Free agency: Vick, Tillman linked to Bucs
Free agency won't start up until March 11, but you're already seeing players connected as possible matches for teams, based on previous relationships or simply pairing the talent available with teams' most obvious needs.
Over the weekend, two free-agent veterans were connected to the Bucs -- Eagles quarterback Michael Vick and Bears cornerback Charles "Peanut" Tillman, just named as the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year. Will either wear a Bucs uniform this fall? That conversation has to start with the internal evaluations the Bucs are having right now as a new coach and general manager ponder the players they've inherited.
The Vick buzz has a lot of traction because it's a big name at a big position, but keep in mind this is what was reported: ESPN's Adam Schefter sent out a single tweet saying that the Bucs and Jets were two teams "likely to have some level of interest" in Vick. It's dipping a toe in the water -- 620's Steve Duemig mentioned on air Monday that he'd seen Vick as he walked past his table on Radio Row and Vick responded to a Tampa question with two thumbs up, but any free agent in Vick's position should show eagerness to join any team in an open market.
Vick is 33 and looking for a starting job after Nick Foles' emergence in Philadelphia this past season. His numbers in the past three seasons aren't stellar -- 35 touchdown passes against 27 interceptions, this after throwing for 21 touchdowns against six picks in a strong comeback season in 2010. He rushed for nine touchdowns that season, but has just four rushing scores in the three years since.
If new coach Lovie Smith and new general manager Jason Licht aren't sold on Mike Glennon as the team's starting quarterback, or simply if they want to bring in a higher level of competition, Vick would be an option in a limited free-agent QB class. That includes Josh McCown, who is older than Vick at 34 but coming off surprising success (13 TDs, 1 INT) filling in for Jay Cutler in Chicago, where he did play under Smith. Remember that Smith wasn't there for his success in 2013, and saw him throw two TDs in two seasons as a backup when he coached the Bears.
Tillman, who turns 33 this month, is a more intriguing possibility -- he played eight of his 10 NFL seasons under Smith and five under Bucs corners coach Gill Byrd. He tore his triceps in November and missed the final six weeks of the season, but if the Bucs didn't see Johnthan Banks as a solid starter, he would give the Bucs a pair of strong, veteran corners lining up across from Darrelle Revis.
Here's what Tillman had to say to the Chicago Sun-Times on Saturday about the possibility of landing with Tampa Bay: "Obviously, it makes the deal probably a little sweeter just because it’s a former head coach. You do know the system, you know the scheme. ... I think it helps it from a standpoint that it’s a former coach, a guy that you liked, a guy that you’d been with for 10 years. It’s cool. But it’s free agency. I’m open to whoever.”
Both players were well-paid last season -- Tillman made $8 million, Vick $7.5 million -- but both are old enough (and limited by injuries enough) that they may not be able to improve on those salaries even as unrestricted free agent. The larger question is what the Bucs see as their most pressing needs: the public consensus is a strong pass-rushing defensive end, which may or may not be available with the No. 7 pick in the draft. The offensive line took a big step back in 2013 and has some big salaries, and the Bucs could improve their depth at tight end and receiver as well.
Again, these are questions that will be answered over the next five weeks, as the Bucs finish their own evaluations and decide how much changes they'll make before the first season of a new chapter in the team's history.