The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been busy re-signing their own and talking to mid-tier free agents, according to the rumor-and-reports mill, but here's something we haven't heard before: Greg Auman "keep[s] hearing" the Bucs are going to target top-tier free agents at defensive end along the offensive line. Justin Pawlowski hears the same thing.
If that's true, the Bucs had better get cracking, because there aren't a lot of those players left. The Bucs have been tied toBryan Bulaga, and he's pretty much the best offensive tackle left on the market -- but he's hardly a true, top-tier free agent. At offensive guard, Orlando Franklin is heading to the San Diego Chargers, per Jeff McLane. That'd leave Mike Iupati and Clint Boling -- solid players, but not what I'd call true standouts. Still, you can't sign who isn't available, so going after those players is what the team has to do.
At defensive end, things are more interesting. The Bucs could go after the top of the line here, and that would be Greg Hardy -- who was convicted for domestic abuse, and then had those charges dismissed on an automatic re-trial after his accuser could not be found. Hardy's an outstanding player who would cost the Bucs top, top dollar, but he's not exactly a terrific human being.
Brandon Graham might make a little more sense. He's not quite as good as Hardy, but he doesn't have Hardy's off-field issues. And, perhaps most importantly, he's a pretty good pass-rusher over a very small sample. Graham was picked in the first round in 2010, but struggled to live up to his promise early on. But over the past three years, he's been devastating.
You might be fooled by his low sack totals -- just 14 in three years -- but part of that was playing a limited number of snaps, and his productivity in pressure was much higher: Pro Football Focus notes he managed a whopping 51 pressures on just 225 pass rush snaps last year, which gave him the best per-snap productivity out of all 3-4 outside linebackers. And similarly, they graded him out as the second-best 4-3 defensive end in the entire NFL in 2012, his last season playing that position.
That productivity is great, but it's over a fairly small sample and it didn't translate to sacks. But Graham is exactly the kind of player the Bucs targeted last year: highly-rated by Pro Football Focus and other tape-watchers, but likely to come relatively cheaply because of a limited production in traditional statistics or a paucity of snaps. That's exactly what Anthony Collins, Clinton McDonald, Michael Johnson and Alterraun Verner were.
So that's my guess for the top-tier guys they're going after. What's yours?