TAMPA — To say the Bucs secondary will be a focus of this offseason is to grossly understate what actually is happening.
In reality, the Bucs are pouring time and effort into fixing a unit that severely undermined their playoff hopes in 2012, contributing greatly to a five-game losing streak that derailed the season.
The biggest issue is the team's group of cornerbacks, considered a strength before the season but ultimately becoming one of the biggest weaknesses.
The trade of 2008 first-round pick Aqib Talib to the Patriots coupled with the injuries and suspension of free agent pickup Eric Wright, who is expected to be released, left the Bucs with a largely inexperienced group playing extensively. That group included Leonard Johnson, Danny Gorrer and LeQuan Lewis.
Veteran E.J. Biggers eventually returned from injury and contributed, but he's a free agent and better suited for a nickel role as a third cornerback. Myron Lewis, a third-round pick in 2010, has shown no improvement and has an uncertain future.
Things are fluid at the safety position, too. With veteran Ronde Barber, who moved to free safety last season from cornerback, not decided on his future, a replacement to pair with strong safety Mark Barron might be a consideration.
While the Bucs are expected to address the secondary in the draft, they also would be wise to use free agency to add talent. And if that's their intention, there will be real opportunities when the free agent market opens at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
Top of the class
Brent Grimes, CB, Falcons
He has been a thorn in the Bucs' side for years, but he can be theirs if Tampa Bay is willing to give him a top-dollar deal. There are red flags: Grimes will be 30 by opening day, meaning he's older by cornerback standards. Also, he's coming off a season-ending Achilles tear.
Sean Smith, CB, Dolphins
His age (25) and upside put him in the upper echelon, considering the premium at this position. Smith shows physicality, averaging 57 tackles the past three seasons. The Dolphins don't seem willing to pay the salary he will command.
Dashon Goldson, S, 49ers
The 49ers franchised Goldson last year, then he produced an All-Pro season. Now, he's on the open market and is one of the top safeties available. His toughness and range make for a good combination of skills that teams will covet.
Aqib Talib, CB, Patriots
His destination will be somewhere other than Tampa Bay. The Bucs tolerated Talib's antics for 4 ½ seasons before trading him. He is a skilled player at a crucial position, and in the right environment, there might be a team comfortable enough to give him decent money.
Rest of the field
Chris Houston, CB, Lions $$$
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Eagles $$$
Ed Reed, S, Ravens $$$
Derek Cox, CB, Jaguars $$
Bucs: Best guess
The Bucs would prefer not to have two young cornerbacks this fall, meaning at least one r starter is likely to come from free agency. The Bucs should be in the mix for an elite available cornerback, such as Grimes or Smith. But don't be surprised if they settle for a lower-priced option, such as Houston or Cox, and add to that in the draft.
$ = Less than $2M/year
$$ = $2M to $5M/year
$$$ = $5M to $7M/year
$$$$ = $7M to $10M/year
$$$$$ = More than $10M/year