The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are flush with $23 million in cap space for the 2008 season. General manager Bruce Allen said the figure puts the Bucs among the top quarter of teams in cap space in 2008, which should make them serious players in free agency. Allen said the team could go after any free agent it wants to.
But which free agents are the right free agents? That's a tougher call. Sure, there are plenty of big-ticket players out there, but not all of them will be great fits for what the Buccaneers would like to do.
The purpose of this article is to identify the eight players that would be the best use of the Buccaneers' free agent money. These are players that I believe could have a significant impact, or make a significant contribution, if signed. Many are based on addressing needs within the team. There is no way the Buccaneers will sign all of them, but if they are able to sign at least a couple of them, their 2008 could be much more successful than their 2007.
1. ALBERT HAYNESWORTH, DT, TENNESSEE
Haynesworth will easily be the most sought after free agent on the open market — should he hit the open market. The Titans could re-sign him or put the franchise tag on him. I could easily see both of these things happening because he's the most important player on their defense.
|Tennessee defensive end Albert Haynesworth will likely be one of the most sought after free agents this offseason. (Getty Images)|
Bucs fans got an eyeful of Haynesworth when the Titans came to town last year. He had four tackles, despite an early injury, and the Titans limited the Buccaneers to just 30 yards rushing.
In fact, while Haynesworth has the ability to rush the passer from the Titans' inside tackle position (he generally plays where the Bucs' under tackle would play), his greatest value is against the run. Look at the Titans' rushing defense numbers with Haynesworth and without Haynesworth to get an idea of his impact:
With Haynesworth (12 games): 75.5 yards per game.
Without Haynesworth (4 games): 142.3 yards per game.
Bingo. Some scouts said 2007 was a "make-or-break" year for Haynesworth. He needed to play with more consistency and show that he wanted to be a dominant player. I think he did that.
I know the Titans don't play a Cover 2, but Haynesworth plays in the same area as the Bucs under tackle and is talented enough to make what I believe would be a smooth transition. Plus, he can have an impact on the run defense, where the Bucs need the most help. They were 17th in the NFL in run defense in 2007.
Plugging Haynesworth at under tackle gives the Bucs the true run stopper they crave, a talented pass rusher and a "Tiger Woods" type talent. Plus, it allows them to use Jovan Haye — last year's under tackle — as a roving tackle/end, putting his pass rush skills to good use.
In free agency, guys like Haynesworth are the guys you're supposed to spend your money on. And, yes, he will cost any team that signs him a LOT of money.
2. BERNARD BERRIAN, WR, CHICAGO
This is a solid, but not spectacular, crop of free-agent wide receivers. That's why Berrian will probably command a bit more than he should, value-wise, on the open market. He's already turned down $8 million a year from the Bears, and that may be too much for the Bucs.
|Chicago wide receiver Bernard Berrian will be the top deep threat in a thin wide receiver free agent market. (Al Bello/Getty Images)|
Five of those 11 touchdown passes have gone for 30 or more yards.
He's a deep threat in every sense. He runs smooth routes, has good hands and has quickness to take advantage of defensive mistakes. Plus, he spent last offseason improving his ability to run intermediate routes and thanks to that had his best season as a pro in Chicago in 2007. That came despite the Bears' rapidly spinning quarterback carousel.
You may be asking, why Berrian? Well, Joey Galloway is the Bucs' big downfield threat. But he'll also be 36 on opening day and while he seems indefatigable, at some point Galloway will either break down or retire. Galloway's ability to stretch defenses — in fact the mere threat of it — gives the offense a boost. Without anyone to replace Galloway, the offense, in my opinion, takes a giant step back.
Berrian would give the Buccaneers another deep threat in the receiving game, plus an heir to Galloway's position once the aging receiver retires. Surely an offensive "genius" as creative as Gruden can find a way to get both receivers on the field effectively in 2008.
3. DRAYTON FLORENCE, CB, SAN DIEGO
I gave some thought to Oakland's Nnamdi Asomugha, a player that I like but I don't think the Raiders will allow to get away. But Florence seems like a more viable alternative, both in contract and in his fit with the Bucs' Cover 2 scheme.
At 6-foot, 195 pounds, he's already a little bigger than most of the corners the Bucs have on their roster. Scouts consider him quick in press coverage and able to keep up with receivers downfield. He is also considered to have good transition and recovery skills. Scouts also consider him a good wrap-up tackler.
He sounds like he has all the makings of a solid Cover 2 corner. Then scouts give us one final piece of info that cinches it — he can play outside or in the slot.
The slot corner is a big position in the Cover 2, one that Ronde Barber plays effectively. Some scouts say he can get out of position when playing in the slot, but something tells me that secondary coach Raheem Morris can break him of that habit.
He's a lower cost alternative than Asomugha as Florence basically shared time with Antonio Cromartie, who had a Pro Bowl season. No matter. It would seem Florence is a perfect fit for what the Bucs want to do.
4. JUSTIN FARGAS, RB, OAKLAND
This is a difficult call because the Bucs are in flux at the position. They appear committed to Carnell Williams, despite his injury. So that probably rules out one of the jewels of the free agent class, San Diego's Michael Turner. Cleveland will probably re-sign Jamal Lewis and I don't think Dallas' Julius Jones is a good fit. The Bucs are going to look for a player that won't step on Williams' toes once he's healthy, but in the short term will complement starter Earnest Graham.
|Oakland running back Justin Fargas will be a free agent in 2008, and he could be a solid fit in the Bucs' overall offensive scheme. (Jef Jacobsohn/Getty Images)|
But if the Bucs have to go outside the organization, I think Fargas is the pick.
First, he won't break your wallet, but he is coming off a 1,000-yard season in Oakland, so you know he has talent. In fact, Fargas has rushed for nearly 1,700 yards in the past two seasons.
At 6-foor-1, 220 pounds, he's a taller back than Graham or Williams, which gives the Bucs a different dimension even when Williams returns. Looking at him on tape, he's a leaner player than Graham and Williams, built more like a Pittman. Plus, he has receiving skills with a career-high 23 catches last year.
The Bucs, I think, are looking for a complement at the position, not a primary back. Fargas showed this year that he can be the primary back, but his skills are better suited to be a situational player. If the Bucs can't re-sign Pittman or Bennett, Fargas would be a nice bargain.
And the Bucs are going to have to fight the Raiders for him, should they pursue him. Raiders head coach Lane Kiffin is said to love Fargas and will likely make a strong push to keep him.
COMING TOMORROW: The other four players the Buccaneers should target in free agency.
Looking at free agency can be daunting. But thanks to Scout.com's senior NFL reporter Adam Caplan, we've made it easy to let you know who the top free agents are at each position. Here are links to Caplan's complete premium series on the NFL's top free agents:
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. An award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he appears frequently on Scot Brantley Show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1470-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.