but isn't all that dynamic as a pass catcher.