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Bucs get infusion of young blood

TAMPA

With the Bucs' new head coach and new general manager comes a new philosophy.

The annual shopping spree for overpriced, veteran talent has been replaced with a slightly cheaper infusion of young blood.

Coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht entered the start of the free agent signing period Tuesday with an approach that rewarded the middle class instead of catering to the upper crust.

No more million dollar maybes.

The result was a front-to-back rebuilding approach that began with the signing of five free agents — Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson, 27, Titans Pro Bowl cornerback Alterraun Verner, 25, Seahawks defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, 27, Giants tight end Brandon Myers, 28, and Bucs guard/tackle Jamon Meredith, 27.

And the Bucs are just getting started.

Still unable to strike a trade for Darrelle Revis, the Bucs are preparing to release their Pro Bowl cornerback after one season and recover the savings of his $16 million per year salary.

The Bucs took the sting out of losing Revis by signing Verner to a four-year, $26.5 million deal Tuesday night. Verner tied for the NFL lead with 23 passes defensed last season and had a career-high five interceptions.

Johnson and Verner were ranked the No. 3 and No. 8 available free agents, respectively, by nfl.com. Their combined compensation next season is $15.375 million — less than Revis' 2014 salary.

The Raiders and Browns expressed in interest in trading for Revis, who has refused to restructure his contract. If Revis still is on the roster by 4 p.m. today, the Bucs would owe him a $1.5 million bonus and would have to send a third-round pick in the 2014 draft to the Jets to complete last year's trade.

Tampa Bay also traded the 13th overall pick in the 2013 draft for Revis, who was recovering from a torn left ACL at that time.

Former Bills and Colts general manager Bill Polian, an NFL insider for ESPN, called that "the worst trade in the history of the NFL. They gave up a first and third or fourth and $16 million to rehab a player with a bum knee for a year," Polian said.

The Bucs can use the money to fill more holes.

Tuesday night, they were preparing for visits from Bears quarterback Josh McCown, Bengals tackle Anthony Collins, Packers center Evan Dietrich-Smith and Patriots linebacker Dane Fletcher.

McCown is visiting the Bucs first, and also has stops planned for Houston and the Jets.

Smith made good on his promise to focus on the offensive and defensive fronts.

Guard Davin Joseph was already released and the signings of Collins and Dietrich-Smith could hasten the departure of tackle Donald Penn and center Jeremy Zuttah.

"It has to start up front for us defensively," Smith said recently. "When I say up front, it is the engine of our defense and what we do. If you have to rely on all-out blitzes every down to get pressure you've got trouble. That's just not going to happen in the league. We want to be able to rush four guys and get pressure. That's what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were built on. Every year I've been in the league, we've run the same defense. We have to have a double-digit sack guy on the outside and we don't have that right now."

The last Buc with double-digit sacks was Simeon Rice in 2005. The Bucs ranked 23rd in sacks last season.

Johnson, 6 feet 7, 270 pounds, was among the most coveted free agents of any position. He signed for five years, $43.75 million, including $24 million guaranteed.

Johnson had 11.5 sacks for the Bengals in 2012, earning the franchise tag, then had 3.5 last year.

McDonald (6-2, 297), a top backup in Seattle the past four seasons, signed a four-year deal. He'll compete with second-year defensive tackle Akeem Spence for playing time alongside All-Pro Gerald McCoy. McDonald had a career-best 35 tackles in 2013, with 5.5 sacks and one interception.

Myers (6-3, 256), who caught eight total touchdown passes in the past two seasons, signed a two-year contract. He had 47 catches for 522 yards and four touchdowns with the Giants last season. In 2012 with the Raiders, he caught a career-best 79 passes for 806 yards and four scores.

Meredith, a converted tackle who made 16 starts in the past two seasons at guard, signed a two-year contract rather than test free agency.

The Bucs also re-signed cornerback Danny Gorrer, an unrestricted free agent, to a one-year contract. Gorrer had 10 tackles last season in seven games. He had 11 with Tampa Bay in 2012.

Receiver Eric Page, the team's primary returner on kickoffs and punts last season as a first-year player, signed a one-year contract with the Bucs. Page was an exclusive-rights free agent and is expected to earn the league minimum for a second-year player, $495,000.

"Changes have to be made," Smith said. "Of course they do."

Times staff writer Greg Auman contributed to this report.

Bucs get infusion of young blood 03/11/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 10:44am]

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