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Tampa Bay Buccaneers can chase free agents starting Tuesday

TAMPA — Big bucks will be spent by the Bucs in free agency. That was the promise made by co-chairman Joel Glazer and echoed several times by general manager Mark Dominik since the end of the 2011 season.

The shopping spree can begin today and all that remains to be seen is whether Tampa Bay will be in the market for big-ticket players such as Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson and Saints guard Carl Nicks.

The most cynical Bucs fans have a wait-and-see attitude. Perhaps the best sign of sincerity came from new coach Greg Schiano, who said that while interviewing he never asked the Glazers if they were committed to being active in free agency.

"I didn't have to," Schiano said. "They headed that off from the very beginning. They're committed to winning. There's no doubt. I don't know the history. All I know is what they are right now."

The Bucs began the offseason $67 million under the salary cap. After salary increases to numerous players such as quarterback Josh Freeman, re-signing guard/center Jeremy Zuttah and placing the franchise tag on kicker Connor Barth, the remaining $42.7 million is still third-most in the league.

There could be moves to clear more space before the free agent signing period starts at 4 p.m. today. The Bucs plan to play Zuttah at center and there's speculation they plan to release Jeff Faine, who will count close to $8 million against the cap, as early as today when the league year begins.

Regardless, the Bucs have plenty of cash to improve a team that went 4-12 and lost 10 straight to end the season.

Where to start? The Bucs have needs at nearly every position except quarterback, punter and kicker. Tampa Bay likely will make a play for a cornerback and receiver.

Ronde Barber still is contemplating retirement despite being asked by the Bucs to return for a 16th season. Aqib Talib goes to trial in Texas March 26 on felony charges of assault with a deadly weapon.

"It's a position I've talked about in the past, I know Coach Schiano shares the same belief, you need to have corners," Dominik said.

The top two free agent cornerbacks are the Chiefs' Brandon Carr and the Titans' Cortland Finnegan. Each could command upwards of $10 million per year.

Acquiring targets for Freeman also is a priority. Jackson, who averaged 18.4 yards a catch last season, would be a legitimate No. 1 wideout to go with Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn. Jackson figures to command between $12 million and $14 million per year. Or the Bucs could pursue Saints receiver Marques Colston, who turns 29 in June but has exceeded 1,000 yards in five of his six seasons. Other receivers such as the Colts' Pierre Garcon and the Cowboys' Laurent Robinson will garner consideration.

The Bucs could use an upgrade at tight end and are expected to have an interest in Cowboys free agent Martellus Bennett, the brother of Tampa Bay defensive end Michael Bennett.

The Bucs have talked about middle linebacker Mason Foster moving to a new position, which might open the door for free agents like the Falcons' Curtis Lofton or the Lions' Stephen Tulloch.

In some instances, players such as Chargers free agent running back Mike Tolbert have mentioned the Bucs recently as a possible spot.

"I'm going to make sure where we spend our money, we do it prudently," Schiano said. "Because as we draft these great players and they become Bucs and they learn our culture and they learn how we do things, I want to be able to keep them. I truly believe that's the way you build a great organization. Teams rise and then fall very quickly, but an organization has consistency."

Tampa Bay Buccaneers can chase free agents starting Tuesday 03/12/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 12:46am]

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