TAMPA — Look at the Bucs defensive line and the names inspire confidence. Gerald McCoy, Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers, among others, are players with high pedigree.
But the numbers tell a different story. While the Bucs sported the NFL's top rushing defense in 2012, their pass rush remains suspect, at best. Tampa Bay's 27 sacks ranked 29th in the NFL last season, continuing a years-long trend of underperformance.
With leading sack man Michael Bennett (nine) possibly headed elsewhere for a big free agent payday, and with free agent nose tackle Roy Miller also looking for more money, the team might be looking for defensive line deals when the free agent signing period begins.
At the very least, depth will become an issue if Bennett or Miller depart. End Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, a restricted free agent, is expected to be retained, but adding an interior lineman and another end is possible.
To that end, this year's group of unrestricted free agent linemen includes big names, a few of whom might interest the Bucs.
Top of the class
Cliff Avril, DE, Lions
He's young (26) and talented (20½ sacks in the past two seasons), but he will be costly. Avril is not great against the run. But for the right team in the right situation — basically, one desperate for a pass rush — Avril more than fits the bill. He will have quite a few suitors next week. The Lions haven't been able to strike a deal with him and have been negotiating since last year, when they franchised him after he turned down a reported three-year, $30 million offer. Price: $$$$$
Michael Bennett, DE, Bucs
He had his best season at just the right time. His high motor and well-rounded game will be attractive to other clubs. Bennett can function as an interior lineman in isolated situations, showing an ability to rush the passer from the tackle spot. Also, his reliability against the run is a bonus you don't get from all pass rushers. The Bengals' decision to franchise end Michael Johnson will be a boon for Bennett. Price: $$$$
John Abraham, DE, free agent
One of the league's most consistent pass rushers, he was cut for financial reasons by the Falcons. His age complicates the idea of signing him as a free agent. Abraham turned 35 in May, but he is productive. He has 32½ sacks in the past three seasons, including 10 in 2012. He might be a good bet with a short-term, incentive-laden deal to provide instant pass-rush help. Price: $$$$
Dwight Freeney, DE, free agent
The Colts used Freeney in a 3-4 alignment last season and he had the worst season of his career (five sacks). Coming off that campaign and given his age (33), he's a difficult player to evaluate. But if he can find a situation in which he, perhaps, doesn't play 60 snaps per game and in a 4-3 defense, he likely can still be effective. He likely will want big money, but he might have to settle for less. Price: $$$
Desmond Bryant, DT, Raiders
His recent misdemeanor arrest (and epic mug shot) for criminal mischief won't help his cause, but it's ultimately a minor charge that won't hurt him much. There aren't many like him, a pass-rushing interior lineman who has plenty of ability. Price: $$$
Osi Umenyiora, DE, Giants $$$
Richard Seymour, DT, Raiders $$
Cullen Jenkins, DT, Eagles $$
Terrance Knighton, DT, Jaguars $$
Glenn Dorsey, DT, Chiefs $$
Bucs: Best guess
Interesting candidates are available in free agency, and the draft offers good defensive line prospects, too. It's equally possible the Bucs opt to address their defensive line needs there, rather than free agency. Despite the long-term investment in Clayborn, McCoy and Bowers, the Bucs could opt for a quick fix, already having expressed interest in Abraham.
$ = Less than $2M/year
$$ = $2M to $5M/year
$$$ = $5M to $7M/year
$$$$ = $7M to $10M/year
$$$$$ = More than $10M/year