|Sun 9/18||@ Vikings||1PM|
|Sun 10/9||@ 49ers||4:05PM|
|Sun 10/23||BEARS (in London)||1PM|
|Sun 11/06||@ Saints||1PM|
|Sun 11/20||@ Packers||1PM|
|Sun 11/27||@ Titans||1PM|
|Sun 12/11||@ Jaguars||1PM|
|Sat 12/24||@ Panthers||1PM|
|Sun 1/1||@ Falcons||1PM|
|Fri 8/12||@ Chiefs||W 25-0|
|Thu 8/18||PATROITS||L 31-14|
|Thu 9/1||@ Redskins||7:30PM|
By Tom Krasniqi
With free agency less than a week away, the Bucs are armed with plenty of cap room to do business. NFL teams can begin to talk to free agents on Saturday and the free agent signing period is next Tuesday beginning at 4pm. With more than $30-million in cap room, the Bucs are hoping to improve to a point where they could contend for the playoffs in 2013 if they make the right moves.
Today, we'll focus on the team's offensive needs in free agency. Let's go through each position to see where the Bucs stack up:
Quarterback: Josh Freeman is the key to the Bucs hopes for 2013 and possibly beyond. According to reports, the team has met with Freeman's agents but don't look for a deal anytime soon. The club is content with letting Freeman play out the 2013 season and take it from there. The team will bring in competition to push Freeman. The free agent crop of QBs looks mediocre at best. Matt Moore and Jason Campbell are the best of the bunch. David Carr worked with Bucs offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan with the Giants but he's not the type who can come in and challenge Josh. The team will likely sign a veteran and don't rule out the possibility of drafting a QB in the latter rounds.
Running Back: Doug Martin is the lead back and Erik Lorig had a fine season as the fullback. The only question is who will be Martin's backup? LeGarrette Blount is a restricted free agent but the team doesn't trust him. Third down back D.J. Ware is under contract for 2013 for a bargain price of $750,000 so he'll be back. The Bucs need to find a more reliable option to give Martin a breather. Free agents Steven Jackson and Reggie Bush don't figure into the equation. Keep an eye on former Giant Ahmad Bradshaw. He has a history of foot injuries but if he's healthy, he could be an option if the price is right.
Wide Receiver: The Bucs are set with Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams as the starters. Williams will get a contract extension soon. Tiquan Underwood had 28 catches as the slot WR in 2012, but the Bucs are in need of a more consistent option out of the slot to take some pressure off VJax and Williams. There are some intriguing options in free agency. Wes Welker is expected to test the market. However, the Bucs would be better off with a younger, cheaper option like Julian Edelman who can also play special teams. Sullivan also knows free agent WR Ramses Barden well. Barden is a huge target who can be a tough matchup in the red zone.
Tight End: Dallas Clark was solid last season with 47 catches and 4 touchdowns, but he turns 34 in June and the Bucs are looking for an upgrade. There are several free agents which the Bucs will show an interest in. Martellus Bennett is the type of all-around TE the team is looking for. He has size (6-6, 270) and is a very good blocker. Plus, he wants to play with his brother, DE Michael Bennett, who's also a free agent. If the Bucs can lock up Michael, they'll have a good chance of reeling in Martellus. Remember this: New Bucs WRs coach John Garrett worked with Bennett in Dallas before Bennett signed with the Giants last season. If they miss out on Bennett, look for the Bucs to target Dustin Keller or Fred Davis. Davis is coming off a torn Achilles. The versatile James Casey is also an interesting option. He lined up at TE, FB and H-back with the Texans and has underrated blocking/receiving skills. You can bet the Bucs will address this position through free agency.
Offensive Line: This group figures to be upgraded for the mere fact that guards Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks will be healthy. Jeremy Zuttah figures to slide back to his center spot. Ted Larsen will be a valuable reserve at center and guard. Left tackle Donald Penn was solid and right tackle Demar Dotson had his share of ups and downs. There are whispers that the team will be looking for an upgrade at right tackle. Sebastian Vollmer is the best free agent right tackle but his price tag will be steep. Andre Smith would be a very risky proposition. Many teams are scared off by his weight issues and attitude. Keep an eye on Phil Loadholt of the Vikings. He's an excellent run blocker, which fits in well with the Bucs' smash-mouth philosophy. This is also a position the Bucs may address in the draft.
Tomorrow, we'll focus our attention to the Bucs' defensive needs in free agency.