Slot Machine: Free Agent Options at Wide Receiver for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
By Leo Howell
Mandatory Credit: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports
The Buccaneers appear to have holes all over the defensive side of the ball. Safety, corner, pass rusher, depth at tackle, and depth at linebacker are certainly areas that will need addressed. But don’t let a record setting offense in 2012 fool you, the Buccaneers will need to add some key players on offense for next season, as well. A main target will be a starting tight end, as Dallas Clark is unlikely to return, and even if he does he is not the future of the position for Tampa Bay. Once tight end is taken care of, the Buccaneers will need to ensure every position has proper depth, and wide receiver will be a position that will need additional talent to fill a 53 man roster this fall. Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson are extremely talented, and probably the best duo of receivers in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history. But the Buccaneers are an injury or suspension away from the reality of Tiquan Underwood and Chris Owusu seeing numerous snaps on offense. Furthermore, while Underwood is a respectable player, he’s not the best option for a slot receiver/third receiver. His route running isn’t amazing, nor is his chemistry with Josh Freeman. So today, we’ll take a look at some of the wideouts that will be available this offseason for the Buccaneers to bolster the receiving corps.
Note: Not all of these players are guaranteed to be available. I am simply using a list provided by Rotoworld listing free agent wide receivers.
Wes Welker, New England Patriots
We’ll start with a much less likely candidate, but one that fits exactly what the Buccaneers need. The diminutive Welker has been a fixture in the potent New England offense for what seems like forever, but it wasn’t long ago that he was fighting for playing time as a special teams player in Miami. The former Texas Tech Red Raider is an elite route runner, very quick and agile, and shows consistent effort, whether blocking, running, or catching. He’s also extremely capable as a punt returner, which is something the Buccaneers will need to consider when pursuing players this offseason. The price is likely far too high for Welker, if he even hits the open market. However, the Buccaneers would easily have the best group of receivers and running backs in the NFL were Welker to come to Tampa Bay.
Julian Edelman, New England Patriots
Edelman is the more likely Patriot wideout to come to Tampa. The former quarterback at Kent State has converted into a reliable target in the Patriots’ passing game, and he has also proven to be a very hard worker on special teams, making impact plays in that phase of the game. He is a good route runner, can make plays once he receives the ball, and has solid athleticism. Edelman caught 21 passes for the Patriots this season, but there is certainly the potential that he is a Wes Welker clone waiting for the right opportunity.
Mandatory Credit: Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports
Danny Amendola, St. Louis Rams
My personal favorite from this list, Amendola is probably more well known for his injury history and accidental assault of an usher than for his ability as a football player, but he’s a hard worker who fits the same mold as Welker. However, Amendola is younger, and has a bit more pure speed which allows him to run more vertical routes, which is valuable considering he usually draws a more favorable defensive matchup. Like the others, Amendola is a punt returner, and while he’d likely not feature there regularly due to his injury prone nature, he could provide a spark when needed. Amendola is also unlikely to hit the open market, but if he does, he would be my choice to join the Buccaneers.
Brian Hartline, Miami Dolphins
The trend of the previous three players continues with Hartline, who is a good route runner who has quick feet and good hands. Not much more to report, as his situation is fairly identical to all those above.
Donnie Avery, Indianapolis Colts
Avery is a break from the trend of route running perfectionists in this article. He’s got pure speed with elite acceleration, and is much more of a playmaker than the Bucs’ Underwood. He’s not a very good technical player, but if the price is right, Avery could be a direct upgrade for Underwood. Not my favorite option of the bunch, but he’s likely to be available thanks to the emergence of T.Y. Hilton with the Colts.
Josh Cribbs, Cleveland Browns
If you like the thought of Avery, you’ll love the thought of Cribbs. Cribbs is an ultra-dynamic athlete who has the speed, agility, and vision in the open field of a Madden player with boosted stats. His route running is superior to Avery, and his special teams impact is elite, rivaling Devin Hester and Leon Washington in terms of return ability. Cribbs is also an option as a wildcat quarterback, which could be an interesting wrinkle for the Buccaneers offense with Doug Martin alongside Cribbs. I would be a huge fan of Cribbs in Tampa, the issues will be his price and availability.
Jared Cook, Tennessee Titans
Yes, Cook is technically a tight end. And the Buccaneers could sign him to be a tight end. But his incredible athleticism for the tight end position would make him a viable option to line up as a third receiver option. Cook is tall, athletic, and capable of making the big play. He’s not the most technical player at the moment, but with some work, he could develop into a franchise tight end.
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