Reporting Justin Pawlowski
Despite having a tremendous off-season in 2012, the Bucs enter the 2013 off-season with a long list of needs to address in hopes of putting together a Super Bowl Champion.
A year ago, Bucs GM Mark Dominik made his first impactful moves in free agency since taking over the franchise in 2009. The approach in free agency brought in two important members on offense in Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks, but also a miss in cornerback Eric Wright.
Last year’s draft might have been even more impressive than what was accomplished in free agency. The Bucs and Mark Dominik potentially drafted three cornerstones to the team in Mark Barron, Doug Martin, and Lavonte David.
Five potential impact players in one off-season is a lot to ask for, but that’s what the Bucs achieved in 2012. Moving forward, the Bucs might need a similar haul this off-season to become a top-tier team in the NFL.
Before understanding what the Bucs could or might do in the upcoming NFL Draft, we must take a deeper look at the Bucs needs heading into this off-season and what free agency might bring?
Here’s a look at my needs for the Bucs and the free agents that could assist with those needs:
Eric Wright (likely to be released)
Bottom Line: The Bucs were last in the NFL in pass defense and lacked talent and experience at corner. I feel the Bucs need at least one, and possibly two, corners in free agency to increase the talent AND the experience. Drafting a corner is also a possibility, but this draft looks deeper than it is top heavy, so it might not be a necessity to reach on a corner in the 1st round if there is not one there worth taking with the 13th pick. Keep a close eye on Derek Cox from the Jaguars as the Bucs just hired Tony Oden as their new DBs coach. Oden spent last year with the Jaguars.
Top Free Agents: Brent Grimes (ATL), Sean Smith (MIA), Cary Williams (BAL), Dominique Rogers-Cromartie (PHI), Quinton Jammer (SD), Antoine Cason (SD), Captain Munnerlyn (CAR), Derek Cox (JAX), Rashean Mathis (JAX)
Bottom Line: The Bucs have focussed on giving Josh Freeman a plethora of weapons to work with, but have failed to provide him the security blanket of a reliable tight end. While resigning Dallas Clark is a possibility, Clark struggled to separate from linebackers in 2012. Martellus Bennett has been mentioned a lot recently because of his brother, Michael, but what if Michael Bennett is not resigned by the Bucs? Fred Davis would be my top target, but there is a good possibility that he’s back with RG3 and the Redskins. I have always liked Delanie Walker and think he is on the verge of becoming a very good starting tight end in the NFL. He cannot start in San Francisco, so he’ll most likely be looking for a team that he can start on.
Top Free Agents: Fred Davis (WAS), Jared Cook (TEN), Martellus Bennett (NYG), Anthony Fasano (MIA), Dustin Keller (NYJ), Delanie Walker (SF), Ben Watson (CLE)
Bottom Line: This is pretty simple, Ronde Barber is old, about to retire, and was a liability last season. I also do not feel Ahmad Black is ready for a full-time role. I’d love to get a veteran with experience back in the secondary to help Mark Barron, but also an experienced player that can still play at a high level. Dashon Goldson would be my top target with his experience on a top defense like the 49ers. Patrick Chung would bring his experience from the Patriots and be a nice upgrade. Kenny Phillips has some injury concerns, but does have a tie to the Giants that might help him or hurt him with current Bucs coaches. No, I do not think Ed Reed would come to the Bucs, nor do I think the Bucs will go after him.
Top Free Agents: Dashon Goldson (SF), Jairus Byrd (BUF), Ed Reed (BAL), LaRon Landry (NYJ), Louis Delmas (DET), Patrick Chung (NE), William Moore (ATL), Kenny Phillips (NYJ)
Bottom Line: Mark Dominik and the Bucs have invested a lot of money into their offensive line with the resigning of Donald Penn and Davin Joseph, and the addition of Carl Nicks in free agency. With that investment, the Bucs have not settled on a true right tackle. With the amount of offensive tackles available, it should be a buyers’ market and teams looking for a tackle could get a good deal. I think the Bucs should inquire about Andre Smith and Branden Albert, but I’d be fine if the Bucs ended up with Sebastian Vollmer or Phil Loadholt. With the physical style the Bucs like to use on offense, Loadholt might be the best target. He’d also give the Bucs the biggest offensive line in the NFL. #FGU
Top Free Agents: Jake Long (MIA), Branden Albert (KC), Ryan Clady (DEN), Andre Smith (CIN), Sebastian Vollmer (NE), Phil Loadholt (MIN), Gosder Cherilus (DET)
Bottom Line: The Bucs were great against the run last year, but could be looking for a spark over Roy Miller, whom there likely to let go in free agency. I think the Bucs could get bigger and stronger next to Gerald McCoy to take up double teams along the line of scrimmage. I mentioned the Jaguar connection with the CBs, but it could be in effect here too. Knighton is a massive defensive tackle who has been invisible in Jacksonville. Sammie Lee Hill and Alan Branch also fit that bill. The Bucs also like getting players from division rivals, and reports out of New Orleans say Sedrick Ellis will leave the Saints in free agency this off-season with the team’s transition to the 3-4 defense. Jason Jones is an interesting name that could come cheaper as he is coming off a knee injury, but could be a nice role player.
Top Free Agents: Henry Melton (CHI), Terrance Knighton (JAX), Jason Jones (SEA), Sammie Lee Hill (DET), Sedrick Ellis (NO), Alan Branch (SEA), Chris Canty (NYG)
Pass Rusher/ Defensive End:
Bottom Line: The Bucs struggled again in 2012 when getting to opposing quarterbacks. Michael Bennett ended 2012 with a team-high 9 sacks, but as he eyes a big pay day, it might behoove the Bucs to address their pass rush elsewhere. I know, it would be crazy for a team that struggles in rushing the passer to allow their best pass rusher to leave in free agency, but Bennett has never been known as a terror off the edge. The hope is that Da’Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn get better, stay healthy, and become the starters. If Bennett is looking for a massive pay day, that would not really fit in with the Bucs plans. Some free agent names might also look flashy, but those names might also cost a lot to bring into the rotation. If the Bucs are going to sign any of the names below, Umenyiora might be the best fit as a rotational player. I also think the Bucs might be in good position with the 13th pick in the draft to draft a “pass rushing” defensive end to pair with Bowers and Clayborn, both of whom aren’t known as pure pass rushers.
Top Free Agents: Cliff Avril (DET), Dwight Freeny (IND), Osi Umenyiora (NYG), Michael Johnson (CIN), Paul Kruger (BAL)
Quincy Black (likely to be released)
Bottom Line: A replacement for Quincy Black is not the most pressing need, but could definitely be addressed. Mark Dominik has shown a good ability to find linebackers in the draft with Mason Foster and Lavonte David. The draft might be the way they go again with Black’s replacement. Shaun Phillips might be an intriguing name in free agency that could play strong-side linebacker on 1st and 2nd down, but move down and rush the passer on 3rd downs. This isn’t likely, but it’s a possibility. I’ve also mentioned on the air the idea of drafting a hybrid linebacker to play strong-side for the Bucs on 1st and 2nd down, then rush the passer on 3rd down. Keep an eye on Jarvis Jones from Georgia. His spinal stenosis could have him slide a little bit. As of right now, if I’m the Bucs and Jones slips, I’m pouncing…immediately.
Top Free Agents: Shaun Phillips (SD), Daryl Smith (JAX), Bradie James (HOU), LeRoy Hill (SEA)
Wide Receiver (Slot):
Bottom Line: I don’t think the Bucs spend a lot of money here, but they need a reliable receiver to work the middle of the field. Amendola concerns me with his injuries. I think great fits that would help the Bucs as a slot receiver and a punt returner are Josh Cribbs and Julian Edelman. Both can work the middle of the field and both are dynamic on punt returns.
Top Free Agents: Mike Wallace (PIT), Danny Amendola (STL), Josh Cribbs (CLE), Julian Edelman (NE), Ted Ginn Jr. (SF)