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2014 NFL free agent shopping list

NFL teams can't start signing free agents until Tuesday, but starting Friday, they can begin the process of negotiating with players. The Bucs have some clear needs — finding a pass-rushing defensive end, upgrading the offensive line, adding talent at tight end and receiver — and should be active in their first offseason under new general manager Jason Licht and coach Lovie Smith.

The Bucs have about $19 million in room under the salary cap, plus whatever is freed up by cutting veterans with expensive, non-guaranteed contracts. It's unknown whether Tampa Bay will attack free agency going for quantity (upgrading as many positions as possible) or trying to land a few top-dollar stars to address the biggest needs.

To help you keep score, here is our list of the top free agents at each position:

QUARTERBACK

1. Michael Vick, Eagles (age 33): Best of a weak class right now, though cap cuts such as Matt Schaub or Mark Sanchez are possible. Has just four rushing touchdowns in the past three years, but could compete with Mike Glennon for the starting job.

2. Josh McCown, Bears (34): Made a splash with 13 touchdowns against just one interception filling in for Jay Cutler with the Bears. Was a backup under Lovie Smith in 2011-12.

3. Matt Cassel, Vikings (31): Played under Bucs defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier in Minnesota. Had limited success in the past three years, with 27 TDs against 30 INTs.

RUNNING BACK

1. Ben Tate, Texans (25): He has played in Arian Foster's shadow for three years, rushing for 771 yards and four touchdowns this past season.

2. Knowshon Moreno, Broncos (26): Broke out for 1,038 rushing yards, 60 catches and 13 total touchdowns.

3. Darren McFadden, Raiders (26): In six seasons in Oakland, he has just one 1,000-yard season.

WIDE RECEIVER

1. Eric Decker, Broncos (26): Like Moreno, how much of his success is having Peyton Manning as his QB? He has averaged 86 catches and 12 touchdowns the last two seasons.

2. Golden Tate, Seahawks (25): Set career highs with 64 catches and 898 yards, and he's electric as a punt returner.

3. Emmanuel Sanders, Steelers (26): After five touchdowns in his first three seasons, he had six this season, as well as career highs in catches (67) and yards (740).

TIGHT END

1. Jermichael Finley, Packers (26): Neck surgery has teams hesitant to make any long-term commitment, but if he can get back to his 2011 form (8 TDs, 767 yards) he's the best free agent option.

2. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions (29): Big target at 6-5, 265 pounds, but he has just five touchdowns over the past two seasons, with as many fumbles.

3. Dustin Keller, Dolphins (29): Missed all of 2012 with a knee injury, so health is a concern.

OFFENSIVE LINE

1. Eugene Monroe, Ravens (26): Baltimore gave up fourth- and fifth-round picks to rent him from the Jaguars, but he's still likely to hit the open market, coveted as a top-tier left tackle.

2. Alex Mack, Browns (28): Cleveland used its transition tag on Mack, so they can match any offer. Has strong Bucs ties, having played for offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford at Cal and under line coach George Warhop his entire NFL career.

3. Branden Albert, Chiefs (29): Another elite left tackle but has missed seven games in past two years with injuries.

DEFENSIVE LINE

1. Michael Johnson, Bengals (27): Just 3 1/2 sacks last year, but 11 1/2 in 2012 and solid against the run. His all-around play has him touted as one of the best defensive players available.

2. Michael Bennett, Seahawks (28): Bucs let him get away in free agency. He has 17 1/2 sacks in past two years, and won't come cheap, for Seattle or anyone else.

3. Jared Allen, Vikings (31): He has worked with Frazier the past six years in Minnesota, with at least 11 sacks every season.

LINEBACKER

1. Karlos Dansby, Cardinals (32): Did everything — 122 tackles, 6 1/2 sacks, four interceptions — last season. His age will limit him, but he's the most proven option in the free-agent class.

2. Jon Beason, Giants (29): Prolific in his first four years, but fell behind Luke Kuechly in Carolina and was dealt for a seventh-round pick.

3. Brandon Spikes, Patriots (26): Former Gator has racked up tackles, but not much else — one sack and one interception the past two seasons.

DEFENSIVE BACK

1. Jairus Byrd, Bills (27): His father is Bucs corners coach Gill Byrd, but Tampa Bay has two solid safeties, and Byrd may be the best free agent at any position. Nine INTs in past two years.

2. Alterraun Verner, Titans (25): Emerged with five INTs this past year. Might be the most promising of the second-contract crowd.

3. Sam Shields, Packers (26): Former Sarasota Booker star, has come a long way since going undrafted. He has 11 picks in past three years.

SPECIAL TEAMS

1. Phil Dawson, 49ers, kicker (39): Hard to find young legs in this class, and Dawson hit from as long as 56 yards, going 14-for-17 on field goals beyond the 40.

2. Adam Vinatieri, Colts, kicker (41): Again, not a long-term option, but was sharp on long kicks — 19-for-23 from 40 yards and out.

3. Devin Hester, Bears, returner (31): A potential match for the Bucs. Led the NFL in kickoff return yards and Bears ranked second in punt returns.

2014 NFL free agent shopping list 03/07/14 [Last modified: Friday, March 7, 2014 9:53am]

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