The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will widely be seen as the winners of free agency, to the extent that USA Today is already calling them the new Dream Team. Yeah, that will go over well. But the Bucs went out into free agency and spent money aggressively: signing the best wide receiver on the market, arguably the best guard in the NFL, and, well, maybe the third-best cornerback on the market is nothing to sneeze at. The Bucs certainly upgraded their team in multiple ways, but they certainly shouldn't be done, despite Dominik's comments to that effect.
The Buccaneers have exactly two big holes on their roster that must be filled. They can add quality and depth at a lot of other positions, but two needs stand out above everything else: linebacker and third-down back. Thankfully, there are still plenty of options at both positions in free agency. Let's examine both of them.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers need a linebacker. They currently have Mason Foster, Quincy Black, Dekoda Watson, Adam Hayward and Jacob Cutrera on the roster. Between those five players, they have maybe half a reliable starter. While there's certainly some potential in this group, none of these players can be relied upon to perform in 2012. Mason Foster had a good start to the 2011 season, but quickly regressed. Quincy Black was a problem all year long, while Watson, Hayward and Cutrera aren't much more than backups.
The Bucs need to add a linebacker they can rely on. Whether that's a middle linebacker or outside linebacker doesn't really matter: they can move Mason Foster outside or inside with relatively few problems. But most of the best talent at linebacker in free agency happens to be concentrated at middle linebacker this season. The Bucs may be out of the race for Curtis Lofton, although Jason La Canfora reported that Tampa Bay made him an offer. But if they don't land Lofton, they have plenty of other (and significantly cheaper options): middle linebackers David Hawthorne, Stephen Tulloch and Joe Mays could all fit in the middle of the Bucs defense, while players like Jo-Lonn Dunbar or Erin Henderson could help the team on the outside.
The costs would not have to be high, either. Former Panther Dan Connor is essentially the only major free agent linebacker to sign during this free agency period, and he signed with the Dallas Cowboys for just $6.5 million over two years. That's relative peanuts, and nowhere close to Curtis Lofton's reported $9 million per year contract demands. Given the complete lack of movement on the linebacker free agency market, the Bucs could quite easily pick up a quality linebacker late in free agency for some lunch money.
When Earnest Graham went down last year, the offense turned into a modern interpretation of the 1976 season. It was bad. That was no consequence: without a reliable back who can pass block and produce as a receiver, the Bucs' passing game couldn't get much done. Check down passes may not be sexy, but they are crucial in today's NFL, and Kregg Lumpkin did not cut it in that regard.
The Bucs need to find a third-down back somewhere. They have just two running backs on the roster right now: Legarrette Blount and Mossis Madu. Blount has never produced consistently as a third-down back, and doesn't really have the physical attributes usually associated with a good third-down back. while Madu is a completely unproven second-year player.
So, who could the Bucs add? As with the linebacker market, the running back market has been very slow to develop, with Peyton Hillis being the only running back to sign with a team - and even then, he signed for just $3 million on a one-year deal. The best third-down back on the market is still available, too, as former Charger Mike Tolbert has not signed anywhere. But Michael Bush, Kevin Smith, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Joseph Addai, Justin Forsett, Tim Hightower, Ryan Grant and a host of old, worn-down backs could help the Bucs in this regard. As with linebackers, it would be easy for the Bucs to pick up a runnnig back for relative peanuts late in free agency.
The Bucs have two major needs left, and they can fill those needs in free agency on the cheap, given the way the markets for those positions have developed.