TAMPA — The Bucs can enter the draft next month having addressed their two biggest needs on defense: a pass-rushing end and a ball-hawking defensive back.
General manager Jason Licht moved swiftly Friday to lock up defensive end Robert Ayers just hours after the team agreed to terms with free agent cornerback Brent Grimes.
Ayers, 30, who had a career-high 9 1/2 sacks for the Giants last season, visited the Bucs on Wednesday night but left without a contract, moving on to the free-spending Jaguars. But Tampa Bay was able to woo Ayers back with a three-year deal worth $21 million, with $10.5 million guaranteed.
If Ayers can improve the Bucs' pass rush, it will benefit Grimes, 32, a four-time Pro Bowl player, including the past three seasons with the Dolphins during which he had 13 interceptions. Grimes agreed to a two-year, $13.5 million contract, with another $3 million in player incentives.
Grimes played for Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith with the Falcons from 2008-12. He was released by the Dolphins on Wednesday after the team completed a deal with the Eagles for cornerback Byron Maxwell.
Together, Ayers and Grimes should be big additions to a defense that allowed opposing quarterbacks to have a 102.5 passer rating, 31 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, only six coming from defensive backs. Grimes had four last season alone.
The moves also will allow the Bucs to be flexible with regard to position with the No. 9 overall pick in the draft April 28.
"Robert is a versatile pass rusher who can play a variety of positions along the defensive line and has been successful both from the interior as well as the edge," Licht said. "He has posted 20 sacks over the past three years, is coming off the best season of his career and is an ideal fit for our 4-3 defensive system.
"Experienced pass rushers who can provide consistent pressure and disrupt an opponent's passing game are critical to our defensive success, and Robert will do all those things, along with providing veteran leadership."
The Bucs had gone after the Panthers' Charles Johnson earlier in the week, only to see him return to the Panthers for less money. After the Giants spent big to re-sign former USF standout Jason Pierre-Paul and add Olivier Vernon, Ayers was looking for a new team. Now the Bucs have a veteran who has 26 1/2 sacks in his seven-year NFL career.
A familiarity with Smith's system made Grimes even more attractive to the Bucs, who also have veteran cornerbacks Alterraun Verner and Johnthan Banks.
"I am very excited to be able to continue my career playing in a defensive system and for a defensive coordinator that I am very familiar with," Grimes said. "Tampa Bay has a great core of players on both sides of the ball, and I am looking forward to doing what I can to help re-establish the Buccaneers defense as one of the best in the league."