Commentary | Tampa Bay Buccaneers expect to be active in free agency

March 10, 2014 

Buccaneers Smith Football

Tampa Bay Buccaneers new head coach Lovie Smith gestures during an NFL football news conference Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in Tampa, Fla. Smith, a one-time Bucs assistant, replaces Greg Schiano, who was fired after the season ended. Smith coached the Chicago Bears for nine seasons from 2004 to 2012, winning 81 games, three division championships, two NFC title game appearances and one Super Bowl berth. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)



On your mark, get set, go.

Open your wallets.

Show me what you've got.

The NFL's version of spring cleaning gets going in earnest at 4 p.m. Tuesday when teams are allowed to make offers to unrestricted free agents.

On Saturday, teams were permitted to contact player agents, but only show them the parameters of a deal, whatever that means.

Double talk is spewing all over the NFL landscape, and the consensus opinion is do not believe anything a general manager, scout or coach says. They don't want to show their hands.

Lovie Smith could be an exception in some ways. The new Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach said he was disappointed in his overpaid offensive line when he was hired in December.

He did something about it this weekend in cutting two-time All-Pro guard Davin Joseph. It wasn't a surprise because injuries have cut into his effectiveness, and the Bucs save $6 million in cap space by letting him go.

The Bucs are expected to be big players in free agency because they have more than $24 million in cap space with many holes to fill and only five draft choices.

Smith's top priority is an edge rusher, and this year's free agency has quite a few people who can fill that void. Offensive line is a big

worry, and you have to believe the quarterback situation does not bring a lot of comfort at One Buc Place. A tight end and depth at cornerback would be nice.

Former Bucs GM Mark Dominik spent his career trying to fix the defensive front four, and the only thing he has to show for it is Gerald McCoy and Adrian Clayborn's potential.

"Clayborn has been a good, solid player. But solid gets us 4-12. We have to be better at those positions. We've got to get more guys that can run and hit," Smith said at the NFL Combine.

Lovie is more concerned with the here and now which might put Vikings defensive end Jared Allen into a Bucs uniform. But the 31-year-old wants to play for a winner as he heads into the twilight of his career, and in his mind, Tampa Bay might not qualify.

There is Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett, who led the Bucs in sacks in 2012 but was allowed to leave by former coach Greg Schiano. The Bucs had only 6.5 sacks from their defensive ends last year.

You get the feeling the Bucs will spend money on this position because it is the linchpin of a Lovie Smith defense. Justin Tuck from the New York Giants is a possibility, and the Bucs have shown a lot of interest in Cincinnati defensive end Michael Johnson.

The first big free agent name to sign with the Bucs could be Chicago Bears backup quarterback Josh McCown, who threw 13 touchdowns and one interception last year.

McCown figures to get up to $6 million annually on a two-year deal based on what the early market has shown in the re-signing of quarterbacks Matt Cassel with the Vikings and Chad Henne with Jacksonville.

Smith made it clear he is not ready to anoint incumbent second-year man Mike Glennon as his starting quarterback and wants four signal callers in camp including a veteran.

McCown has a history with Lovie, and the Bucs are likely his best chance to win a starting job. Detroit Lions backup Shaun Hill is also in the conversation, but unless some team offers McCown a bundle of money way over his projected worth, he should become a Buc.

Smith's teams are built on a strong defense predicated on a defensive front four that can rush the passer without help. Special teams are a high priority, and he stresses an offense that likes to run the ball. He doesn't necessarily need an elite quarterback to be successful, which gives Glennon a chance. Devin Hester could be the answer for the Bucs' return game unless other teams push his price too high for the Bucs.

It doesn't seem Lovie wants to part with Darrelle Revis, and don't expect the cornerback to renegotiate his $16 million annual salary, though some tweaking could add significant salary cap space.

Offensive tackle Donald Penn appears to be in a decline and may have to take a pay cut. High-priced guard Carl Nicks is battling enough ailments to get his own chapter in next year's medical dictionary.

"We didn't play as well as we need to on the offensive line. We put a lot of money into our offensive line. We should have better production from it," Smith said.

He continues to say virtually nothing about Glennon, which in itself says Lovie is not comfortable turning the keys of his offense over to the second-year pro.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7056. Follow him on Twitter @ADellSports.

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