Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ranking Their Biggest Free-Agency Priorities
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Sure there are deficiencies to fix and depth to add, but almost as important, there are key pieces already in place that need to be retained or re-signed.
Though it is assumed that the Bucs will be big players in free agency once again, just how active they'll actually be is largely unknown at this point.
That said, here are their biggest free-agency priorities heading into the signing season.
5. Tight End
TE Dustin Keller is an unrestricted free agent.
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Last season, the Bucs brought on veteran tight end Dallas Clark to provide much-needed leadership to an otherwise inexperienced offense.
While his 2012 numbers were respectable, they paled in comparison to what fans had come to expect from the former Iowa Hawkeyes' standout.
Clark is scheduled to become a free agent after his brief stint in Tampa, though GM Mark Dominik suggested that he'd like to bring him back for 2013.
If a deal with Clark cannot be reached, there are several notable replacements that are expected to be available come March 12, including Dustin Keller, Martellus Bennett, Delanie Walker, Chris Cooley and Fred Davis, among others.
4. Slot Receiver
WR Danny Amendola hauled in 66 passes last season.
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The 2012 Buccaneers offense was, statistically, the most explosive and potent in franchise history, scoring 389 points and falling just four yards shy of having two 1,000-plus yard receivers, as Mike Williams finished with 996 yards to pair with Vincent Jackson's 1,384.
And though the offense was successful as a whole, they still sorely lacked a reliable slot receiver.
In fact, Tiquan Underwood's 29 receptions were fifth most on the team, after Jackson (72) and Williams (63), RB Doug Martin (49) and TE Dallas Clark (47).
Suffice it to say, it is a position in need of upgrading this offseason, and the Bucs will have plenty of choices, including Danny Amendola, Domenik Hixon, Wes Welker and Louis Murphy, among others.
Safety George Wilson was cut by Buffalo two weeks ago.
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The soon-to-be 38-year-old Ronde Barber can still play, as evidenced by being a Pro Bowl alternate in 2012.
Barber racked up 92 tackles, four interceptions and a forced fumble on the season, all while providing a veteran presence and is the lone remaining link to Tampa Bay's championship of 2002.
Whether or not Barber decides to return in 2013 is secondary to the fact that the Bucs still need to get younger—and better—at the position. This, despite having 23-year-old Ahmad Black as his primary backup last season.
And while the NFL draft may certainly provide that upgrade, there are several notable options via free agency that could very easily get the job done, including the likes of George Wilson, Kenny Phillips, LaRon Landry, Dashon Goldson, Louis Delmas and Glover Quin, to name a few.
If the Bucs are serious about fixing their 32nd-ranked pass defense, they would be wise to at least consider an extra look at landing one of these free agents come March.
2. Re-Sign DE Michael Bennett
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Michael Bennett was an undrafted free agent of the Seattle Seahawks when the Bucs claimed him off waivers in 2009.
Since being acquired, Bennett has racked up 15 sacks and four forced fumbles in just 28 career starts, including a team-high nine sacks last season.
Given the uncertain health of fellow defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers, his value to this franchise is without question.
Though Bennett appears headed to the open market (via TampaBay.com), the Bucs should make every effort to bring back the pass rushing free agent.
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Though most expect the Bucs to address their over-matched secondary in April's draft, there is little question that they'll have opportunities to improve at cornerback once free agency begins.
With the expected departure (via Pewter Report) of CB Eric Wright, the Bucs will need to fill both starting cornerback positions before the start of the season, something that is beyond ideal but not totally insurmountable.
Regardless of the fact that this year's free agency class is anything but star-studded, Tampa Bay will have players such as Cary Williams, Mike Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Kyle Arrington, Sean Smith, Captain Munnerlyn, Leodis McKelvin and Brent Grimes to possibly sign.
Given the ineptitude of their current crop of defensive backs, perhaps the Bucs will be particularly aggressive in courting one or more of the above-listed players come March.
If nothing else, it is far and away their biggest free-agency priority.