Tampa Bay entered this offseason to be a major player in the free agent market for the first time in the Gruden-Allen era. Flush with $24 million in cap space and a bevy of needs on both sides of the ball, the Bucs set about taking the first step toward bouncing back from a 4-12 2006.
How did they do? BucsBlitz.com's Matthew Postins provides his position by position grades.
After last year's catastrophe at quarterback, Tampa Bay did not want to be caught without quality options again. So they traded for Plummer, and then curiously signed Garcia right afterward. It seemed overkill, and even foolish after Plummer announced his retirement from football (he has not filed his retirement paperwork yet), which the Bucs knew he was contemplating. With Garcia, the Bucs have a viable veteran starter or backup to pair with Chris Simms. If Plummer joins the team, he may likely be traded at some point. If the Bucs were out to shore up their depth at the position, they succeeded by signing the best free agent quarterback on the market in Garcia. Trading Plummer, should he return to the field, gives the Bucs another chance to make the roster better.
The 6-foot-3, 233-pound Askew is a pure fullback — blocks a lot, doesn't catch a lot of passes or require a lot of carries. He could be a precursor toward the Bucs changing the role of the fullback once Alstott retires. Re-signing Alstott, who still has some game, makes fans and teammates happy. The Bucs visited with Atlanta FB Justin Griffith, more of an Alstott clone, but nothing came of those talks.
Wide receiver: No signings, no significant losses.
This wasn't a great free-agent market for wide receivers. Donte Stallworth was the standout. The Bucs will either take a receiver in the draft or take their chances with what they have.
Tight end: No signings, no significant losses.
Anthony Becht and Alex Smith are a solid combination. There was no need to tinker here. It didn't stop the Bucs from visiting with Jerramy Stevens and Mike Seidman, though those conversations went nowhere.
Petitgout should be the opening day starter at left tackle. He's more experienced than Anthony Davis and should be better in pass pro. Plus, sliding Davis to left guard could make the line better overall. Lehr was a significant signing after the loss of Mahan to the Steelers. Lehr can play both guard and center. But I would have rather had Mahan, who knew the system and was a proven commodity in TB. Lehr's been released by three different teams in the past four years. I think this unit's still thin and could stand a drafted lineman, perhaps in the second or third rounds, to fill out the depth. The Bucs really wanted G Eric Steinbach, but Cleveland signed him before he even visited the Bucs. Tampa Bay also hosted C Al Johnson and T Jordan Black, but both went elsewhere.
Defensive line: Signed LB/DE Patrick Chukwurah, signed DE Kevin Carter. Lost DE Dewayne White (Detroit).
This remains one of the most glaring needs on the team. Carter can line up at either end or tackle, but I think he'll play on Simeon Rice's opposite side, with Greg Spires moving inside to share time with Ellis Wyms at under tackle. Chukwurah has never netted more than 25 tackles in any of his six NFL seasons. He's listed as an LB, but the Bucs say the 6-foot-1, 250-pounder can be used as a rushing end. He's nothing more than depth. There wasn't much the Bucs could do in free agency. Three of the top four ends in free agency were slapped with the franchise tag, including New Orleans' Charles Grant, who they visited with anyway in the hopes of maybe signing him in 2008. Three more in the top 10 were restricted free agents and would have required compensation. Three of the top 5 defensive tackles were either franchised or restricted free agents. Along with Grant, the Bucs also visited with DE Lance Legree (who they signed and later released). Rice, Carter and Spires are over 30 years of age. This will be a need addressed in the draft, to be sure.
Linebacker: Signed Cato June. No significant losses.
Yet. MLB Shelton Quarles may retire due to injury, moving Barrett Ruud into the starting lineup for good. June was Scout.com's sixth-ranked free-agent linebacker and, since he comes from a Cover 2 defense like Tampa Bay's, his learning curve will be reduced to terminology. The 6-0, 227 converted safety is a weak-side backer, like incumbent Derrick Brooks, but June is working on the strong side with Ryan Nece. June's best traits are his ability to cover, one area the Bucs sorely lacked last year. Tampa Bay will find a way to use him. The Bucs also visited with Napoleon Harris and Chris Draft before they signed June.
There were plenty of unrestricted free-agent cornerbacks on the market, but many commanded top dollar, and with Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly already on the roster, the financial outlay proved prohibitive. In a perfect world, Buchanon and Cox are good depth, not starters, as they were forced into being last year. Tampa Bay's conversations with S Mike Doss went nowhere, as he signed with Minnesota. The position could use some competition to push Jermaine Phillips and Will Allen, who were below par last year. There's a definite need to address safety in this draft.
Punter/kicker: No signings, no significant losses.
Overall: The Buccaneers didn't have that earth-shattering signing some were waiting for. Perhaps they're waiting for 2008, when they should have even more cap space to use and the market might be less competitive among cap-flush teams. Everyone had money this year and were willing to spend it. Plus teams with cap space franchised their best free agents, depleting the market further. The Bucs helped themselves at quarterback and linebacker, especially. But there are still glaring needs at defensive end, defensive tackle and safety that need to be addressed during the draft. Another offensive lineman wouldn't hurt either. The best thing about this signing class was Tampa Bay's overall improvement in depth and competition among positions, two things that were lacking in 2006.