Needing a speed rusher off the edge, the Bucs are reportedly pushing hard to sign Cincinnati free agent defensive end Michael Johnson, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. PewterReport.com has more on this story and other Tampa Bay free agent rumors.
The free agent tampering season, which is now condoned by the NFL, is underway with teams being able to talk contract parameters with agents regarding their free agent clients, although no deals can be finalized and signed until Tuesday at 4:00 p.m. ET, which is the official start of the 2014 NFL season. Armed with approximately $25 million worth of salary cap space, which is the 11th-most in the league, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are set to make a big splash.
According to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune, the Buccaneers are making a big push to pursue a very big defensive end in Cincinnati’s Michael Johnson. The 6-foot-7, 270-pound Johnson was franchised last year by the Bengals following a career-high 11.5-sack campaign, but underwhelmed with just 56 tackles, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. That prompted Cincinnati to opt to re-sign fellow defensive end Carlos Dunlap to a big contract extension instead of Johnson. The Bengals drafted Johnson’s replacement last year in second-rounder Margus Hunt and will not be re-signing him.
Johnson, a former third-round pick in 2009, is only 27 years old and has plenty of upside. He’s also one of the hottest free agents this year as seven teams, including the Minnesota Vikings, who hired former Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer as the team’s head coach this offseason, have already shown interest in Johnson. Apparently Tampa Bay is one of the most interested teams.
Johnson, who entered the league with 4.69 speed in the 40-yard dash, has recorded 26.5 sacks, 205 tackles, 25 passes defensed, three interceptions, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries in five years, but only has one double-digit sack season, which came in 2012. His previous best was a six-sack campaign in 2011.
New Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith made a similar type of free agent splash in Chicago in 2010 when he signed Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers to a six-year, $91.5-million contract to upgrade the Bears’ pass rush. Tampa Bay has a tremendous need for an impact pass rusher on the outside as the team is lacking speed off the edge. The Bucs’ leading sacker the past two years has been Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who had five sacks in 2012 and a career-high nine sacks in 2013.
Defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Daniel Te’o-Nesheim were the Bucs’ starting defensive ends last year for most of the season and combined for just seven sacks. Clayborn had six of those while rebounding from a torn ACL that cost him most of the 2012 campaign, and is entering the final year of his rookie deal.
Te’o-Nesheim signed a one-year tender worth $1.323 million as a restricted free agent last year and was a huge disappointment with just one sack. He was later replaced in the starting lineup late in the season by rookie William Gholston, who finished with two sacks and made a strong case to contend for a starting job in 2014.
The Bucs also have Da’Quan Bowers, a former second-round pick in 2011, under contract for one more season. Bowers has been dinged up with minor injuries throughout his career and has been a bust thus far, notching just five sacks in three years. Tampa Bay drafted defensive end Steven Means in the fifth round last year, but he struggled in his adjustment to the NFL and rarely played.OTHER BUCS FREE AGENT RUMORS
• As PewterReport.com previously reported in January, the Bucs are expected to heavily pursue former Bears return specialist Devin Hester and cornerback Charles “Peanut” Tillman, who both played for Smith in Chicago. Hester told Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune that he is open to playing for Smith again.
• Due to the team's unsettled quarterback situation and the fact that
the Bucs are rebuilding and are not a legitimate Super Bowl contender,
Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen, who is 31, is not believed to be
interested in Tampa Bay despite the fact that his former head coach, Leslie Frazier, is the Bucs' new defensive coordinator.
• NFL.com’s Ian Rappoport reports that the Bucs are interested in Chicago quarterback Josh McCown and Detroit’s Shaun Hill because Tampa Bay is looking for a backup quarterback for Mike Glennon.
• Alex Marvez of FoxSports.com reports that the Bucs will not be re-signing kicker Rian Lindell due to the return to the health of Connor Barth, who tore his Achilles tendon in his plant foot last summer in a charity basketball game.
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