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Bucs quiet as they ponder free agent options

Cowboys offensive lineman Jermey Parnell is drawing interest from the Bucs and others.
Cowboys offensive lineman Jermey Parnell is drawing interest from the Bucs and others.
Published Mar. 9, 2015

TAMPA — The second day of NFL free agent negotiations came and went Sunday with barely a whisper about the Bucs and potential targets.

Tampa Bay could be involved with top-tier talents on the offensive or defensive line, mentioned as a suitor for Packers tackle Bryan Bulaga, who is likely to command more than $7 million per year as one of the most coveted linemen.

But they've also been linked by national writers to less proven, less expensive options, suggesting they won't let last year's disappointing showing by tackle Anthony Collins keep them from investing in a free agent with limited experience as a starter.

Consider Ron Parker, a 27-year-old defensive back with the Chiefs who had 94 tackles while starting at safety and cornerback this season. Before joining Kansas City last year, however, he'd been cut eight times, though five came from Seattle, where he went up against one of the most talented secondaries in the NFL. There's a long list of teams interested in Parker, including the Falcons, Jets and Giants, according to Yahoo Sports.

One potential answer at right tackle for the Bucs is the Cowboys' Jermey Parnell, who has even less experience than Parker but is coveted as a second-tier line option. Parnell started five games in the regular season on perhaps the best offensive line in football and filled in at right tackle in two playoff games and played well. According to Fox Sports, the Bucs are competing with the Redskins and Jaguars for Parnell, among others.

Another player linked to the Bucs has strong ties to Lovie Smith: Bears free safety Chris Conte, still just 26, started 24 games in Smith's final two seasons in Chicago. He has remained a starter in Chicago, with eight interceptions in the past three years, and has said he won't be back with the Bears.

Conte would likely be a "centerfielder" free safety, while the Bucs would likely use third-year pro Bradley McDougald as the strong safety. Conte likely wouldn't be an expensive addition, as Yahoo ranked him as the No. 24 safety available in free agency.

Free agents can officially sign with new teams starting Tuesday at 4 p.m., and the Bucs have yet to release any veterans to clear up cap room. Collins, punter Michael Koenen, safety Dashon Goldson and defensive end Michael Johnson are among the potential cuts the Bucs would make.

Tampa Bay is keeping its cards close to the vest in the first two days of free agency, with more than $30 million in cap room, potentially at least $10 million more with a few possible cuts. How they spend that money — and how proven the players they will choose — remains to be seen.

Contact Greg Auman at gauman@tampabay.com and (813) 226-3346. Follow @gregauman.