TAMPA -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have played it cautiously during free agency with an eye on keeping their payroll down while trying to find players who are better than their perceived market value.
They stuck to that philosophy with the signing of defensive lineman Robert Ayers Jr. a seven-year pro who played the last two seasons with the New York Giants.
The Bucs' biggest need on defense is an edge pass rusher. They haven't had anyone record 10 sacks since Simeon Rice in 2005 and had a porous pass defense last season.
The Bucs ranked 23rd with only 11 interceptions last year and allowed quarterbacks to compete a league-worst 70 percent of their passes.
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Ayers was credited with a career-high 9.5 sacks last season, but there is concern that his sack total increased as the season proceeded only because he was playing for a new contract, which was a mirror of his career.
The Bucs missed out on some high-priced defensive ends at a position that is crucial to their improvement over last year's 6-10 season.
The risk on Ayers is minimal. The Bucs' only guarantee to him was $7.5 million for his first year.
Ayers also had 11 tackles for a loss and two forced fumbles with the Giants last season and notched five sacks in his first year in the Big Apple in 2014.
Ayers said he came on strong ly at the end of last season because he was battling an injury earlier the year. He blames his low career sack total on himself and some of his former coaches.
"When I came into the league, I wasn't mature as I needed to be," Ayers said. "I was in a situation where I was asked to do things that I wasn't comfortable with scheme-wise and lot of things. I faced a lot of challenges and mentally wasn't able to deal with it. Quite frankly, I wasn't mature enough."
The last two defensive ends the Bucs signed out of free agency were big disappointments (Michael Johnson and George Johnson).
"Robert is a versatile pass rusher who can play a variety of positions along the defensive line and has been successful from both the interior as well as the edge," Bucs general manager Jason Licht said.
The Bucs missed out on some top-flight defensive ends or didn't pursue them with enough cash. Some of those considered among the best include Malik Jackson, Olivier Vernon, Aldon Smith and Jason Pierre-Paul, who played at the University of South Florida, but re-signed with the New York Giants.
Ayers credits former Giants coach Tom Coughlin for his improvement.
"I had four d-coordinators in five years, and I played a bunch of different positions, so I kind of learned to play a lot of different roles," Ayers said. "Whatever they (Bucs) ask me to do, I am willing to do. Whether it be right, left, inside, whatever. Drop into coverage, rush, whatever. That's what I feel I can bring to this team."
Ayers is looking forward to working with Bucs new defensive coordinator Mike Smith, former head coach of the Atlanta Falcons.
"He was with coach (Jack) Del Rio, who was really my first coach, in my fourth season, that was like 'Look, you're out of position. You don't need to be taking on double-teams from two 300 pounders at 270, 265 pounds.' So he was the first coach that like 'Look we are going to put you in a position to succeed.'"
Alan Dell, Herald sports columnist/writer, can be reached at 941-745-7056. Follow him on Twitter @ADellSports.