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Five key decisions the Buccaneers will confront this offseason

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson wears his gloves on his helmet as he jogs off the field at the end of pregame warm ups before kickoff against the Atlanta Falcons at Raymond James Stadium last month. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson wears his gloves on his helmet as he jogs off the field at the end of pregame warm ups before kickoff against the Atlanta Falcons at Raymond James Stadium last month. [DIRK SHADD | Times]

1. How important is it to sign Doug Martin to a new deal? The NFL's No. 2 rusher is an unrestricted free agent, and there's mutual interest in a contract to keep him in Tampa Bay. It's Martin's best chance to maximize his value, so how much will the Bucs pay? Some teams are hesitant to commit big money to running backs, but Martin was a huge part of the Bucs' offensive emergence this season. It'll likely be in the range of $25 million over four years, if not more.

2. Which expensive contracts are shed? The Bucs have ample salary-cap room, so it's more about saving cash as opposed to freeing up space. But WR Vincent Jackson is due to make $9.8 million, LG Logan Mankins (pondering retirement) is due to make $7 million, CB Alterraun Verner is due $6.75 million and LB Bruce Carter is due $4.25 million.

What's more, the Bucs have to decide if they want to pay OLs Evan Smith and Gosder Cherilus starters money since they ended this season as backups.

3. What do you do with the No. 9 overall draft pick? There's a strong consensus that defensive end and cornerback are the Bucs' most glaring needs and that the team will target defense in the draft after taking only one defensive player in two drafts under GM Jason Licht. But if top secondary prospects Jalen Ramsey and Vernon Hargreaves are gone at 9, would the Bucs address another position? Is there a pass-rusher at the top of the draft that matches what Lovie Smith seeks in a defensive end?

4. Will there be changes to the defensive staff? Lovie Smith took over play-calling on defense before the season, so defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier is already in a reduced role and might not be back. The continued struggles in the secondary could warrant a change, but Smith has a long history with corners coach Gill Byrd and close personal ties to safeties coach Mikal Smith (his son) and nickels coach Larry Marmie (his college coach).

5. How active will the Bucs be in free agency? After the heavy spending and terrible results in Smith and Licht's first offseason — Michael Johnson, Anthony Collins, Josh McCown and others — the Bucs were careful and quiet in free agency last spring. With ample cap room and plenty of needs, especially on defense, how can the Bucs spend ambitiously and still spend wisely?

Five key decisions the Buccaneers will confront this offseason 01/04/16 [Last modified: Monday, January 4, 2016 5:21pm]
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