INDIANAPOLIS — Da'Quan Bowers spends part of the offseason playing lead guitar in a gospel band. But guess who is singing praises of the Bucs' third-year defensive end?
General manager Mark Dominik says he believes a healthy Bowers can be among the NFL's premier pass rushers. For that reason as much as any, Tampa Bay won't use its franchise or transition tag on any player, particularly defensive end Michael Bennett, who becomes a free agent March 12.
"Da'Quan is a guy I thought continued to accelerate his play throughout the end of the season,'' Dominik said. "The more we can get him on the football field, I think the better we are as a football team. Certainly, that's part of the thought process going forward with our entire football team, hopefully getting Adrian Clayborn back and 100 percent healthy and then be able to pair him with a guy like Da'Quan who we feel can be a premier left end in this league.''
The Bucs still are interested in re-signing Bennett, 27, who led the team with nine sacks last season. Dominik met with Bennett's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, on Friday at the NFL scouting combine. Bennett has exceeded expectations since the undrafted free agent from Texas A&M was claimed off waivers from Seattle in 2009. His 13 sacks are the most of any Tampa Bay player over the past two seasons.
Bowers, 22, faces two gun charges after his arrest for trying to check a pistol on a US Air Flight last week at New York's LaGuardia Airport, but team officials hope the matter will be resolved favorably and he won't miss games as a result. The second-round pick from Clemson in 2011, who plays guitar for the Legendary Singing Stars, showed the team enough last year after returning at midseason from surgery to repair a torn Achilles. In 10 games, he had three sacks and 13 tackles.
"We've spoken internally as an organization with ownership, certainly with (coach) Greg (Schiano) and me, and we're not going to use the franchise or transition tag on any player on our roster,'' Dominik said.
"We're trying to meet with the agents of every single one of our free agents so they can understand the direction we're thinking, where we're heading. We're still having negotiations or conversations with them. It's hard to say whether they will be productive or not, but it's certainly something we try to do is have meetings with the agents of our free agents and have meaningful dialogue.''
The Bucs have $30.1 million in salary cap space, the fifth-most in the league. That could increase if linebacker Quincy Black and/or cornerback Eric Wright are released.
But fans probably should not expect a repeat of 2012, when the team was a big player the first day of free agency and committed more than $140 million to receiver Vincent Jackson, guard Carl Nicks and Wright.
"We're not going to be in a rush to sign someone,'' Dominik said. "With the way the cap is moving slowly, because we have room, we want to make sure we utilize it to its best potential. …As you see in this league, there are a lot of teams that are over the cap and in tough situations going into this free agency. So we don't want to get in that position. We're going to be very smart with how we use the actual salary cap we have currently and the amount going forward.
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"In general, (2012) was the biggest free agent class that ever hit the market. This class isn't that size. Without seeing all the tags come through in the next week or so, that will determine the market as well. Although there are some really talented players in free agency, there are 31 other clubs that may want to have them and one that already has them so it's going to be difficult, but we want to be positioned in case something makes sense.''
The Bucs have 10 unrestricted free agents who could hit the market March 12, a class that also includes safety Ronde Barber, defensive tackle Roy Miller, tight end Dallas Clark and cornerback E.J. Biggers.