The NFL's second season is rapidly approaching and teams are trying to prioritize which of their restricted and unrestricted free agents they will retain before dipping their toes in the free agency pool.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are one team expected to make a big splash in free agency. After years of inactivity and building through the draft, there's been a philosophical shift that's come with a new direction on the coaching front. General Manager Mark Dominik has said repeatedly that the Bucs will be players in this free agent market but to what degree no one is certain.
The Bucs have reportedly $67 million dollars in cap space to work with so signing who they want shouldn't be a problem if the ownership is willing to spend.
Before you can add pieces from other teams, you need to evaluate what's already on your roster. Tampa Bay began that process earlier this month by releasing defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth.
Haynesworth was brought in after injuries ravaged the Bucs' defense but he failed to impress.
While Haynesworth's release was the first salvo, Dominik has 16 free agents he must sift through and decide who he might want to retain.
While the team went 4-12 last season, there's still some guys the team shouldn't go without.
5. Corey Lynch, S (UFA)
With the expected jettison of Sean Jones, Corey Lynch becomes more important to what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' depth in 2012. A terrific special teamer, Lynch has held his own when called upon to play meaningful minutes in the Buccaneers defense.
He definitely deserves a spot on the 53, shouldn't command too much on the open market and is worth returning for depth.
|2011 - Corey Lynch||10||0||0||1||14||0||17||3||20|
4. Ronde Barber, DB (UFA)
One of the few players in the secondary that didn't play his worst ball in 2011, Barber continued his steady play in 2011. He'll be 37 when the season kicks off in September and its not a given that he wants to play in his 16th NFL season or if new Head Coach Greg Schiano sees him as a fit for his defense.
Still, Barber is a fan favorite and after the public relations nightmares with the end of the careers of Derrick Brooks and other veterans of the Super Bowl Championship team, the Bucs need to do right by Barber. If he wants to come back, there's certainly room on this roster for him.
Can anyone honestly say Myron Lewis or EJ Biggers would be more valuable than Ronde Barber? Of course not. Sometimes it's not about age. Barber is still one of the best at what he does, he's the consummate pro and he can still get the job done.
The only negative in his game last season were the missed tackles which seemed to be an epidemic on the entire Bucs roster.
The belief is Barber will either play for Tampa Bay or retire. He doesn't want to play for another team. However, this isn't a situation where you have a veteran that just doesn't understand that he can't get it done anymore. He may not be returning interceptions 65 yards for touchdowns like he did in the old days but what he lacks in youth and speed he makes up for in his football intelligence.
Indeed, if he wants to play another season, the Buccaneers need to make room for him. A move to safety extended the career of Hall of Famer Rod Woodson. Could Barber fill that role?
|2011 - Ronde Barber||16||1||6||3||12||0||66||12||78|
3. Jeremy Zuttah, OL (UFA)
Discussions have already begun for the versatile Zuttah, who can play either guard or center. The former Rutgers standout played his college ball for new Bucs head man Greg Schiano and there definitely seems to be a desire on his part to rekindle that relationship.
Zuttah has started at guard and center for Tampa Bay with varying degrees of success. Zuttah seemed to play his best ball at center, playing for the oft-injured Jeff Faine. He got off the ball well and seemed to be stout at the point of attack.
At guard, he's not quite as effective where sometimes he doesn't get the proper leverage and can be overpowered.
Still, his versatility remains an asset and if the Bucs decide to go younger at center, he could be the long term answer.
2. Michael Bennett, DE (UFA)
One of Mark Dominik's nice little discoveries has been Bennett, whom Dominik nabbed off waivers in 2009. After playing sparingly in '09 and '10, Bennett started 10 games for Tampa Bay in 2011 before giving up the position to 2nd round pick DaQuan Bowers late in the season.
He played well, putting consistent pressure on the quarterback (4 sacks), while doing a decent job on the run. Still young and developing at age 26, Bennett has shown the skillset that he can at the very least provide some depth for the Bucs.
The question will be how much he will command on the open market. Dominik doesn't want to overpay to keep him like he did with Quincy Black and Michael Clayton in years past.
|2011 - Michael Bennett||14||4||25||0||0||0||36||4||40|
1. Connor Barth, kicker (UFA)
In 2009, Dominik overpaid for kick Mike Nugent and Tampa Bay spent the first half of the season trying to find a quality kicker. They finally stumbled upon Barth who has been very dependable for the Bucs in his three seasons in Tampa Bay.
His numbers in 2011 were Pro Bowl worthy and have shown a gradual improvement since donning the Pewter and Red. A long range (a career long of 55), accurate kicker, who has delivered in the clutch and just 25 years of age is a commodity in the NFL.
If the Bucs can't get Barth inked to a long term deal, there's a chance they'll use the franchise tag on him.
Barth should be a Buc in 2012.
|2011 - Connor Barth||16||0 - 0||5 - 5||6 - 6||13 - 14||2 - 3||26||28||90.0%||23||23||100.0%||101|