2012 NFL Free Agency: Tampa Bay Buccaneers Expected to Make Big Splash Early

Gary DavenportNFL AnalystMarch 13, 2012

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 16:  Wide receiver Vincent Jackson #83 of the San Diego Chargers scores a touchdown on an 11-yard pass in the second quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Qualcomm Stadium on December 16, 2010 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
Donald Miralle/Getty Images

Free Agency begins at 4 PM EST Tuesday, and one of the teams that are expected to be major players in the early going is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They have a reported $43 million in cap space that they can use to upgrade a team that went a disappointing 4-12 in 2011.

The Buccaneers are apparently going to waste no time in spending some of that cap space, as reports are already indicating that the Buccaneers could be one of the leading candidates to procure big name free agents on both sides of the ball.

San Diego Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson is arguably the top free agent option available at his position after a 2011 campaign in which the eight year veteran topped 1,100 receiving yards and scored nine times.

The Chicago Bears and Washington Redskins have also been rumored as potential suitors for Jackson, but  the salary cap penalties imposed on the Redskins by the NFL Monday may have dropped them from the running.

As ESPN's Pat Yasinskas reports, the Buccaneers have significant interest in the 29-year-old Jackson as they try to add offensive weaponry around quarterback Josh Freeman.

The Bucs have about $43 million in salary-cap space and it’s become increasingly clear the Bucs want to do everything possible to put quarterback Josh Freeman in position to succeed. Jackson certainly would help in that regard.

At 6'5" and 230 pounds, Jackson may not sound like the deep threat so many think the Bucs need. But Jackson is a bit of a freak of nature when it comes to his speed, plus he uses his strength to get separation.

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 13:  Marques Colston #12 of the New Orleans Saints pulls down a first down catch against Curtis Lofton #50 of the Atlanta Falcons at Georgia Dome on November 13, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Buccaneers aren't about to neglect the defensive side of the ball either. Alex Marvez of Fox Sports tweeted Tuesday that the Buccaneers are expected to make a serious play to procure the services of Atlanta Falcons linebacker Curtis Lofton, who led the Falcons with 147 tackles in 2011.

RT @baybucs: @alexmarvez what's the bucs news?#Bucs are expected to make a strong push for #Falcons MLB Curtis Lofton.

— Alex Marvez (@alexmarvez) March 13, 2012

Rookie Mason Foster struggled at times in the middle of the Tampa Bay defense a season ago and there had been rumblings that the Buccaneers' new coaching staff might kick Foster to outside linebacker in his second season.

If that were the case, it would make sense to bring Lofton on board. The four year veteran is one of the stoutest run defending linebackers in the National Football League.

The 2011 season showed that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a lot of work to do on both sides of the ball. If these early reports are any indication, new head coach Greg Schiano and the Buccaneers staff are ready to get down to business.