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Bucs quiet on first day NFL teams can contact free agents

Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Larry English, right, sacks Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel (3) during the first half of a preseason NFL football game Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Larry English, right, sacks Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel (3) during the first half of a preseason NFL football game Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)
Published Mar. 8, 2015

TAMPA — On the first day that NFL teams could contact free agents, much of the league played defense, working to re-sign their own, and the Bucs did the same with four low-profile players on their 2014 team.

Tampa Bay agreed to terms with safety Major Wright, tight end Luke Stocker, defensive end Larry English and linebacker Jason Williams for the 2015 season. All four joined the team after being cut at some point during the 2014 season and had been with the club on league-minimum contracts.

No financial terms for the new deals were immediately released, though none were likely significant contracts that would involve guaranteed money. The Bucs already have 63 players on roster before adding any new free agents or draft picks, so making the roster in March isn't the same as making it in September.

Wright started seven games in his first season with the Bucs, finishing with 51 tackles, and should line up as the team's third safety, behind promising young Bradley McDougald and either veteran Dashon Goldson or his offseason replacement.

Stocker, the lone Bucs draft pick of the four, started seven games, stepping in when other tight ends were limited by injuries. He showed valuable flexibility in stepping in as a fullback late in the season and also helped on special teams. The Bucs now have their top three tight ends from 2014 under contract, with second-year pro Austin Seferian-Jenkins and veteran Brandon Myers, who took a pay cut to stay with the team.

English, a 2009 first-round pick by the Chargers, had 12 total tackles and one sack as a backup end, and Williams played well on special teams, totaling seven tackles in three games after being cut by the Panthers. Both joined the Bucs after injuries created openings, but they're at positions with significant turnover this offseason.

All four players are still in their 20s, and Stocker and Wright are only 26. Saturday's four keepers join two other Bucs free agents who chose to stay in Tampa: receiver Louis Murphy and cornerback Mike Jenkins.

The first day of free agency was marked most by teams spending to keep top talent from leaving. The Bucs are seeking help on the offensive line, and the Cowboys re-signed tackle Doug Free, while the Texans reportedly were able to lock down right tackle Derek Newton with a five-year deal.

Teams could open talks with free agents Saturday, but no visits can be scheduled or contracts signed until 4 p.m. Tuesday. The Bucs have about $33 million in cap room, but some of that must go to signing draft picks. The team must also decide by Tuesday whether to tender two restricted free agents — running back Bobby Rainey and nickelback Leonard Johnson — with $1.5 million contracts or allow them to become unrestricted free agents.

The Bucs have yet to announce expected cuts to clear room under the salary cap, with tackle Anthony Collins and punter Michael Koenen among those vulnerable. Goldson and defensive end Michael Johnson could also go, but that might hinge on what kind of replacements the team is able to find in free agency.

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

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