Monday, March 10, 2014

What Happens Tomorrow?

With nearly $25 million in cap space and player rumors flying, the Bucs are expected to be active participants when free agency kicks off Tuesday at 4pm.  What positions will Licht and Lovie look to address first? 

If we’re to believe the whispers, the Bucs will be most active on the offensive and defensive lines.  They’ve already cut their starting right guard and are rumored to be flirting with the idea of ditching their left tackle and center as well.  It’s assumed a pass rushing defensive end will be one of their first signings, but they may add a tackle too. 

With the Bucs being tied to Eugene Monroe, Branden Albert, and Anthony Collins you’ve got to think Penn’s roster spot is in serious jeopardy.  Albert is reportedly headed to Miami, and Monroe might stay in Baltimore.  Reports have Collins ticketed for Tampa at $6.5 to $7 million per year.  He’s a guy I’ve liked since he was at Kansas.  With Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith manning Cincinnati’s tackle positions, Collins has been the best backup tackle in the league the last few years in my opinion.  He would be a significant improvement in pass protection and is no slouch in the run game either.  To me the biggest things about Collins are that he’s consistent and has stayed healthy. 

What also excites me about this potential acquisition is that the Bucs could get younger and better at left tackle for less money.  I listed Collins in my offseason piece, but I didn’t think the Bucs would be that aggressive in replacing Penn.  Hopefully I underestimated them. 

The Bucs are rumored to be talking to Rodger Saffold as well, and I would hope that would be for right guard rather than left tackle where I think Saffold is a inferior talent to Collins.  I’d rather let Oakland pay Saffold the rumored $8 million to play left tackle and focus on either Geoff Schwartz or Jon Asamoah at right guard.  I know this sounds narrow-minded since it’s only two players, but if the Bucs don’t sign either of KC’s guards, I think they’ll focus on the draft to find Joseph’s replacement.  I still like Florida’s Jon Halapio as a day three pick. 

At $4.5 million, Zuttah might not be any safer than Penn.  Working a bit in his favor though is the center market dried up a bit when Cleveland gave Alex Mack the transition tag.  Yes he’s free to talk to other teams, but I have a feeling any suitors would just be doing Cleveland’s negotiating for them.  If the Bucs do decide to move on from the versatile but average Zuttah, two realistic options are Evan Dietrich-Smith and Brian De La Puente.  Dietrich-Smith earned $1.3 million with the Packers last year, while De La Puente made $2 million with the Saints.  The former is expected to land the larger deal this offseason, but maybe the Bucs could steal the latter from a division rival at roughly what it would have cost to keep Zuttah.  De La Puente is a pretty athletic center who played for Jeff Tedford’s Cal Bears and could be a nice Mack consolation prize.

Heading into the offseason I was hoping for either Everson Griffen or Corey Wootton to be the Bucs primary focus at defensive end.  Unfortunately, Griffen signed a 5 year dealt to remain in Minnesota with $20 million guaranteed.  Wootton will come cheaper than that, has the Lovie connection, and can assist the Bucs from both the end and tackle positions.  He would be my #1 pass rush target when free agency kicks off and would give the Bucs a solid pairing at left end with William Gholston. 

Michael Johnson is the big name being tied to Tampa Bay.  With his former defensive coordinator’s new team re-upping Griffen, he’s not headed to Minnesota.  The Bears are rumored to be competition for Johnson’s services, but the Bucs should have no trouble matching any Bears’ offer since they sit at just roughly $9 million under the salary cap.  Stating the obvious, signing Johnson would be a big upgrade at left end over the disappointing Da’Quan Bowers.  An anticipated $9-10 million annual stipend may seem a bit steep for a guy with just 3.5 sacks last year, but a lot of Johnson’s contributions come in less sexy statistical categories.  Johnson tied teammate Carlos Dunlap for the league lead with 7 batted passes, and set career highs in QB hurries with 41 and hits with 17.  The bottom line is disrupting the flow and momentum of the offense.  Johnson does that in multiple ways. 

With Michael Bennett staying in Seattle, maybe Chicago finagles the cap somehow to get competitive for Johnson.  The Bucs could make my year by signing both Johnson and Wootton. 

If Henry Melton finds a soft market, the Bucs could get quite the steal at tackle.  Melton would give the Bucs a very quality rotational piece in the middle as he tries to rebuild his value.  If Melton doesn’t fall in their laps, I’d like to see the Bucs add Vance Walker, the veteran who shows up every week.  I expect both Randy Starks and Jason Hatcher to sign deals that price them out of Tampa Bay’s range, so there don’t figure to be many economical impact options. 

Other Positions
Not to completely rehash my previous piece, I would like to see the Bucs add a corner, receiver, and middle linebacker.  With the majority of the funding going into the trenches, the Bucs will likely be looking “second tier” when it comes to these positions. 

Sam Shields’ signing made a lot of other guys a lot of money.  Alterraun Verner and Vontae Davis are very unlikely options, and Aqib Talib isn’t coming back to town.  Former Bear Charles Tillman may be the most likely option, but I’d still prefer to the Corey Graham route.  He’s four years younger, a better player at this point, and will likely land a similar deal to Tillman.  Veteran Drayton Florence would be another, cheaper option and would also weaken the rival Panthers. 

With Jeremy Maclin re-signing with Philly, Andre Roberts is my clear #1 option at receiver.  He’s a proven talent who would not surprise me if he were to outplay current #2 and resident knucklehead Mike Williams.  The Bucs would still need to add to the position in the draft, and Sammy Watkins could be the cherry on top of a restocked receiving stable.

I think Mason Foster has a bullseye on his back, but there isn’t a clear, immediate upgrade in free agency.  I expect the Bucs to pursue both Erin Henderson and Desmond Bishop, former Vikings familiar with DC Leslie Frazier.   Henderson could be Dekoda Watson’s replacement at SLB, while a healthy Bishop could be legit competition for Foster.  Being greedy, I’d like to re-sign Watson, bring in the two Vikings, and let the best men win the MLB and SLB jobs. 

There’s no serious long-term threat to Mike Glennon’s job in free agency, but Josh McCown and Shaun Hill are the best remaining options.  McCown is surely seeking a shot at a starting gig, while Hill makes for the more likely clipboard holder.  I’ve mentioned Hill as an option in previous years and would be the route I’d go should they choose to bring in a veteran. 

I mentioned Dexter McCluster as someone I expected/wanted the Bucs to target in free agency, and it appears they will do so.  I have a clear preference for McCluster over Hester given that McCluster can be a pretty decent offensive contributor when given enough snaps. 

With plenty of cap space and currently only five draft picks, I expect the Bucs to be active early and often in free agency, especially with the potential “no-cap-impact” additions on the offensive line.  Since the TE market sucks, I hope they address enough other needs in free agency that they can get a quality TE in the draft.  They can’t sign all of these guys, but given what has happened and what we think we know so far, here are my updated Tampa targets –

Shaun Hill (QB, Detroit)
Eric Lorig (FB, re-sign)
Andre Roberts (WR, Arizona)
Dexter McCluster (WR/PR, Kansas City)
Anthony Collins (T, Cincinnati)
Geoff Schwartz (G, Kansas City)
Jon Asamoah (G, Kansas City)
Brian De La Puente (C, New Orleans)
Corey Wootton (DE, Chicago)
Michael Johnson (DE, Cincinnati)
Henry Melton (DT, Chicago)
Vance Walker (DT, Oakland)
Erin Henderson (LB, Minnesota)
Desmond Bishop (LB, Minnesota)
Dekoda Watson (LB, re-sign)
Corey Graham (CB, Baltimore)
Charles Tillman (CB, Chicago)