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Bucs have low-key start to free agency

Unlike past years, Tampa Bay makes some quiet additions.
Jets kicker Chandler Catanzaro is the latest to try to solve the Bucs' kicking issues.  [Associated Press]
Jets kicker Chandler Catanzaro is the latest to try to solve the Bucs' kicking issues. [Associated Press]
Published Mar. 15, 2018
Updated Mar. 15, 2018

TAMPA — A run-stuffing, rotational defensive tackle from the Super Bowl champion Eagles. Another one from the Bears. A Jets place-kicker. A starting center/guard from the Ravens is visiting.

Those were the Bucs' headliners when the NFL's free agent signing period began Wednesday.

Prediction: Tampa Bay will surrender its title as offseason champs.

That actually may be a good thing.

It was the start of the league's New Year, and if you're a Bucs fan, the champagne was probably flat.

The Bucs reached an agreement with Eagles defensive tackle Beau Allen, a former seventh-round pick from Wisconsin. He's a big reason Philadelphia allowed a league-low 79.2 yards per game. He has hair like Thor. Puts the hammer down.

They doubled down by signing Bears defensive lineman Mitch Unrein. At 30, this will be his fifth NFL team.

The Bucs also landed Cardinals and Jets kicker Chandler Catanzaro. He replaces Patrick Murray, who replaced Nick Folk, who replaced Roberto Aguayo, who … well you get the idea.

Ravens center Ryan Jensen arrived in Tampa on Wednesday night, and if he doesn't strike a deal with the Bucs, he will visit the Colts.

The message? Free agency may not be so swaggy this year in Tampa Bay.

Of course, it was only the first day. There are Pro Bowl stars who officially were released by their teams Wednesday, such as Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu and Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

Bucs players immediately lobbied for the Honey Badger.

Linebacker Kwon Alexander tweeted about Mathieu, "Aye brudda come into the squad bro! We gone turn some s— up! Let's gone and make this happen! We Need that energy and that passion plus that ape you got in ya! ~Bucs."

But the fact is, the Bucs have studied Mathieu and don't see him as a great fit. Injuries, like the torn ACL he suffered in 2015, affected his play. He still can be a difference-maker, but the Bucs have a centerfielder in Justin Evans and they can't be certain Mathieu will hold up playing strong safety.

Who knows what they think about Suh. His average salary was more than $19 million per year. He's still a good player, but words like "selfish," and "introverted," were used to describe him on his way out of Miami.

So what is going on here? Why aren't the Bucs spending more of that $50 million in salary cap space?

A couple things to remember. This may say more about where the Bucs are as a franchise then where they are headed.

Of course, fans want big-money, if not big-name signings. But the Bucs have gotten their fingers burned with those before.

Michael Johnson, Anthony Collins and Josh McCown all washed up after one season in 2014. Then the Bucs went cheaper with Bruce Carter, Henry Melton, Chris Conte and Sterling Moore in 2015. But 2016 included a cash cow purchase of guard J.R. Sweezy, defensive end Robert Ayers and the re-signing of running back Doug Martin.

Last year? How about receiver DeSean Jackson, defensive tackle Chris Baker and kicker Nick Folk.

As you can see, the Bucs' free agency scorecard includes more strikeouts than home runs.

Maybe they have learned from their mistakes. Maybe the Glazers who own the Bucs don't want more good money being spent after bad. There's even a chance that top-rung free agents who have options may look at the Bucs and believe a 5-11 team that hasn't been to the postseason in 10 years and has a lame-duck coach and GM may not be the place to go.

Whatever the reason, these signings will seem modest. Low key. Unsung.

They also may be smart.

The Bucs allowed 117.5 rushing yards per game last season, which ranked 23rd in the NFL. If you can't make an offense one-dimensional, you're not going to help your pass rush and the Bucs were last in league with 22 sacks.

There simply aren't a lot of productive edge rushers that make it to free agency. Julius Peppers, who is 38, had 12 sacks last season but decided to return to the Panthers.

According to Pro Football Focus, Allen had the best run stop percentage in the NFL last season. Unrein was second.

As for Catanzaro, he went 25-for-30 on field goals for the Jets last season and 29-for-29 on extra points. He's an 84 percent field-goal kicker in his four seasons in the NFL, with a 60-yarder in 2016 and a 57-yarder last season. His strong leg will help on kickoffs.

You also have to consider where the Bucs are at as a franchise. They have a solid nucleus of young stars that they have begun to lock up.

Besides, Bucs fans should know winning the offseason doesn't mean anything come September.