The first wave of free agency has come and passed and the Bucs made out like bandits, grabbing the top receiver on the market and the best lineman to boot. But that was the easy part. If you enter the free agent period with 45 millions dollars, you can reel in a few big fish.
Given that many Bucs fans also pull for the Rays I’m sure you’ll appreciate the comparison, but nobody thinks Brian Cashman is any kind of genius. Has has money to play with and regardless of the party-line answers given at all introductory press conferences, money talks. More often than not if you offer the right cash, you get the player. Period.
Now comes the hard part though, the second and third tier of players is littered with gems, but also full of potential landmines, guys that will take up cap space and provide little return or no discernable upgrade. This is the time for Mark Dominik to earn his money.
Now, I like Dominik. I think he has a keen eye for talent and value, and I like the way he has been able to draft and turn over a very old roster into a promising young one. But the next few weeks for the Buccaneers are integral.
Right now the Bucs have around 15 million dollars in cap space, but assume it’s 12 because there needs to be some reserve for draft picks (future transactions not withstanding). Despite addressing the line and receivers, the Bucs still need a third down back, linebackers and a safety. There are good fits out there, players that just need the right kind of push to truly excel, but now it’s up to Mark Dominik to find them.
You can’t get it all done now, some will have to come in the draft, but there are still players around that cans shore up holes, add depth and make the Bucs a better team.
Let’s take a look at a couple spots that still need attention.
The most addressable need on the Buccaneers is still in the secondary, where several talented corners and group of good safeties are still available. Part of the issue is that Tampa needs to decide who to trust. Aqib Talib and Tanard Jackson both have exception skill sets but have run into enough off-the-field trouble to cast serious doubt on their long term prospects with the Bucs.
If Jackson and Talib are going to stick around, things are a bit easier. Regardless of Ronde Barber the Bucs need to draft a corner in the first two rounds this year. Morris Claiborne seems to be the obvious choice but there will be good DB’s around at the top of round two as well.
The place Dominik will have the most luck in the coming weeks is at safety. The Bucs need at least one, two if Jackson is out. LaRon Landry, Brandon Merriwether and OJ Otogwe are all viable options, but finding the best fit will be challenging.
The Buccaneers linebackers absolutely need to have better production in 2012, but the available options are not all that suitable to the kind of defense the Bucs have historically run. This may be the position that Dominik needs to make a concerted effort to try and scout well for the draft because there’s a good chance the Bucs will need to double down on the position come April.
One of the smart moves Dominik has already made was not giving into the demands of Curtis Lofton, a talented linebacker that would not fill well in Tampa. Lofton would have been a great steal for the right price, but at top dollar he would be a poor fit and the thrill of stealing him for Atlanta wouldn’t make up for the cap hit that comes with a middle linebacker that struggles in coverage.
There may be a player or two available to help the Bucs on special teams or with depth, but as far as linebackers go it may be wiser to hold off until the draft.