Instant Analysis: Tampa Bay Buccaneers Already Clear Winner of 2012 Free Agency

Lou RomContributor IMarch 14, 2012

SAN DIEGO, CA - NOVEMBER 27:   Vincent Jackson #83 of the San Diego Chargers turns up field after his catch against the Denver Broncos at Qualcomm Stadium on November 27, 2011 in San Diego, California. The Broncos went on to win 16-13.   (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Despite the fact Peyton Manning has not yet chosen a team, the NFL has a 2012 free agency winner.

And surprise, surprise, it is the woeful Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Bucs, who lost 10 straight to end the season with a dreadful defense and a quarterback who went backwards after a solid 2010, have secured two of the top five free agents in less than 24 hours.

Less than 24 hours after signing the much-coveted wideout Vincent Jackson, the Bucs signed the No. 1 offensive guard in the league, Carl Nicks.

Now, not only will fourth-year quarterback Josh Freeman have a true No. 1 receiver to throw to, but he might even have time to throw to him.

ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Nicks' contract is worth $47.5 million, including $31 million guaranteed, making Nicks the highest paid guard in the league.
Yesterday, Jackson agreed to a five-year deal with the Buccaneers, mere hours after free agency started at 4 p.m. ET. Jackson's contract, worth $55.5 million and $13 million in each of his first two years, makes him the second highest paid player on the team behind defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.

Tampa Bay also signed free-agent cornerback Eric Wright to a five-year deal early Wednesday.

Wright was one of the top cornerbacks on the market, and the Bucs needed serious help in the secondary after ending the season with aging Ronde Barber and Aqib Talib, who is still facing legal troubles.

Bucs ownership pledged at the end of a 4-12 season that they were committed to winning and would do whatever it took to bring a winner to Tampa Bay, and so far they have kept their word.

Winning the NFC South won't be easy.

The New Orleans Saints remain the favorite, after re-signing Marques Colston and franchising quarterback Drew Brees.

The Atlanta Falcons should be playoff contenders again if they can shake off a humiliating loss to the New York Giants in the first round of the playoffs.

And, with an apparent franchise quarterback in Cam Newton, Carolina is expected to be active in free agency and the draft.

Still, Tampa Bay—despite giving up more points in 2011 than any season in franchise history—should, at the very least, have a sniff at a winning season in 2012 after an already successful free agency period.