NFL free agency is about to start, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going to spend some money. Most reports have suggested that they'll be quiet in free agency, but given $58 million in cap space and some allowances general manager Jason Licht made for the "right" players, they're likely to sign at least a few names.
The legal tampering period starts today at noon ET, when teams will be allowed to talk to and even negotiate with players' agents -- though they can't talk to those players themselves, and contracts can't be finalized until free agency opens officially. That'll happen Wednesday, March 9, at 4:00 p.m. ET.
Buccaneers rumors and reports
- Doug Martin will hit free agency, as the Bucs have not been able to re-sign him so far. There's a chance they do so after he tests the market, if no other team is willing to meet his price.
- The Bucs have shown interest in guard/tackle Nate Chandler. He'd likely compete for the starting left guard position, and would be a useful swing backup.
- Charles Johnson is coming in for a visit, and he'd be a great fit at left defensive end.
- The Bucs are trying to re-sign Chris Conte on the cheap.
- Restricted free agent Danny Lansanah won't be tendered, but Bradley McDougald and Russell Shepard will.
Buccaneers salary cap space: $58 million
With an adjusted salary cap of $161 million and a commitment of $103 million to 2016, the Bucs have some $58 million in cap space, after Logan Mankins' retirement and the expected release of linebacker Bruce Carter.
The Bucs could create more by releasing players like Vincent Jackson, Alterraun Verner and Gosder Cherilus, whose release would combine for $21 million in savings, but they're expected to hold on to all of them through at least training camp. Jackson seems to be guaranteed a roster spot, but Verner and Cherilus will have to earn theirs this offseason.
Buccaneers team needs
Defensive end: The Bucs haven't had a quality edge rusher since Simeon Rice left in 2007, and they've been desperate to find one for years on end. They tried in the draft, but Adrian Clayborn, Da'Quan Bowers and the late Gaines Adams all disappointed. They tried free agency, but George and Michael Johnson combined for just four sacks. Whether they turn to the draft or free agency, that's the number one position the Bucs have to address.
Possible targets: Charles Johnson (the Bucs are bringing him in for a visit), Mario Williams, Jason Pierre-Paul, Tamba Hali, Robert Ayers, William Hayes.
Cornerback: The Bucs have two starting cornerbacks in Johnthan Banks and Alterraun Verner, and both of them were benched repeatedly last year. That's not good, especially in a league where teams routinely give four or five cornerbacks significant playing times. The Bucs hope their new coaching staff can get those two players to live up to their talent, but they'll need more depth at cornerback regardless. Even a high-quality starter wouldn't look out of place.
Possible targets: Sean Smith, Janoris Jenkins, Adam Jones, Casey Hayward, Trumaine Johnson, Patrick Robinson, Leon Hall, Prince Amukamara, Brandon Boykin.
Safety: The Bucs have a couple of so-so starters in Major Wright and Bradley McDougald, and they want to re-sign Chris Conte. None of those players are difference makers, but as a group they're good enough for a decent secondary. The Bucs should do better than decent, or at least find a player who has the potential to turn into a difference-maker. A rangy free safety would be a better fit than a more box-oriented strong safety.
Possible targets: Reggie Nelson, Rodney McLeod, George Iloka, Tony Jefferson, Husain Abdullah, Isa Abdul-Quddus, Walter Thurmond, Tyvon Branch.
Running back: If Doug Martin doesn't return, the Bucs need to find a running back who can take the bulk of the carries. Charles Sims is a nice change-of-pace and receiving back, but he's not the kind of player you base a running game on. The Bucs don't need an all-rounder, just someone who can help sustain a running game.
Possible targets: Lamar Miller, Tim Hightower, Matt Forte, Chris Ivory, Arian Foster, Donald Brown.
Offensive line depth: Despite Logan Mankins' retirement, the Bucs know mostly who they'll start on the offensive line this year. They won't be bringing in any starters, unless it's Alex Mack at center, but they could do with some extra competition -- especially at left guard, where Kevin Pamphile is set to take Mankins' place. No, the Bucs are not going to slide Donovan Smith inside or to right tackle -- they like how he developed at left tackle, and see him as the future there.
Possible targets: Nate Chandler (Bucs "interested"), Alex Mack, Amini Silatolu, Michael Harris, Tony Bergstrom, Chris Chester.
Wide receiver depth: The Bucs have a great receiving corps on paper: Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson are high-level starters, Louis Murphy is a reliable veteran, Kenny Bell is a very talented second-year speedster, Adam Humphries and Donteea Dye showed potential as undrafted rookies last year, and Russell Shepard remains a talented and underused athlete. But two of those players spent most of the season on injured reserve, a third missed significant time and the Bucs were obviously lacking talent at the end of last year. Some extra competition wouldn't hurt.
Possible targets: Travis Benjamin, Anquan Boldin, Roddy White, Rishard Matthews, Marvin Jones.
Unrestricted free agents: RB Doug Martin, CB Sterling Moore, S Chris Conte, DT Henry Melton, RB Bobby Rainey, S Keith Tandy, CB Mike Jenkins, DE Larry English, DL Da'Quan Bowers, DT Tony McDaniel.
Of these players, only Chris Conte is likely to be re-signed. The Bucs want to bring back Doug Martin, but only at the right price -- he'll test the open market first. Everyone else will hit free agency, including Sterling Moore -- arguably the team's best cornerback last year.
Restricted free agents: S Bradley McDougald, WR Russell Shepard, LB Danny Lansanah, FB Jorvorskie Lane
McDougald and Shepard will be tendered, while Lansanah and Lane won't be. Lansanah could be re-signed later on to a cheaper contract.
Exclusive rights free agents: DE Jacquies Smith, DE Olatunji Fatinikun, LB Jeremiah George and LS Andrew DePaola
The Bucs will almost certainly tender all of these players, with reports confirming that for everyone except Fatinikun.