Jan 12, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy (76) on the field prior to the 2013 NFC divisional playoff football game at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

With Greg Hardy Returning to Carolina, Who Are the Options at Defensive End for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?

The top target on the defensive end market this offseason should have been Greg Hardy, as the dynamic pass rusher from the Panthers was out of contract and the Carolina front office was reluctant to commit to him during the winter rumor mill.

So much for that.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reported today that the Panthers will use the franchise tag on Hardy, keeping him in Carolina unless another team offers an absolutely incredible trade offer or signs him to an offer sheet and risks giving up multiple high draft choices.

 

Hardy was a player that many Buccaneer fans coveted this offseason, devising plans to get rid of Darrelle Revis to secure the edge rusher from their division rival. So now that Hardy is gone, who are the remaining options at defensive end in this free agent market?

Michael Johnson from Cincinnati stands out as one of the best, as the 27-year-old has 26.5 career sacks, and graded out as the best defensive player for the Bengals over this past season according to Pro Football Focus. The problem is that Johnson is unlikely to hit the market, as the Bengals need to keep their impressive defense in tact. However, if he’s available, the Buccaneers will almost certainly be in the running for his services.

Jared Allen and Justin Tuck provide veteran options who serve as short-term solutions for a long-term problem. Both aging defensive ends have the tape to prove that they can disrupt an opposing passing game, but neither has more than two or three good years left.

Players like Lamarr Houston and Arthur Jones are listed as defensive ends and will be available, but they’re not a schematic fit for the Bucs. Both players weigh in at over 300 pounds and are not suited to Lovie Smith’s 4-3 defense, at least not as defensive ends.

Michael Bennett remains an interesting option, but he is even less likely to hit the open market than Michael Johnson. Corey Wootton is a former Bear (with links to Lovie Smith) who plays similarly to Bennett, but isn’t the same sort of disruptor.

And finally, Everson Griffen, Robert Ayers and Willie Young would all be schematic fits, but none have exciting levels of talent. If the market is too competitive, these players will cost more than they provide, and won’t be worthwhile additions.

In other words, the Buccaneers need to find the pass rusher they want in the NFL Draft, or develop their current roster of talent, because the free agent pool isn’t looking quite as deep as it once did.

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