Commentary | Tampa Bay should be a big player in 2013 free agency after restructuring contracts of Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks

Buccaneers could come up big in 2013 free agency

adell@bradenton.comDecember 30, 2012 

The NFL regular season ends Sunday, and the coffers at One Buc Place are suddenly bulging with cash.

Thanks to the restructuring of two big contracts, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will go into the free agent market with money to burn.

This means Sunday should be the last day you have to watch those dreadful cornerbacks.

There are a multitude of problems on Tampa's roster, but the cornerbacks are a key reason the Bucs are likely to set the NFL record for most passing yards allowed in a single season.

The Atlanta Falcons need 252 passing yards today to send the Bucs into the back end of a record book they would like to avoid, surpassing the 4,796 yards the Green Bay Packers allowed last season.

Since the Bucs are giving up 303 passing yards per game, that doesn't seem to be a difficult task. Atlanta has clinched home-field advantage on the road to the Super Bowl and has nothing to play for, but the Philadelphia Eagles' Nick Foles has proven anyone can light up Tampa Bay's secondary.

The Bucs' decision to restructure the contracts of receiver Vincent Jackson and guard Carl Nicks means they are going to be a big player in free agency. It's an emotional uplift for fans and players who will survive the expected Schiano purge.

The move creates nearly $18 million more in cap space for 2013. Tampa Bay has committed about $98 million toward a cap that is expected to be around $121 million.

The Bucs can create even more space if they dump troubled cornerback Eric Wright and redo the contract of injured Quincy Black.

Expect Wright to be gone. The Bucs didn't bother to restructure his $37.5 million, five-year deal, which can be voided because of his drug suspension. Black could be more difficult. His salary for 2013 is $5.75 million, which is too much for a linebacker who can't play in pass situations.

Schiano would like to get a win to stop the Bucs' five-game losing streak, but, in the grand scheme of things, it no longer matters.

So sit back and watch the Bucs secondary get lit up like a Christmas tree and smile: It should soon be over.

You can expect some high level of cornerbacks to arrive at One Buc Place in the near future to help mend a defense that has allowed opponents to convert third downs at close to a 50-percent rate during the second half of the season.

There is a handful of good corners who will be free agents next season.

A name that keeps popping up is Lakewood Ranch product Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who is finishing his second year with Philadelphia.

The former Pro Bowler is an elite cover guy with good size and speed. He has been criticized for his run defense, but Eagles head coach Andy Reid has proven he can be coaxed into playing more physically, and when he does, Rodgers-Cromartie is Pro Bowl material.

DRC said he would like to stay with the Eagles, but you have to believe he would be open to coming back home. It might inspire him to play at the All-Pro level so many people predicted for him when he came into the league four years ago.

At the very least, the Bucs and DRC should sit down and talk. Schiano might want to look into Dallas Cowboys cornerback Mike Jenkins, a Southeast High product.

Hampered by injuries, Jenkins has come under criticism in recent years. But Schiano knows him from his Rutgers days -- when playing for USF, Jenkins was the No. 1 cornerback in the Big East. He has the speed and size to be among the best, something he proved his second year as a Pro Bowl selection.

Coming back home and playing under a taskmaster like Schiano could also bring out the best in Jenkins. Some other cornerbacks who expect to be on the open market include Atlanta's Brent Grimes, Philadelphia's Nnamdi Asomugha and Denver's Tracy Porter.

One interesting name is Booker High product Sam Shields. The former University of Miami wide receiver, who started at cornerback for Green Bay's 2011 Super Bowl champions, has lost his starting job as the result of an injury.

He possesses that elite 4.26 speed (40-yard dash) and could come cheap if the Packers let him go.

The Bucs' cornerback play has been wretched, but to excuse Tampa Bay's high-priced front four (even with the season ending injury to Adrian Clayborn) would be letting them off the hook.

The Bucs rank 30th in sacks with 25, which isn't much better than last year's front four, which had a league low 23. The Bucs need to obtain an accomplished pass rusher, which is considered critical in the NFL.

Coming off knee surgery, there is no telling how effective Clayborn will be after his season ended in the third game.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112. Follow him on Twitter at@ADellSports.

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