Free agency: Ten potential targets with ties to Bucs
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.
2. Alex Mack, C, Browns (28): Cleveland might not let him get away, but if he tests the market, he'll see both his college coach from Cal (Jeff Tedford) and his Browns offensive line coach (George Warhop) on Smith's offensive staff. Signing him could allow the Bucs to shift Jeremy Zuttah to guard, upgrading two positions. Keep an eye out, too, for guard Shawn Lauvao, who has 43 starts in the last three years under Warhop.
3. Charles Tillman, CB, Bears (33): "Peanut" has played nine of his 11 seasons with Smith as head coach, and he'd be reunited with cornerbacks coach Gill Byrd as well. He has 14 interceptions and 20 forced fumbles in the last four seasons -- if the Bucs wanted to upgrade their secondary (again), Tillman has been one of the league's most consistent corners.
4. Josh McCown, QB, Bears (34): If the Bucs weren't ready to hand Mike Glennon the keys, McCown is a short-term veteran alternative. He played under Smith as a backup in 2011-12 and was a surprise star filling in this past season, throwing for 13 touchdowns against one interception. The free-agent options at QB are limited, with McCown and Michael Vick as the top options available.
5. Devin Hester, PR/KR, Bears (31): He was born in Florida and played at Miami, and his experience with Smith in Chicago could help the Bucs land an elite returner -- he took back 13 punts and five kickoffs for TDs with the Bears, and his average of 27.6 yards on kickoffs was the second-best of his career.
6. Dexter McCluster, WR, Chiefs (25): The Largo grad had two punt-return TDs last year while working with Bucs special-teams coordinator Kevin O'Dea in Kansas City. If Smith isn't sold on Eric Page as a punt returner, McCluster coming home would help with WR depth while upgrading on special teams.
7. Corey Wooton, DE, Bears (26): Versatile lineman has good size for an end (6-6, 270) and had his best sack total (7) under Smith in 2012. Started 15 games last year, so Chicago won't let him go easy, but he's an economical, younger alternative to a big-splash get like Allen.
8. Andre Roberts, WR, Cardinals (26): Licht knows him well from Arizona -- he's unlikely to return there, but has 182 catches and 11 touchdowns in his four NFL seasons. He would give the Bucs a solid No. 3 receiver -- what Kevin Ogletree was supposed to be a year ago, at a position that needs to have its depth improved.
9. Javier Arenas, CB, Cardinals (26): Played far less on defense in Arizona than he did in three years with Kansas City, but the Tampa Robinson grad could provide depth in the secondary while presenting another inexpensive option in the return game -- he averaged 21.9 yards on kickoff returns last year.
10. Jim Dray, TE, Cardinals (27): After three years as a special-teams player (while Licht was in Arizona) Dray started 15 games last year, getting 26 catches and two touchdowns. Another inexpensive option as the new regime replaces their depth with players they know better than the returning Bucs.