BUCS’ DEFENSIVE BACKS FREE AGENCY PREVIEWWith free agency scheduled to begin at 4:00 p.m. on March 11, PewterReport.com brings you its annual free agency preview by position. PewterReport.com has been taking a look at what Bucs will become free agents at each position, who the Bucs have under contract at the previewed position, and taking a look at five players that could fit into Tampa Bay’s plans, known as the Bucs’ Best Bets. Today’s final preview isTampa Bay’s secondary.
BUCS’ PENDING FREE AGENTSThe Buccaneers only have two unrestricted free agent in the secondary, cornerbacks Michael Adams and Danny Gorrer. Tampa Bay cornerback Deveron Carr is an exclusive rights free agent. The Bucs have yet to offer a contract extension to any of these three cornerbacks.
WHAT THE BUCS HAVEThe Buccaneers boast a talented defensive backfield led by Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis, free safety Dashon Goldson, a former Pro Bowler, and strong safety Mark Barron, the team’s first-round pick in 2012. However, The Bucs are attempting to trade Revis or will release him because he is taking up too much salary cap room with his $16 million base salary.
Tampa Bay also has a young, developing cornerback in Johnthan Banks, a second-round pick in 2013 who had three interceptions as a rookie last year.
The Bucs also have cornerbacks Leonard Johnson, Bobby Felder, Anthony Gaitor, Rashaan Melvin and Marc Anthony, who can also play safety, under contract for 2014. With the exception of Johnson, who had a pick-six after recording three interceptions as a rookie in 2012, and Moore, who played for new head coach Lovie Smith in Chicago, the team lacks proven experience behind Revis and Banks.
At safety, Tampa Bay has Keith Tandy, who recorded three interceptions, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery last year while filling in for Goldson and Barron for five games, in addition to Bradley McDougald and Kelcie McCray.
WHAT THE BUCS NEEDThe Bucs appear well stocked at the safety position with Goldson, who needs to make more plays on the ball and fewer penalties, Barron and Tandy performing well last year. McCray and McDougald have promise and the safety position may not need to be addressed in free agency or the draft, just in undrafted free agency to help the Bucs have enough numbers for training camp.
Tampa Bay needs to continue to upgrade the talent at cornerback, especially if the team parts ways with Revis, which will leave an enormous hole in the secondary that will need to be filled. With some many NFL teams, especially teams in the NFC South division, using three- and four-receiver sets, the team needs another stud cornerback to pair with Banks.
The Bucs also must to find a quick defensive back that can handle the duties of playing the slot in nickel defense. Moore and Johnson will get the first looks at nickel cornerback, and Tandy might also be put into the mix.
BUCS’ BEST BETS1. Chicago CB Charles TillmanWith an astounding 42 forced fumbles and 36 interceptions in his 11-year career with the Bears, Tillman is an incredible takeaway machine. Smith, who coached Tillman for much of his career with the Bears, craves takeaways on defense and a reunion in Tampa Bay seems likely as the Bears won’t be re-signing him. The Bucs could use another big cornerback and the 6-foot-2, 198-pounder fits the bill and is well versed in the Tampa 2.
2. Tennessee CB Alterraun VernerVerner, a former fourth-round pick by Tennessee, is a perfect fit for a Cover 2 defense and also has some man coverage ability. He would be a natural fit for Tampa Bay. He’s coming off a career-high five interceptions in 2013 and has 11 in his four-year career. Verner has also recovered five fumbles and forced two fumbles, which shows he has a nose for the football. Verner is a great tackling cornerback in run support and made his first Pro Bowl in 2013. At age 25 he will be one of the most sought-after free agent cornerbacks on the market.
2. Arizona CB Antoine CasonAfter five years in San Diego, Cason signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal with Arizona where his production took a hit as he struggled to find playing time until rookie Tyrann Mathieu was lost for the season with a knee injury. Cason recorded just 14 tackles, but did manage to record two interceptions, including a pick-six. Cason, who is well known by new Bucs general manager Jason Licht, who spent the last two years with the Cardinals, might need a change of scenery. At 6-foot-1, 195 pounds and with the 14 career interceptions, the 27-year old Cason could be a nice value signing.
4. Arizona CB Javier ArenasArenas, like Cason, didn’t see much playing time in 2013, recording only 12 tackles and one sack in his lone season in Arizona. The Tampa native spent his first three seasons in Kansas City as the Chiefs nickel cornerback, recording four sacks and two interceptions. The 5-foot-9, 197-pound Arenas could help Tampa Bay by competing for the nickel cornerback position, in addition to the return game. The 26-year old has plenty of experience returning kicks and punts and could be had very reasonably in free agency.
5. Chicago CB Zack BowmanBowman is kind of an enigma, recording six interceptions and a forced fumble in 2009 and then not getting much playing time over the next three years in part due to injury and sub-par performance. Then the 6-foot-1, 196-pound cornerback records 48 tackles and three interceptions, including one returned 43 yards for a touchdown in 2013. Bowman is very familiar with the Tampa 2, having been drafted by Smith in 2008 and playing in the scheme for the first five years of his career.
TOP 5 DEFENSIVE BACKS IN 2014 FREE AGENCY1. Buffalo S Jairus ByrdByrd, the son of Bucs cornerbacks coach Gil Byrd, is considered by many to be the top free agent safety. With 11 forced fumbles and 22 career interceptions, including four last year, Byrd is a dynamic playmaker that will have plenty of suitors in free agency.
2. Tennessee CB Alterraun VernerThe 25-year old cornerback is one of the up-and-coming players in the league at his position. Verner has 11 career interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown, and will be heavily pursued in free agency.
3. New England CB Aqib TalibTalib is one of the most dynamic cornerbacks in the NFL, and one of the best in free agency. The former Bucs’ first-round pick had four interceptions and 14 pass breakups last year for the Patriots. He’s had 23 picks and 70 passes broken up in his NFL career.
4. Browns S T.J. WardWard is coming off his first Pro Bowl season in which he had 123 tackles, 10 passes defensed, two interceptions, 1.5 sacks and one forced fumble. He’s a do-it-all safety that can defend the pass and support the run.
5. Carolina DB Mike Mitchell The Panthers signed the former Oakland second-rounder to a one-year deal last year and Mitchell shined with. At 6-foot, 210 pounds with great speed, Mitchell had a career year in 2013 with 66 tackles, four interceptions, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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