The Buccaneers have holes, everywhere. Tampa Bay has surely re-evaluated their roster well ahead of free agency in an attempt to fill those holes with talent. A season removed from head coach Dirk Koetter’s first season at 9-7, there was disappointment that blanketed the organization after their 2017 season resulted in a 5-11 record.
Heading into free agency, the team has to fill in talent where talent lacks. In this edition of Bucs 2018 Free Agency Prep, we take a look at potential targets in the secondary that’ll help bolster Tampa Bay’s defensive backfield.
The Bucs headed into 2017 with one name everyone thought was going to take over the position after he ended 2016 on a high note, and that was Keith Tandy. The seven-year veteran wowed with his consistent play two seasons ago but that never carried into the following offseason in preparation for the 2017 season. Veteran T.J. Ward was added but, yeah, that didn’t work out as many had hoped it would.
Chirs Conte’s option for this upcoming season was exercised so he’ll be returning. Despite what many outside the organization feel about him, his familiarity with the defense allows him to hang around.
However, there is some upside to the position. The 2017 second-round pick Justin Evans was impressive as the season went on. Despite the many missed tackles early on, Evans got better as the season went on. He posted 66 combined tackles with three interceptions.
At the moment, that’s all the Bucs really have to work with.
The Bucs may have some options available to them at the top of the draft like Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick and Florida State’s Derwin James. If they are eyeing those two as potential selections, it’d still be wise to bolster the position with a veteran.
If they go the free agency route, some targets may include San Francisco’s Eric Reid, San Diego’s Tre Boston, and New Orleans’ Kenny Vaccaro. Depending on how Tampa Bay approaches their 2018 defensive strategy, Boston may be the best option.
Boston, 25, played all of last year and hauled in five interceptions and recorded 79 combined tackles.
The Buccaneers gave up 265.4 yards per game in 2017, ranking 22nd in the league in that department. They also ranked 18th in the league for allowing a 63.3 percent completion percentage. Granted, there are many factors and other positions that contribute to such stats. But having solid cornerback play helps tremendously.
Veteran Brent Grimes was a solid addition the past two seasons. Unfortunately, his future with the team is in doubt. Vernon Hargreaves is entering his third season after being the 11th overall selection in the 2016 draft. You can say he had a sophomore slump last season after struggling in pass coverage and receiving criticism from the coaching staff. To be fair, he also missed seven games due to a hamstring injury.
Outside of those two, they had veteran Robert McClain who filled in admirably when called upon but is also a free agent. The team will likely lose Jude Adjei-Barimah to free agency and Ryan Smith — who continues to flash his athleticism — is still developing at 24 years old.
This is a position the Bucs need to address and address effectively. With Grimes possibly not returning, It would be wise to bring in someone to start opposite Hargreaves or maybe even bring in two and have Hargreaves play inside more.
Some names that should be considered are recently released Richard Sherman — who says the Bucs have already shown interest, Buffalo’s E.J. Gaines, New England’s Malcolm Butler, and St. Louis’ Trumaine Johnson. Injuries will be a huge factor in deciding on this list.
If the Bucs can bring in Sherman and sign one of the other three, that would be ideal and sure up the corner position for some time.
On Saturday, the Buccaneers re-signed cornerback Javien Elliot. Being an exclusive rights free agent, Tampa Bay only had to offer him a one-year deal.
The signing will add depth to the position if he makes 53-man roster for a second straight season.