The Biggest Offseason Priorities for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
With their 7-9 season quickly fading into memory, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a full list of offseason priorities to tackle before heading into the 2013 season.
They're in need of defensive help at multiple positions, namely cornerback and safety.
The Bucs are likely to bring in someone who can "push" (h/t NFL.com) incumbent quarterback Josh Freeman, despite the fact that he is coming off his statistically most accomplished season as a professional.
There are also new coaches to break in and acclimate to the system, starting with newly hired defensive backs coach Tony Oden. He is the man responsible for turning around the NFL's worst pass defense.
Even still, an argument could be made that the most critical event to take place this offseason is the NFL draft in late April. The Bucs hold five of the top 125 picks, including two fourth-round selections.
While we know what their biggest priorities are, how they address them is equally important.
Target a Minimum of Two Defensive Backs in Free Agency
The Bucs were downright horrendous against the pass in 2012, allowing 69 plays of 20-plus yards and a league-worst 297.4 yards per game through the air.
Cornerback Eric Wright, who was suspended for four games after testing positive for PEDs, is expected to be released (h/t NBC Sports) less than a year after signing a five-year, $37.5 million deal.
Coupled with the uncertain future of the soon-to-be 38-year-old Ronde Barber, the Bucs face the very real possibility of needing to add two starting corners and a starting safety between now and training camp in August.
Tampa Bay is believed to be more than $20 million under the salary cap heading into free agency, and that's even before factoring in the $7.75 million that would be saved if Wright is, in fact, cut.
What that means is the Bucs have the financial flexibility to be as aggressive as they please when free agency begins on March 12 at 4 p.m. EST.
So, who should they target?
Cornerbacks Brent Grimes, Cary Williams, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Mike Jenkins, as well as safeties Dashon Goldson, Jairus Byrd and Kenny Phillips, among many others, are all slated for free agency.
Given their surplus of cash and obvious needs in the secondary, the Bucs should look to come away with at least two defensive backs via free agency.
Acclimate the New Coaches
There were reported rumblings last season that some Bucs players were upset about Greg Schiano and his "college" coaching staff.
The recent additions of Tony Oden and Dave Wannstedt, who will run defensive backs and special teams, respectively, signal a possible shift for Schiano away from the "college" approach. It could show Schiano is moving closer to the reality that the NFL is a different monster altogether.
Oden has seven-plus years of NFL coaching experience, while Wannstedt has spent a total of 18 years at the NFL level.
While the 2013 staff is indeed more experienced than Schiano's inaugural group, how they'll fare in comparison is anyone's guess.
What is certain, however, is that Schiano himself must do a better job of effectively communicating the who, what, when, where, why and how this time around.
Draft Defense, Defense, Defense
With five of the first 125 picks and seven selections overall, the Bucs will have every opportunity to address needs come April's draft.
And considering the number of high picks, Tampa Bay should load up on young talent for their overmatched and underperforming defense.
They should look at Texas' Kenny Vaccaro, Florida's Matt Elam or Syracuse's Shamarko Thomas as possible replacements for Ronde Barber.
Furthermore, adding David Amerson, Desmond Trufant or Xavier Rhodes to fill an even bigger need at corner would suit them nicely.
We can't forget an outside linebacker such as Khaseem Greene from Rutgers or Stanford's Chase Thomas, to name a few.
The point is this, the Bucs need to improve their defense and need to do so quickly. By investing their draft picks on defense, it affords them youth and financial flexibility when compared to signing a high-priced veteran player.
Will there be growing pains? In most cases, yes. But it also means the defense would have an opportunity to struggle and develop together.
Which, come to think of it, worked out pretty well for the Bucs the last time they invested heavily on defense.