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.
This is Part II of our series. If you missed Part I, there is a link to it at the end of this feature. And don't forget to click on our Scout.com list of potential offensive free agents, compiled by our Senior Writer Adam Caplan.
5. ANDRE DAVIS, WR/KR, HOUSTON
Most Buccaneers fans probably haven't forgotten the 90-yard kickoff return that Davis put on the Buccaneers on Dec. 9, one that propelled the Texans to a 28-14 win.
|Houston kick returner Andre Davis scored three times on kickoff returns in 2007, including one against Tampa Bay. (AP photo/Chris O'Meara)|
Davis had a Pro Bowl-type season as a kick returner, finishing with a 30.3-yard average and three touchdowns (including two in one game). The only reason he isn't going to Hawaii is that Cleveland's Josh Cribbs (30.7-yard average, 2 touchdowns), had a slightly better season.
Either way, the guy has talent and he'll be sought after for his big-play ability. Davis did little in 2005 and 2006, so 2007 was a comeback year for him. 22 of his 32 kickoff returns went for 20 or more yards, so he helped get the Texans great field position on a regular basis. Plus, he added value in the offense by catching 33 passes and 3 touchdowns. At 6-foor-1, 195 pounds, Davis could be a speedy complement to Joey Galloway on passing downs.
Jon Gruden has made it a mandate for years that the return games had to improve. Davis has little experience as a punt returner. But it's clear on kickoff returns that he can provide a jolt. It's time for the Bucs to pay for that jolt.
6. BOSS BAILEY, LB, DETROIT
There isn't a lot of pressing need at the position. Cato June, Barrett Ruud and Derrick Brooks are all expected back in 2008, and two other linebackers — Adam Hayward and Quincy Black — are locked up for three more years.
But Jeremiah Trotter won't be coming back in 2008, and the Bucs will seek some veteran insurance in case one of their starters is injured.
Bailey would be nice depth that could be had for a relatively minor sum. He hasn't lived up to expectations in Detroit, certainly. But the 6-foot-2, 235-pound has skills that work in the Cover 2. He's quick, sheds blocks and can make plays from behind. He closes well and is considered above-average in both zone and man pass coverage, so he can be used in nickel situations.
Scouts still consider him raw due to injury problems, and his 2007 statistics — 51 tackles — were just serviceable.
But the Bucs don't need a game breaker there, and Bailey is a good fit who can also contribute on special teams.
7. COREY WILLIAMS, DT, GREEN BAY
Williams has done a lot of growing up the past four years. He was a sixth-round pick of the Packers in 2004. He is now a part-time starter inside for the NFC North champions and is coming off a 35-tackle, 7-sack season.
At 6-foot-4, 315 pounds, Williams is more fitting of the mold of an inside player in most defenses. His greatest value, most scouts say, is his quickness and burst in disrupting plays in the backfield before they start. The Packers nearly ended the year as a Top 10 defense and Williams was a big part of it. He's even improved his pass rush skills, as he managed seven sacks for the second straight season.
Williams is an ascending player who appears to be improving his perceived deficiencies, but still won't cost a lot to acquire. He could be used in a tandem with current DTs Jovan Haye and Chris Hovan and eventually take over as a starter in case of injury or free agency departure.
8. DAUNTE CULPEPPER, QB, OAKLAND
You know he's going to do it. At some point Jon Gruden is going to go after a quarterback, and since Derek Anderson isn't going anywhere unless the Bucs give up the farm for him, I'm going to bet Culpepper will be the guy.
I personally think Culpepper is done. But a player with his size, arm strength and intangibles is almost impossible to find these days. And Gruden loves to those kinds of guys. More to the point, he loves quarterbacks, and since Jake Plummer isn't darkening the door of One Buc Place anytime soon, he'll have to sign a quarterback just to satisfy his habit.
It might as well be Culpepper.
OTHER POINTS TO PONDER
I stayed away from the offensive line because the Bucs have at least eight linemen under contract. I could see them going after a veteran player for depth, such as Houston's Fred Weary, but I don't anticipate a big-ticket signing, such as the Panthers' Jordan Gross.
One receiver I liked but couldn't find room for was Arizona's Bryant Johnson. He's really gotten lost in the desert, thanks to the arrivals of Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. People forget he was a first round pick and that he's consistently caught 40 passes a season. He fits the mold of most of the receivers the Bucs already have, but he's definitely an upgrade over both Michael Clayton and Maurice Stovall.
I think Seattle's D.J. Hackett is too much of an injury risk, which is why I didn't include him in my Top 8.
If I weren't concerned with hurting Alex Smith's feelings, I would make a full-court press for Indianapolis TE Dallas Clark, who can void his deal. But I don't think the Colts are going to let him get away.
If it's a choice between Kansas City's Jared Allen and Cincinnati's Justin Smith, I would choose Tennessee's Antwan Odom. In his first full year as a starter he had eight sacks. Allen and Smith come with big price tags. Odom will not. And I think he's going to be a beast very soon.
Did you miss part 1 of this "Free Agents to Eye" series? No problem. Click here to go to Part 1, which includes analysis on four top free agents the Bucs could pursue.
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 premium series on the NFL's top free agents on offense:
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.