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Bucs bypass Day 1 free agent signing frenzy

Defensive end Derrick Morgan was a first-round pick of the Titans in 2010 out of Georgia Tech, where he played alongside current Bucs defensive end Michael Johnson.
Defensive end Derrick Morgan was a first-round pick of the Titans in 2010 out of Georgia Tech, where he played alongside current Bucs defensive end Michael Johnson.
Published Mar. 11, 2015

TAMPA — The Bucs took a different approach to free agency Tuesday afternoon, letting the big-dollar frenzy of the first few hours come and go without a single signing.

A year after expensive misses on quarterback Josh McCown, tackle Anthony Collins — both now gone — and defensive end Michael Johnson, the team pointed to a more conservative, careful spending plan for general manager Jason Licht and coach Lovie Smith. And by early Tuesday evening, it had lined up visits with five free agents, in position to help the Bucs in areas of need on both sides of the ball.

Those visits started Tuesday night and gave the first glimpse of the team's possible changes for 2015:

BRUCE CARTER, LINEBACKER, COWBOYS: Carter, 27, has played inside and outside linebacker in Dallas, with a team-high five interceptions as an OLB this past season. The former second-round pick has started 32 games and could shift back inside as the team's new middle linebacker. He'd likely come with an endorsement from Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, a close friend of Smith's.

STEFEN WISNIEWSKI, OFFENSIVE LINEMAN, RAIDERS: Wisniewski, who turns 26 in two weeks, started as a rookie at left guard and the past three years at center, combining for 61 starts in four years. So he could help the Bucs at either guard or center — if Evan Dietrich-Smith stayed in the middle of the line, he could step in at right guard and double as the backup center. His uncle Steve played 13 seasons for the Raiders.

HENRY MELTON, DEFENSIVE TACKLE, COWBOYS: Melton, 28, played for Smith in Chicago, getting a combined 13 sacks in 2011-12 in the "three-technique" position that Gerald McCoy plays for Tampa Bay. Melton played this past season in Dallas, where he had five sacks but became a free agent after the Cowboys declined a three-year, $24 million option.

Derrick Morgan, DEFENSIVE END, TITANS: Morgan, 26, is a former first-round pick who has at least six sacks in each of the past three seasons. He played this past season as a 3-4 outside linebacker, but the Bucs would allow him to shift back to his natural position as a 4-3 defensive end. He played alongside the Bucs' Michael Johnson in college at Georgia Tech, and he is taking his first visit to the Falcons before coming to see the Bucs.

CHRIS CONTE, FREE SAFETY, BEARS: Conte, 26, had 52 starts in four years in Chicago, including two years with Smith in 2011-12. Conte has eight interceptions in the past three years and could be a "centerfield" free safety at the back of the defense. He missed part of last season with multiple concussions, playing as part of a Bears defense that ranked 30th in passing yards allowed and 31st in passing touchdowns allowed. He would likely provide depth at safety, where the Bucs return Bradley McDougald, Major Wright and, potentially, Dashon Goldson.

The Bucs missed out Tuesday on defensive end Trent Cole, who had visited Tampa last week but chose a two-year deal with the Colts worth a reported $16 million. Another top talent they had been linked to, Packers tackle Bryan Bulaga, opted to return to Green Bay for a reported five years and $35 million.

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Contact Greg Auman at Follow @gregauman.


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