With the CBA potentially having a salary floor, the Bucs may be forced to spend money in free agency. For the next couple of days, I will direct my focus on the top 3-5 free agents in each position who could be the best fit for the Bucs.
For the last several seasons, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had some concerns with defending against elite quarterbacks. Ronde Barber has proven to be consistent throughout his career, but is entering his final year of his contract with the Bucs, and is expected to retire after this season. Aqib Talib has the potential to be a pro bowler, but seems to always find his way to trouble. Last year, Talib’s suspension devastated the Bucs secondary in the beginning of the season as well as his injury at the end. E.J. Biggers was able to take advantage of Talib’s absence and show the coaching staff that he has what it takes to be a starting cornerback in the NFL, but still has to work through some growing pains.
That leaves Elbert Mack, Myron Lewis, and rookie Anthony Gaitor. Myron Lewis looks like he can have a good career as a pro, but has yet to prove himself to be a starting CB. Elbert Mack has seemed to always struggle and has been kept around for depth in the roster. Anthony Gaitor looks like the real deal, but is a rookie facing the challenges of entering a season completely blind due to the lockout restricting his growth.
There is a lot of promise in the Buccaneers secondary, but there also is a lot of inexperience. Being in the NFC South, where the Bucs will have to face Saint’s QB, Drew Brees, and Falcon’s, Matt Ryan, could be quite the challenge if their secondary is inexperienced or unprepared to face elite quarterbacks. The Panther’s are yet to prove themselves a threat, but have taken steps towards keeping up with their rivals in the NFC South with the drafting of 1st overall pick, Cam Newton. Due to the chance that the new CBA agreement may have a salary floor, the Buccaneers will be forced to spend some money in free agency. They could choose to resign most of their own free agent players, but they should at least consider what is available to them in the free agency.
This season is a good one to consider signing a cornerback from free agency. There are several big names available that could really help the Bucs improve their pass defense. The biggest name among the cornerback free agents is Oakland Raider’s, Nnamdi Asomugha. Oakland has been terrible these last couple of years, but the one bright spot they’ve had is a consistent shut down corner. Asomugha could be the best of the CB class in free agency, and to pair him with Talib would give the Bucs what might possibly be the best CB tandem in the NFL. He’s smart, reliable, and consistent. Signing him would also give the defensive line a bit of room for error and growth. It’s a bit of a long shot since Talib’s trial has been scheduled for March of 2012, but it would be a good idea to start getting a new corner familiar with the playbook and defensive schemes.
Cincinnati Bengal’s CB, Johnathan Joseph, is another athlete who has been mentioned as the best CB in this year’s free agency. Some Bucs fans may remember him intercepting a pass from Josh Freeman last season. Joseph has expressed some interest in resigning with the team, but has also mentioned testing the market. Also, his price may be too steep for the Bengals, even if he is their best CB. Asomugha and Joseph will both be asking for high profile long-term contracts.
The Denver Bronco’s, Champ Bailey, also will be testing the market. Although he is an older NFL athlete, at 33 years of age, his numbers and work ethic has remained exceptional. Of the cornerbacks listed, Bailey is my personal favorite. The Bucs aren’t in a position where they absolutely need a rock star at the CB position, but could benefit from a consistent player who, not only is above the majority of the competition, but also brings leadership to the team. Bailey may be the best cornerback the Bronco’s have ever had, but in the NFL, age is always part of the equation. There are other CB’s entering free agency. Brandon Carr, Brent Grimes, Chris Carr, Ike Taylor, and many others will be testing the market. I’ve only listed the ones that I see fit for what the Bucs need the most. If they do decide to sign a corner, they may as well aim high because of the need to fill the cap space. However, they should consider what the player brings to the team, outside of statistics.