Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Bargain Guide to the 2015 Offseason
After a 2-14 season in their first year under new head coach Lovie Smith, the Bucs hold the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft, and they will be the center of attention for many fans and analysts over the next few months.
But before the draft gets underway, free agency will be Tampa Bay's first opportunity to continue a rebuilding project under Smith and general manager Jason Licht, who will also be in his second year calling the shots for the franchise.
Tampa Bay shelled out plenty of money to free agents last year, but it saw very little return on its investment.
Michael Johnson was a bust after signing one of the most lucrative deals of any free agent last year, while other veterans such as center Evan Dietrich-Smith, quarterback Josh McCown and cornerback Alterraun Verner also failed to live up to high expectations.
Bucs fans are weary of the team swinging for the fences in free agency and coming up empty on some of their recent, most expensive signings—Johnson, Carl Nicks, Dashon Goldson, Eric Wright—and it's hard to blame them.
The NFL's best teams are the ones that consistently find the right role players for the right price in free agency, and that should be Tampa Bay's mission this year. Who are those perfect fits who won't cost an arm and a leg? Which players set to hit the open market give the best combination of low risk/high reward?
Here are five potential bargains the Bucs should be targeting in this year's free-agency period.
WR Eddie Royal
The Buccaneers have their two starting receiver spots settled on the outside with Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, but they need a true slot receiver who could potentially help as a return specialist. Their best bet for finding that combination at the right price in free agency is San Diego's Eddie Royal.
An undersized but quick target, Royal would be a perfect fit in the slot for the Bucs. He also has plenty of experience as both a kick and punt returner, and he would be an instant upgrade in that department.
Despite the emergence of Keenan Allen and the presence of veteran Antonio Gates, Royal had himself a solid 2014 season with 62 receptions, 778 yards and seven touchdowns.
Royal will be 29 when the 2015 season kicks off, which means he's old enough to not command top dollar but still young enough to be a valuable contributor.
CB Darius Butler
The nickel corner is becoming a more critical position in today's NFL, and the Bucs will need a serious upgrade in that department in 2015. If they prefer to go the veteran route over trying to find a starter in the draft, the Colts' Darius Butler should be their target.
Butler is undersized for an outside corner at just 5'10", 188 pounds, but he's a perfect fit at the nickel spot. The veteran tallied 46 tackles, nine pass deflections and two forced fumbles in 14 games this season.
Butler will be 29 at the start of the 2015 season, and it shouldn't take a lucrative deal for the Bucs to sign him. His experience and instincts would be valuable additions to one of the most important positions in the Tampa 2 defense, and it should come at a reasonable price.
DE/OLB Brandon Graham
It's no secret the Tampa 2 needs an effective, consistent pass rush from the front four to be successful, and it's the one area that needs the most improvement on the Bucs defense.
If Tampa Bay is looking for an economical option in free agency to bolster its ability to bring pressure off the edge, the Eagles' Brandon Graham is a name to keep an eye on.
A former first-round pick, Graham has been out of place as a 3-4 outside linebacker during his time in Philadelphia. A feared edge-rusher at Michigan, Graham has managed just 17 sacks over his five seasons with the Eagles.
However, if given the chance to put his hand in the dirt as a 4-3 end, Graham could very well resurrect his NFL career.
Between Graham's lack of production and injury history, it's not likely he'll have too many suitors looking to break the bank for him in free agency. This would allow the Bucs to bring him in at a bargain price and hope he can resurrect his career in a new scheme.
OT Derek Newton
It looks like Demar Dotson's move to left tackle could be permanent, which means the Bucs may be looking for a new starter on the right side in 2015. An under-the-radar name who could make sense for the Bucs—and come at the right price—is Houston's Derek Newton.
A former seventh-round draft pick out of Arkansas State, Newton was a raw prospect who took plenty of time to develop into an NFL starter. His greatest jump in performance happened last season, however, and he's proved to be durable, starting all 32 games for the Texans over the past two seasons.
Newton will be 27 at the beginning of the 2015 season, so he's still got plenty in the tank. He's likely to get overlooked by the bigger names at his position in free agency—Doug Free, Michael Roos and Bryan Bulaga, to name a few—but dollar for dollar, Newton could end up being the smartest option for the Bucs.
LB Bruce Carter
One of the biggest issues for the Bucs defense over the course of the 2014 season was a severe lack of depth at linebacker, which was exposed by multiple injuries to Lavonte David and Mason Foster.
If Tampa Bay wants to find a young player who could potentially start on the strong side without breaking the bank, Dallas' Bruce Carter could be a good fit.
Carter struggled on the weak side for the Cowboys, but he seemed to be much more comfortable when he moved over to the "Sam" spot. The North Carolina product notched 68 tackles and a sack in 2014, but he excelled particularly in coverage, tallying five interceptions and eight pass deflections.
Turning 27 later this month, Carter comes with a history of injuries that are definitely concerning, but that could also drive his price down on the free-agent market this offseason.
If he can stay healthy, the Bucs could come away with an upgrade on the strong side, freeing up Danny Lansanah to either be solid depth or start in the middle, should Foster not return.