Sunday, May 27, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs might eye this group of NFL free agents

TAMPA — NFL free agency is less than two weeks away, and it could be a busy time for new Bucs coach Lovie Smith and new general manager Jason Licht, who are tasked with turning around a franchise that hasn't won a playoff game since the Super Bowl in January 2003.

With a fresh set of eyes looking over a team that went 4-12 in 2013, change could come nearly anywhere.

You can connect the Bucs to many notable potential free agents via the familiarity of Smith, his staff and Licht.

If the new regime chooses to pursue established players it knows best, here are 10 names you should know.

1. Jared Allen, DE, Vikings (age 31): He played for defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier in Minnesota for the past six seasons and had at least 11 sacks in each, including 22 in 2011.

2. Alex Mack, C, Browns (28): Cleveland might not let him get away. But if he tests the market, he'll see his college coach from Cal (Jeff Tedford) and his Browns offensive line coach (George Warhop). Signing him could allow the Bucs to shift Jeremy Zuttah back to guard, upgrading two positions.

3. Charles Tillman, CB, Bears (33): "Peanut" has played nine of his 11 seasons with Smith as coach, and he'd be reunited with cornerbacks coach Gill Byrd as well. He has 14 interceptions and 20 forced fumbles over the past four seasons as one of the league's most consistent corners.

4. Josh McCown, QB, Bears (34): If the Bucs aren't ready to hand Mike Glennon the keys, McCown is a short-term veteran alternative. He played under Smith as a backup in 2011-12. And playing in place of Jay Cutler in 2013, he threw 13 touchdown passes against one interception. Free-agent quarterbacks are limited. Michael Vick is the other top option.

5. Devin Hester, PR/KR, Bears (31): He was born in Riviera Beach and played at Miami. And his experience with Smith in Chicago could help the Bucs land an elite returner. He has returned 13 punts and five kickoffs for touchdowns with the Bears, and his 27.6 yards per kickoff return average in 2013 was the second best of his career.

6. Dexter McCluster, WR/PR, Chiefs (25): The Largo High graduate had two punt-return touchdowns last season while working with special teams coordinator Kevin O'Dea in Kansas City. If Smith isn't sold on Bucs incumbent Eric Page, McCluster would increase receiver depth and upgrade special teams.

7. Corey Wootton, DE, Bears (26): He has good size (6 feet 6, 270 pounds), and his seven sacks in 2012 under Smith were a career high. He started 15 games last season and recorded 31/2 sacks, so Chicago won't let him go easily. But he's an economical, younger alternative to a big get such as Jared Allen.

8. Andre Roberts, WR, Cardinals (26): Unlikely to return to Arizona, Licht's former team, he has 182 catches and 11 touchdowns over four seasons. He would give the Bucs a solid No. 3 receiver — what Kevin Ogletree was supposed to be in 2013 — at a position that needs better depth.

9. Javier Arenas, CB/KR, Cardinals (26): He played far less on defense with Arizona than in three seasons with Kansas City. But the graduate of Tampa's Robinson High could provide depth in the secondary while presenting an inexpensive option in the return game. He averaged 21.9 yards on kickoff returns last season.

10. Jim Dray, TE, Cardinals (27): After three seasons as a special teams player, Dray started 15 games in 2013, catching 26 passes for two touchdowns. He is another inexpensive option.

Greg Auman can be reached at [email protected]

   
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