Buccaneers poised to begin free agency Friday

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have $42-44 million in salary cap space as free agency is set to begin at 12:01 a.m. Friday. What do they need? Who might they pursue? Who did they meet with on Thursday? Find out here, and don't forget about our free agency blog tonight at midnight!

Bucs free agency at a glance

Unrestricted free agents: TE Anthony Becht, DE Kevin Carter, CB Sammy Davis, WR Mark Jones, C Matt Lehr, RB Michael Pittman, DE Greg Spires, TE Jerramy Stevens, LB Jeremiah Trotter, C John Wade.

Restricted free agents: LB Antoine Cash, DT Jovan Haye, SS Kalvin Pearson (turned down tender offer).

Exclusive rights free agent: LS Andrew Economos, LT Donald Penn, WR Micheal Spurlock, FB Byron Storer, DE Greg White.

Players already re-signed: RB Michael Bennett, WR Paris Warren.

Players lost: FB Mike Alstott (Retired).

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers busied themselves on the final day before the official start of free agency by hosting former Atlanta DT Rod Coleman at One Buccaneer Place on Thursday before the tackle trekked off to Carolina for another meeting.

Coleman's agent, Patrick F. Dye, confirmed the visit via e-mail.

"We're in the middle of the visit right now," Dye wrote Thursday morning. "We'll see how it goes."

Coleman appeared to be one of many priorities for the Buccaneers as free agency started at 12:01 a.m. Friday.

Foremost among them were filling openings at defensive end, wide receiver and cornerback.

Defensive end is a rising need after the Bucs released Kevin Carter and Greg Spires on Wednesday. Carter could reportedly be re-signed, but Spires' career in Tampa Bay appears to be done.

It's believed the Bucs will make a play for Cincinnati end Justin Smith, a seven-year pro who is considered a stout run defender and one of the two best ends on the market. The Bengals franchised Smith before the 2007 season

If the Bucs are unable to sign him, they could pursue Tennessee's Antwan Odom, who appears unlikely to re-sign with the Titans, according to a report in The Tennessean.

Money won't be an issue. The Bucs are now anywhere from $42-44 million under the salary cap after Wednesday's roster moves.

Bucs general manager Bruce Allen said in January that the Bucs were poised to make several additions during free agency, saying the infrastructure was in place.

"We've got the opportunity to go after anybody that is available," Allen said.

Wide receiver is considered a glaring need on a roster that only features two reliable and productive pass catchers in Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard.

In the past week the Bucs have been linked to Denver's Javon Walker, Minnesota's Troy Williamson, Seattle's D.J. Hackett and Arizona's Bryant Johnson.

Williamson was dealt to Jacksonville, while Walker — unless he's dealt — won't be available until March 4, when it is believed the Broncos will cut him to avoid a $5.4 million bonus payment to the disgruntled wide receiver.

Hackett is expected to command a five-year, $30 million deal — with $15 million guaranteed. Johnson would be a less-costly alternative and is considered a good fit for the West Coast offense head coach Jon Gruden employs.

The big-ticket item at cornerback is New England's Asante Samuel, but Samuel is reportedly seeking a deal that will pay him close to $30 million in guaranteed money. Last year's top free-agent cornerback, San Francisco's Nate Clements, received a deal that paid him $22 million in guaranteed money.

There are less-costly alternatives, including Dallas corner Jacques Reeves, coming off a breakthrough season for the Cowboys, and San Diego's Drayton Florence, a player the Cowboys are believed to covet.

The Buccaneers have said they won't rule out making trades either. Allen and Gruden were spotted having dinner with San Diego general manager A.J. Smith in Indianapolis on Sunday, and the Chargers have a glut of wide receivers on their roster.

As for the Bucs' own free agents, all three of their restricted free agents appear ready to hit the market. Safety Kalvin Pearson rejected the Bucs' tender offer earlier this week and is seeking a longer-term deal. His agent, Michael Hawthorne, said there at least three teams interested in the special teams ace. Defensive end Jovan Haye and linebacker Antoine Cash had not received tender offers as of Thursday night, a move that would allow both to sign with any team without the Bucs receiving compensation.

The Bucs' top unrestricted free agent is center John Wade, who is not expected to re-sign. The Bucs are reportedly interested in signing Saints C John Faine, a player five years younger than Wade.

Backup guard-center Matt Lehr's agent, Robert Lattinville, told Tampa news outlets this week that it was only "a matter of time" before his client re-signs with the Bucs.

There has been no reported movement on any of the Bucs' other free agents.

Did you miss our first "Rumor Mill" article with news on Asante Samuel, Justin Smith and more? Click here to check it out.

Did you miss our second "Rumor Mill" article with news on Shaun Rogers, Jevon Kearse and more? Click here to check it out.

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.

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