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Unlikely Bucs spending spree in free agency

TP_359853_WALL_Bucs_4 (12/23/2012  Tampa) Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman (5) walks off the field after a 28-13 loss to the St. Louis Rams. SECOND HALF ACTION: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers play the St. Louis Rams at Raymond James Stadium. The St. Louis Rams won 28-13. [DANIEL WALLACE, Times]

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

TP_359853_WALL_Bucs_4 (12/23/2012 Tampa) Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman (5) walks off the field after a 28-13 loss to the St. Louis Rams. SECOND HALF ACTION: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers play the St. Louis Rams at Raymond James Stadium. The St. Louis Rams won 28-13. [DANIEL WALLACE, Times]

TAMPA

Although the Bucs have more than $30 million to spend in free agency, don't expect the cash to burn a hole in the team's wallet when the NFL signing period starts March 12.

For starters, the salary cap is expected to remain flat at about $121 million for 2013 and 2014. Considering that the Bucs' potentially big-ticket players QB Josh Freeman and DT Gerald McCoy are eligible for free agency after each of the next two seasons, respectively, the team will want to plan accordingly.

That said, a few intriguing options could be available to try to improve the league's worst pass defense.

"I think we need to do a better job of playing pass defense," coach Greg Schiano said. "There's a lot of reasons for it and why and what we have to do to it to get better. It's a combination of personnel, scheme, coaching, luck, it all comes into play.

"You keep tweaking it in each area until it starts to jell. It started to jell in some areas, and others it didn't."

The team is expected to cut ties, perhaps this week, with CB Eric Wright, who was suspended four games last year for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy. Wright says the suspension was for using Adderall. Dumping him would void $7.5 million in guarantees this season.

What the team won't do is start two rookie cornerbacks. Leonard Johnson and Danny Gorrer had some good moments when pressed into starting roles last season, but they're not going to be counted on in starting roles this year.

The free agent cornerback wish list for many teams begins with the Dolphins' Sean Smith, who could command as much as $10 million per year. The Bucs would love Smith's size (6 feet 3, 218 pounds) to match up with some of the league's big receivers. If there's a downside, he has had only four interceptions in the past two seasons.

Another player that might attract the Bucs' interest is Falcons CB Brent Grimes, who missed last season with a torn ACL. He'll be 30 in July, but in the past, Grimes has been a bit of a ball hawk.

The other position that would help the pass defense is a defensive end who can pressure the quarterback. Lions free agent Cliff Avril, 26, has 39½ sacks in five seasons. The Falcons recently released John Abraham, who had 10 sacks last season, in a cost-cutting purge that also claimed CB Dunta Robinson and RB Michael Turner. The Bengals' Michael Johnson, coming off an 11½-sack season, might command the most money and interest.

Tackle would seem to be more of a priority because the Bucs seem content to let Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers work as bookend defensive ends. They also believe Daniel Te'o-Nesheim can be a credible nickel pass rusher.

Because the draft is deep at corner and Alabama's Dee Milliner is the only certain first-round talent, the Bucs could target a defensive lineman in the first round. They also have an extra fourth-round pick from New England for last season's Aqib Talib trade, currency that could help them move up in the draft if need be.

"I think any time in the draft, if you have picks, you have some ammunition to do things, whether you pick at that spot or you move around with those picks," Schiano said. "That was something that was very helpful to us last year, being able to move up and get Doug Martin. So to have some ammunition helps."

MILLER TIME? Roy Miller was less than impressed with the team's preliminary offer last week, so much so that his agent announced the defensive tackle will test free agency and look to catch on with another club. Miller, playing a tilted nose tackle position, had a lot to do with the team's No. 1 rush defense last season. But he's not an every-down player, and the Bucs must like what they've seen in the draft and free agency. The only option on the roster is 30-year-old backup Gary Gibson.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "I think the obvious things are when we take care of the football and take the football away, we win. And when we don't, we don't always lose, but more times than not we lose." — Schiano.

Unlikely Bucs spending spree in free agency 03/02/13 [Last modified: Saturday, March 2, 2013 9:41pm]
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