TAMPA — With all the wholesale changes the Bucs are making nowadays, it might seem as though their 2009 roster will be largely unrecognizable.
But Tampa Bay is making sure some familiar faces stick around.
Continuing a theme of the offseason, the Bucs on Thursday re-signed starting strong safety Jermaine Phillips, top receiving tight end Jerramy Stevens and reserve receiver Cortez Hankton. Terms were not available.
Phillips, in particular, is a crucial signing. The 29-year-old is a Buccaneer through and through, having played for Tampa Bay since being drafted by the club in the fifth round in 2002. He missed five games with a pair of broken forearms, yet still ranked sixth on the team with 86 tackles.
The team has depth at safety, with Tanard Jackson, Sabby Piscitelli and Will Allen all in the fold. But the drop off from Phillips to his backup, Piscitelli, was obvious during the games Phillips missed.
The 6-2, 220-pound veteran is also a big contributor to the team's run-stopping efforts and is regarded as one of the more vicious hitters at his position. He had visited this week with the Chargers and was in talks with the Seahawks, too, but Phillips opted to return to the team he said all along was his preferred landing spot.
Thursday's signings are just the latest examples of Bucs free agents signing up for another go-round. Receiver Michael Clayton, quarterback Luke McCown, Allen and defensive tackle Ryan Sims have also re-signed. The Bucs locked up receiver Antonio Bryant by designating him their franchise player and practically ensured restricted free agent left tackle Donald Penn will be back by giving him a top-level contract tender that makes acquiring him prohibitive for competing teams (it would require compensation of first- and third-round picks).
Stevens, 29, led all Bucs tight ends with 36 receptions for 397 yards and is expected to be paired with new acquisition Kellen Winslow in various formations as Tampa Bay attempts to stretch the field. The Bucs believe doing so will create mismatches for defenses as opponents try to defend both physically gifted players.
Stevens has some well-known baggage, with his long history of alcohol offenses, but his conduct has not been an issue while playing for the Bucs during the past two seasons.
Hankton, 28, suffered an injury in the 2008 preseason that prevented him from making the final roster. He will get another shot in the fall.
Elsewhere, the Bucs will consider a defensive addition when they host Bills free agent linebacker Angelo Crowell next week, his agent Todd France said. Crowell, 27, missed 2008 with a knee injury but has started in 41 of his past 43 appearances.