2. Which of the Bucs' own free agents will be a priority?
Re-signing G Davin Joseph is the team's top priority. Remember, protecting QB Josh Freeman is paramount to the team's success, and protection provided by the 6-foot-3, 313-pound Joseph is hard to find. Injuries are a concern. He missed the final month with a broken foot and missed the first four games in 2008, when he made the Pro Bowl as an alternate. Joseph wasn't a good fit for the zone-blocking schemes of line coach Pete Mangurian and will benefit from a power-man scheme under new line coach Pat Morris.
Joseph said he wants to remain in Tampa Bay. "I've been here five years and love the coaches, love the players, love the direction and love the community," he said. "That's the hard part. It's a business. … It's tough. If they were to say they're committed to re-signing guys I played with last year, that would influence me to say … 'You bring those guys back here, I know you're about winning.' "
Ultimately, contract value will determine which players the Bucs re-sign. In addition to Joseph, they have to make decisions on LBs Barrett Ruud, Quincy Black and Adam Hayward, RB Cadillac Williams and OT Jeremy Trueblood.
3. What areas need to be addressed in free agency?
Much of that depends on the negotiations with David Joseph, Barrett Ruud and their other free agents. If the Bucs believe Aqib Talib will be suspended for a significant amount of games, they might have to address the cornerback position. But don't expect Tampa Bay to become players for the Raiders' Nnamdi Asomugha, 30, who is seeking $18 million per year.
It's inevitable the linebacker position could suffer losses. Ruud, the team leader in tackles the past four seasons, is a favorite of coach Raheem Morris. He might not be ready to turn his defense over to Tyrone McKenzie or rookie Mason Foster. Quincy Black and Adam Hayward will draw interest from San Diego and former Bucs special teams coach Rich Bisaccia. If Cadillac Williams is not re-signed, the Bucs will be in the market for a third-down, change-of-pace back. Tiki Barber anyone?
4. With no offseason instruction and a need to get the starters up to speed in a hurry, what rookies might have an impact this season?
The consensus suggests no group of players will be more affected by the lockout than the rookies. "Their heads will be spinning," center Jeff Faine said. "When we're flying around and have the pads on, they'll still be trying to figure out how to get around the facility. It's going to be tough."
That said, the Bucs invested heavily again on the defensive line with their first- and second-round picks, defensive ends Adrian Clayborn of Iowa and Da'Quan Bowers of Clemson. Clayborn has spent time working out with second-year DT Gerald McCoy and is a presumed starter. But effective? Probably not until midseason at best. Bowers has been recovering from knee surgery and could be the steal of the draft after leading Division I-A with 16 sacks. When he's healthy, Bowers' natural pass-rush ability can be a differencemaker. Third-rounder Mason Foster can play all three linebacker positions and was in a similar system at Washington. He also has been effective as a pass rusher. Any contribution beyond those top picks would be gravy.
5. What is the status of the injured players?
Prediction: Brian Price will begin the 2011 season on the physically unable to perform list. The defensive tackle is recovering from a rare surgery to repair fractures in his pelvis and a torn hamstring and has no timetable for a return. The second-round pick, who played in only five games last season as a rookie, also has gained significant weight. Aside from Price, the Bucs appear to be in good shape with players whose 2010 season was cut short. The most remarkable comeback belongs to WR Arrelious Benn, who tore his ACL in the second-to-last game of the season. The injury normally takes 6-8 months to heal, but Benn has been running and cutting for the past month. DT Gerald McCoy (biceps), G Davin Joseph (broken foot), CB Aqib Talib (hip), LB Quincy Black (broken arm), S Cody Grimm (broken leg) and C Jeff Faine (quad/triceps) say they are ready to go, among others.
Whenever a new collective bargaining agreement is signed, the Bucs brass will have a lot of decisions to make in short order. The lengthy to-do list includes signing college draft picks and undrafted free agents, deciding what to do (and not do) regarding veteran free agents, setting training camp schedules and orienting rookies who still don't know their way to the lunchroom. But at some point, the strangest offseason in about two decades will end. When that happens, here are first five questions the Bucs will need to answer:
1. Will cornerback Aqib Talib remain with the team in 2011?
T alib, 26, was indicted on charges of assault with a deadly weapon stemming from his involvement in a shooting March 21 in Garland, Texas. His attorney, Frank Perez, was successful in scheduling the trial for March 26, 2012. Shortly after the Talib's arrest, indications were the team had had its fill of the cornerback's off-field problems and was prepared to make him walk the plank. But with the court case now on hold until after the season, it appears the Bucs could place Talib's future in the hands of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who has said players who violated the player's code of conduct during the lockout will be disciplined. Goodell suspended Talib the first game of last season for punching a cab driver in 2009 and doesn't need to wait until the case is settled in court to issue sanctions.