Free agency opens tomorrow and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a lot of work to do. The good news is Lovie Smith has had plenty of time to asses the team and decide what the holes in the roster are. The better news is the Buccaneers have about $19 million in cap space. Smith knows the importance of free agency and plans to take full advantage of it.
No one wants to wait until the draft to fill critical positions on the team if they can be acquired in free agency. The Buccaneers have a few needs that could be addressed now and the addition of veteran players instead of rookies would help provide role models and leadership in a struggling team.
In preparation for free agency the Buccaneers have already made a few roster moves, most notably signing linebacker Jonathan Casillas to a one-year contract and releasing guard Davin Joseph.
Signing Casillas was a no-brainer. He played 12 games last season before his season ending injury and in that time he racked up 24 tackles. He’s a solid player with a proven record last year and during his three seasons with the New Orleans Saints.
Davin Joseph’s release did not exactly come as a surprise but it did sting a little. The two time Pro Bowl guard has been with the team for eight years and in that time has been an asset on the field and a good man in the community taking an active role in charity work in Tampa. Though his play has been on the decline, he’s not incapable and he will be missed by fans. I expect he’ll find a new home in the NFL, ultimately he just didn’t fit whatever plan Lovie Smith has for the future of the Buccaneers.
Going into free agency there are key positions that need filling and a few names turning up as being possible fits for the Buccaneers. Let’s take a look:
Quarterback is a tricky one. Buccaneer fans seem to be undecided as to whether or not current quarterback Mike Glennon can be a franchise quarterback. He had some rough games and he had some glimpses of good as well. I’m afraid I fall on the side of thinking the Buccaneers can do better. Whether or not you agree it’s a fact that the Buccaneers need another quarterback. They need someone to at least challenge if not replace Glennon and a veteran acquisition would be a great way to take care of this need.
A name that keeps coming up as a contender is Chicago Bears back-up quarterback Josh McCown. He has a lot going for him. He pulled off a very successful series of games when he stepped in for an injured Jay Cutler last year. So successful in fact that many thought he should get the starter job. That didn’t happen, but it seems other teams took notice. If he can find a starting job, or the possibility or competing for one, elsewhere, he’s likely to take it. The Buccaneers have the need and McCown has played for Lovie Smith before. It seems like the obvious choice.
The Buccaneers need a pass rusher immediately. It’s one of their weakest areas. The best solution would be to bring back current Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett. He was a Buccaneer and he was productive. His last season with the Buccaneers he had 41 tackles, 9 sacks and 3 forced fumbles. Unfortunately for the Buccaneers the Seahawks picked him up last year in free agency.
While I think this would be the best solution, I’m not sure how likely it is. First, there’s the chance he’ll stay with the Seahawks. He was a crucial part of their Super Bowl winning season and he would probably stay if the pay was
right. The problem of course is the Seahawks have limited cap space and Bennett may slip through the cracks. The other road block is the Chicago Bears. The Bears are reportedly pursuing him and have the added sway of his brother Martellus Bennett currently on their roster. It sounds like a done deal, but a girl can dream. Who does that leave the Buccaneers with? Word is Lovie Smith has his eye on the Cincinnati Bengals Michael Johnson.
True the Buccaneers have Derrelle Revis, but they can still use some help in the secondary. More depth at this position sure wouldn’t hurt. As it turns out Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman is a free agent and Lovie Smith should be very eager to bring him in. Smith was key in shaping Tillman’s talents, having coached him for 9 years with the Bears. Tillman is an all-star who would be a great pick-up and Smith’s relationship with the player may be enough to pursued him to come to Tampa.
Yes, the Buccaneers have an all-star receiver in Vincent Jackson. They have a couple of decent if inconsistent other targets too. However, this is another position where the Buccaneers have room for improvement and the essentially released Chicago Bears’ Devin Hester would be a huge get for the team. Again, there are ties to Lovie Smith. Smith drafted Hester and coached him for the majority of his career. Hester has recently been used as primarily a punt and kick returner but he’s fantastic at it. The Buccaneers certainly have need for a consistent, dynamic returner but make no mistake, Smith knows what an asset Hester can be and will probably use him in multiple roles. Hester is probably one of the biggest acquisitions the Buccaneers can hope to pick up in free agency and almost certainly the most willing. When discussing his moving on from the Bears, Hester said:
“I look at Lovie as my number one coach right now….Because he’s the one that took a chance on me coming out of the draft. He has all of my respect so if he’s a guy who is going to shoot at me and want me to come play with him again, my arms are open.”
That does seem promising. Expect to see moves in the first few days of free agency. Hopefully Hester can be locked up and the Buccaneers can fill one or two other needs as well.