The first 24 hours of the NFL's free agency contact period have come and gone quietly, with teams and agents hesitant to say much about where the biggest interest is, knowing contracts can't be signed until Tuesday afternoon.
One connection that has been made is the Bucs' interest in defensive end Michael Johnson of the Cincinnati Bengals -- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune reported on Saturday night that the Bucs (and former Bears coach Lovie Smith) were making a "hard push" to sign Johnson, who is an unrestricted free agent after getting the franchise tag last year from the Bengals.
The Bucs' need for an elite pass-rusher is well-documented, and Johnson is rated among the best options in this class, despite having just 3.5 sacks last season in Cincinnati. A year earlier, he had 11.5 sacks in 2012, and the 6-foot-7, 270-pounder from Georgia Tech -- originally from Selma, Ala. -- has shown himself to be a versatile end, capable of holding his own in pass coverage when needed, having started in the NFL as an outside linebacker. Pro Football Focus, which rates him as the No. 7 overall free agent in this class, credited him with 61 pass pressures last year. …Full Story
Sunday's notebook starts with the Bucs' efforts to reshuffle an offensive line that struggled last season: Rick Stroud writes about right tackle Demar Dotson, who had the best 2013 season of any Bucs offensive lineman according to new general manager Jason Licht. "He's athletic. He's tough. He's tremendously improved his technique from what I saw a couple of years ago," Licht said. "He's a smart player. He's dependable."Full Story
DANIEL WALLACE | Times (2013)
Buccaneers guard Davin Joseph grimaces as he walks off the field after a 31-23 loss to the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on Oct. 20.
Bucs coach Lovie Smith said he did not believe the Bucs got their money's worth from some offensive linemen last season. On Saturday he started doing something about it.
The Bucs released guard Davin Joseph, the team's first round pick in 2006 who started 99 games the past seven seasons. He was scheduled to make $6 million in 2014.
Joseph's release came after the Bucs failed in their attempt to trade their Pro Bowl guard and minutes after the the noon deadline for teams to begin contacting the representatives for free agents.
"I'm never surprised by anything that happens in this league," Joseph said. "I learned that seeing some other Tampa Bay greats get released. Their house, their rules. It's a new coaching staff and they want to bring in their guys and start something new."
Joseph, 30, was coming off a devastating knee injury last season and did not play well in 2013. So much of his game is based on power and movement and neither was the same as before the injury. …Full Story
TAMPA -- The day before NFL teams can open contact with the representatives for unrestricted free agents, the Bucs reached a deal to bring one of their own back for 2014, re-signing strongside linebacker Jonathan Casillas to a one-year contract.
Casillas, 26, joined the Bucs last year and established himself as a special-teams standout, starting four games at linebacker on the way to 24 tackles and a forced fumble. Terms were not disclosed, but he had joined the team last spring after four seasons in New Orleans with a one-year, $1.4-million deal.
"Excited to be back in Tampa for another year!" Casillas wrote on his Twitter account. "#blessed like not other. The grind continues."
Casillas is one of three Bucs who started games at strongside and would have been an unrestricted free agents -- Tampa Bay could still lose Dekoda Watson and Adam Hayward as the signing period begins on Tuesday. Casillas, who won a Super Bowl with New Orleans as a rookie, finished 2013 with nine special-teams tackles, one shy of the Bucs' team lead. …Full Story
TAMPA -- The Bucs have made it clear they expect to bring in competition for Mike Glennon for the team's starting quarterback job, but as free agency begins this weekend, there are limited options in the established passers available on the open market.
The Bucs could use their top draft pick (No. 7 overall) on one of the draft's perceived top three quarterbacks -- Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, Central Florida's Blake Bortles and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, though not necessarily in that order -- but could also bring in a veteran to challenge Glennon.
The Bucs won't know until May 8 whether one of those quarterbacks will still be there at No. 7, so here are five names of options they could sign as free agents, now or later in summer after additional roster cuts are made:
1. MICHAEL VICK, Eagles: He turns 34 in June, but fans still clamor for the dual threat, perhaps remembering his 2010 comeback season: 21 touchdown passes against just six interceptions, with another nine touchdowns on the ground.
The Bucs let Michael Bennett get away in free agency, and he'll command much more now than the Seahawks got him for on the way to the Super Bowl.
The NFL's annual free-agency shopping spree opens in earnest on Tuesday afternoon, and teams can begin the process of negotiating with players on Saturday. The Bucs have some clear needs -- finding a pass-rushing defensive end, upgrading the offensive line, adding talent at tight end and receiver -- and should be active in their first offseason under new general manager Jason Licht and coach Lovie Smith.
The Bucs have about $19 million in room under the salary cap, plus whatever is freed up by cutting veterans with expensive, non-guaranteed contracts. It's unknown whether Tampa Bay will attack free agency going for quantity -- upgrading as many positions as possible -- or trying to land a few top-dollar stars to address the biggest needs.
Here are our top three free agents at each position -- it remains to be seen how many of these will end up in Bucs uniforms this fall. The talent is uneven from one position to the next, so one of the top 10 free agents overall might not even make these positional lists ...
QUARTERBACK …Full Story
Devin Hester said Wednesday on the NFL Network that he'd like the idea of playing for Smith again in Tampa.
New Bucs coach Lovie Smith has plenty of former players available in free agency, like top returner Devin Hester, who said Wednesday on the NFL Network that he'd like the idea of playing for Smith again in Tampa.
"It's possible," Hester said on the "Total Access" show, which can be seen here. "I know Chicago wants to go a different route with me. ... Tampa, I look at Lovie as my No. 1 coach right now. He's the one that took a chance on me coming out of the draft. He has all my respect. If he's a guy that's going to shoot at me and want me to come play with him again, my arms are open."
Hester, 31, is from Riviera Beach and played at Miami in college, and he has the NFL records for most career punt returns for touchdowns (13) and total kicks returned for touchdowns (18). He didn't play receiver last year but could give the Bucs depth at that position, though he has only two touchdown catches in the last three seasons. …Full Story
Lawrence Tynes could find out as soon as Monday if he will be a free agent or still under control of the Bucs. But it will take more time for the 35-year-old veteran to discover whether he can be effective as a place-kicker again.
“He’s been working his butt off and is in tremendous physical condition,’’ said Tynes’ agent Ken Harris. “But place-kickers all wear a shoe that is about two sizes smaller than their foot. Because his condition wasn’t detected for several weeks, and he underwent considerable tissue damage as a result of the surgery, he still has to see how he will hold up to the rigors of being an NFL place-kicker.’’
Tynes, who was placed on the non-football injury list by the Bucs last season after developing a MRSA infection in the big toe of his right kicking foot, filed a grievance insisting he should’ve been placed on injured reserve.
The Bucs agreed to pay Tynes his one-year, $840,000 salary last year, but the NFI designation means the Bucs control his rights for another year. …Full Story
DANIEL WALLACE | Times
Bobby Rainey went from the waiver wire to the starting lineup last year after season-ending injuries to Doug Martin and Mike James.
In what is largely a procedural move, the Bucs have given a one-year extension to running back Bobby Rainey, who went from the waiver wire to the starting lineup last year after season-ending injuries to Doug Martin and Mike James.
Rainey was an exclusive-rights free agent, which meant the Bucs needed only to offer him a contract to keep his rights. The one-year extension puts him back on the traditional NFL cycle of being a restricted free agent after his third NFL season in the spring of 2015.
Rainey, 26, led the Bucs with 532 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns in 2013, with big roles in two of the Bucs' four wins. He rushed for 163 yards and two touchdowns in a win against Atlanta, then went for 127 and a score when the Bucs beat Buffalo. He joined the Bucs after being released by the Browns; he was on injured reserve as a rookie with the Ravens during their Super Bowl season in 2012. Rainey had a $480,000 salary in 2013, the minimum for a player with one year of experience, and presuming he continues at the league minimum, he would earn $570,000 in 2014. …Full Story
NFL teams may begin talking with free-agent targets on Saturday, and the Times' Rick Stroud writes that several key Bucs players may be gone by then as the team works to clear room under the salary cap for more free-agent acquisitions. Davin Joseph? Jeremy Zuttah? Donald Penn? Michael Koenen? They're all possibilities, Stroud writes ... Full Story
Eleven days after rolling out a subtle tweak to their logo and helmet, the Bucs on Monday unveiled a first look at their new uniforms for 2014, with a significant change fitting for a new-look team under new coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht.
The single image, posted on the Bucs' official site and on the team's social media accounts, shows running back Doug Martin in white Nike jersey with red numbers and orange trim, with pewter pants and pewter on the shoulders. The numbers have a new font, as well as a unique chrome reflective border the team says is the first of its kind. The orange is a nod to the team's original uniforms, which went away when the team shifted to pewter and red in 1997.
Here's a link to a photo gallery showing closeups of both the white and red uniforms, as modeled by Martin and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. And here's a video from the Bucs' official site showing interviews with Martin and McCoy about the new uniforms, as well as explanations from Nike on the influences that went into the new design.
The team's new logo is much more prominent on its helmet, with a more intimidating skull over its crossed swords.Full Story
Free agency is still almost two weeks off, but we're offering up a primer of sorts to help get everybody understanding what's ahead for the Bucs as Lovie Smith and Jason Licht get their first chance to overhaul the roster of a team that went 4-12 last season. Here you go -- we'll be happy to answer any questions left in the comments, as always ...
WHEN IT BEGINS: March 11 at 4 p.m. -- that's the official start of the league year, when teams must be under the salary cap and can start signing free agents from other teams. Teams can re-sign their own players before then, but cannot sign players who finished the 2013 season with other teams until the new year begins.. …Full Story
The unknown addition and subtraction of NFL free agency is fast approaching, but the Bucs made a celebratory stop at Pizzo Elementary in Tampa on Thursday morning, with six players honoring the school for winning the team's 2014 "Play 60 Challenge."
The Bucs players -- receiver Vincent Jackson, tight end Tim Wright, defensive ends Da'Quan Bowers and William Gholston, linebacker Ka'lial Glaud and safety Keith Tandy -- were joined by cheerleaders and mascot Captain Fear, as Pizzo's fifth-graders amassed more than 164,000 minutes of exercise in the month of January, winning the Bucs' district and earning $2,000 in new physical education equipment for their hard work.
"We are your fans today," Jackson, the team's Man of the Year for 2013, told the students. "Today is about you and your achievements."
Students got white Bucs rally towels and fifth-graders got "Play 60" shirts, running through a tunnel of high-fives from players as they left the school cafeteria. Students also got a look at the Bucs' new redesigned logo and helmet. …Full Story
Teams have contacted the Bucs about trading for Darrelle Revis and many believe the Pro Bowl cornerback could be dealt by the start of the league year.
Although the Bucs did not initiate the talks and are not shopping Revis, several teams at the NFL combine in Indianapolis began to explore whether Tampa Bay would consider a trade that would save $16-million on the salary cap to improve in other areas while potentially netting more draft picks.
Jason LaCanfora of CBS Sports, who first reported the interest in Revis Tuesday, said rival executives believe a deal could be possible.
Bucs coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht inherited Revis and Smith has publicly refuted speculation that Revis would not be a good fit for the Bucs Cover 2 scheme.
Smith and Licht were not available for comment Tuesday.
Revis signed what amounts to a series of six, one-year contracts worth $16-million per year with no guaranteed money and is under the Bucs’ control through 2018.
It means Revis, who turns 29 in July, is occupying a huge chunk of the projected $132-million salary cap in 2014 that the Bucs could use to greatly improve their team, perhaps netting as many as three free agents. …Full Story
Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, left, mixes it up with the Bucs' Donald Penn during a 2012 game.
TAMPA -- The start of NFL free agency is two weeks away, and it could be a busy first offseason for new Bucs coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht, who are tasked with turning around a franchise that hasn't won a playoff game since the Super Bowl in 2003.
With a fresh set of eyes looking over a team that went 4-12, change could come nearly anywhere, but you can connect the Bucs to many notable free agents just in the direct familiarity of Smith and Licht and the assistants they've assembled. If they choose to pursue the established players they know best, there are plenty of solid options. Here are 10 whose names you should know two weeks from now. ...
1. Jared Allen, DE, Vikings (31): He played under Bucs defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier in Minnesota the last six seasons. Allen had at least 11 sacks every year in that span, including 22 in 2011 -- that production has been sorely missed by the Bucs at defensive end. …Full Story