For Bucs, free agency also about adding depth
So, you have your wish list. Maybe you're dying to see Vincent Jackson in pewter and red. Perhaps you'd like to see Cortland Finnegan line up in the Tampa Bay secondary. To some, Stephen Tulloch is the missing piece.
For football fans, this time of year is a little like Christmas in March, when everyone hopes to find that big bowtied box under the tree. That's fine, because the right moves in free agency can change the course of a franchise, i.e. the Saints' decision to acquire Drew Brees.
But don't lose sight of something very important. While it's fun to ponder what top-tier free agents might be bound for Tampa Bay, what Bucs fans should be equally concerned with is their team's efforts to shore up its depth by signing players who can provide competition and, if necessary, step in for starters when injuries inevitably occur.
As much as the Bucs could use some game-changers on offense and defense, they also have a lack of depth on both sides of the ball. Yes, the draft is a key to filling those holes. But it's also important to have some reliable, veteran backups at key positions. This is the time of year to go looking for such players.
When defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has gone down in each of the past two seasons, the Bucs were left to make desperate decisions that included claiming Albert Haynesworth off waivers last season. Had there been adequate depth at defensive tackle, that might not have been necessary. Linebacker was another position that lacked depth and competition. When former coach Raheem Morris opted to bench weak-side starter Geno Hayes, he had to replace him with Adam Hayward, a player who has made his mark almost exclusively on special teams.
The disaster that became of the offensive backfield could have been averted had the Bucs added a veteran running back and not relied so heavily on Kregg Lumpkin as a key backup. It was clear long before the season that LeGarrette Blount was not an ideal candidate to be an every-down back, so the importance of quality depth in the backfield other than Earnest Graham (who eventually suffered a season-ending Achilles injury) should have been obvious.
General manager Mark Dominik's ability to acquire players has presumably been impacted by the team's low-spending approach in the past several seasons. But the kinds of acquisitions in question here are typically moderate salaries, not the bloated, front-loaded deals that premier free agents will be signing in the coming weeks.
Those headliner free agents will and should draw the most attention. Many will make marked differences for their clubs. But remember, in a league where major injuries are routine, backup players often are forced to take leading roles. If the Bucs don't improve their depth, they could experience some of the same struggles that have become so familiar in recent seasons.
Free agency offers an opportunity to address this.