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Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Center signed, Bucs still have needs in free agency



TAMPA -- The Bucs stayed busy in their offseason overhaul Friday, signing their seventh free-agent addition of the week in center Evan Dietrich-Smith, who started every game for the Packers last season and should step into the middle of a new Tampa Bay offensive line.

"Evan is a tough, physical lineman who gives us added size and versatility at the center and guard positions," Bucs general manager Jason Licht said in a statement. "He is a very intelligent player with a strong work ethic who is hitting his prime and provides more veteran leadership on our offensive line."

Dietrich-Smith, 27, has only one year as a full-time starter, but he logged 1,055 snaps for the Packers, more than any Bucs offensive player had in 2013. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers had lobbied for his return, but a compelling visit to Tampa won him over, along with a four-year package worth $14.25 million, making him the 11th-highest-paid center in the league by average salary.

"I am really excited to be joining the Buccaneers," said Dietrich-Smith, 6-foot-2 and 308 pounds. "I  really connected with o-line coach George Warhop and offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford. Then meeting with Lovie Smith was the clincher. I always heard great things about him from other players around the league, and I coudl sense all those things were true while talking to him."

Dietrich-Smith's arrival could mean the Bucs are cutting loose a third starting lineman, with Jeremy Zuttah and his $4.5 million salary potentially joining guard Davin Joseph and tackle Donald Penn, already cut this week.

The Bucs still have lingering needs for potential upgrades -- here are three that could be addressed soon in free agency:

RECEIVER: Carolina's Steve Smith signed with Baltimore and the Giants' Hakeem Nicks signed with the Colts on Friday, but the Bucs still need an upgrade to complement Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. The team hosted the Steelers' Emmanuel Sanders, who has since visited the Chiefs and 49ers but remains an option after catching 67 passes for 740 yards and six touchdowns last year.  

CORNERBACK: The Bucs on Friday saw veteran cornerback Charles Tillman, who had visited the team this week, re-sign to stay in Chicago, and two other second-tier corners also signed in Cortland Finnegan (Dolphins) and Tarell Brown (Raiders). That leaves limited options -- Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is likely too expensive, as is former Jets star Antonio Cromartie. A veteran is likely to come in to compete with second-year corner Johnthan Banks and third-year pro Leonard Johnson alongside free-agent signee Alterraun Verner.

GUARD: The Bucs re-signed Jamon Meredith and are pleased with the progress of Carl Nicks, who missed nearly all of last season with injury, but expect another addition here. Tampa hasn't drafted an offensive lineman since 2009, and guard could be a match for the Bucs' second-round pick, with prospects familiar to offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford like like Stanford's David Yankey or UCLA's Xavier Su'a-Filo.

[Last modified: Friday, March 14, 2014 8:39pm]


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