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The Bucs had the NFL’s worst pass defense, so why do they have the same safeties?

The league's worst pass defense got plenty of help at cornerback but has had to scramble a bit to improve at safety this off-season
LOREN ELLIOTT | Times 
Tampa Bay Buccaneers strong safety Chris Conte (23) celebrates after returning an interception for a touchdown during the first half of a game between the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016.
LOREN ELLIOTT | Times Tampa Bay Buccaneers strong safety Chris Conte (23) celebrates after returning an interception for a touchdown during the first half of a game between the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016.
Published May 31, 2018

TAMPA — Safety first was not the theme for the Bucs this off-season.

Even though the need existed, they didn't spend too many resources on the position.

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Because the Bucs had Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea, the team's first-round pick, rated just ahead of Florida State safety Derwin James on their draft board, the safety position wasn't addressed until the fourth round.

That's where Tampa Bay selected Pittsburgh safety Jordan Whitehead No. 117 overall. Whitehead is undersized at 5-foot-10, 198 pounds but is said to play a lot bigger than his physical stature.

Still, whereas James, who went 17th overall to the Dolphins, would've been an instant starter to pair with second-year safety Justin Evans, Whitehead may have trouble getting on the field as a rookie.

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Essentially, the Bucs have the same choices at safety that they had a year ago when they felt the need to sign former Broncos Pro Bowl safety T.J. Ward to a 1-year, $4.625-million contract.

Ward, 31, started only five games for the Bucs, had no interceptions and only five passes defensed. He currently is a free agent.

Chris Conte and Keith Tandy, 29, who signed a one-year, $2.74-million contract in the off-season, return for 2018. More than likely, Conte will win the starting job as he has done the past three seasons.

However, the Bucs also felt the need to pay guarantee a league-high $105,000 in bonus and salary to undrafted free agent Northwestern safety Godwin Igwebuike.

The Bucs really upgraded at defensive line and cornerback in the off-season, using second round picks on North Carolina's M.J. Stewart and Auburn's Carlton Davis. No doubt one or both players should make an immediate impact.

But for the NFL's worst pass defense in average yards per game (260.6) and 29th in completion percentage (67.6) a year ago, there is not much new help in the deepest part of the field.

There is a free agent still available: 49ers safety Eric Reid. But he's suing the NFL for collusion.

Of course, you could argue a better pass rush make any secondary look better. That might be what the Bucs are banking on.

Contact Rick Stroud at rstround@tampabay.com. Follow @NFLStroud