While the Bucs aren’t expected to go 2014 crazy in free agency this season, they will be looking to upgrade a number of positions. PewterReport.com takes a look at the defense here is this feature, showcasing who the Bucs could lose, and who they might replace them with, including our Bucs Best Bets.

DEFENSIVE ENDS
2017 Bucs Free Agents: John Hughes
The Buccaneers are in pretty good shape defensive end wise, but could always use more. Gone are the days of teams throwing four guys out there to play 60-70 snaps. In today’s NFL, the wave after wave of a pass rusher is the norm, as teams try to use fresh defensive linemen to exploit tired offensive linemen. Tampa Bay hopes the injury bug that hit them hard last season stays away this year, and if it does for the most part, the Bucs defensive ends could do some damage this year.

Top Free Agents Defensive Ends Available
1. Nick Perry – Packers
2. Jabaal Sheard – Patriots
3. DeMarcus Ware – Broncos
4. Datone Jones – Packers
5. Jacquies Smith – Buccaneers

Outlook: The Bucs believe you can never have enough pass rushers and that is why the team could surprise everyone and pursue a free agent or even use one of their early round picks to add to the talent they already have. Their depth was tested to the max at times last season, and also know games essentially are won up front.

Bucs Best Bet: Jacquies Smith 
Smith was tendered by the Bucs, and they want him back. His knee injury was early last season so he should be a full go for camp this year. Smith will be motivated, as a good season could turn into big dollars in 2018.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES
2017 Bucs Free Agents: Akeem Spence, Sealver Siliga

The Bucs aren’t stacked at the tackle position but when Gerald McCoy is a starter, you can’t say they are weak either. The problem is depth and something the Bucs could address in either free agency, the draft, or even both. The Bucs do slide Will Gholston inside at times and even Robert Ayers on third downs, but could use a younger player to develop behind McCoy and Clinton McDonald. 

Top Free Agents Defensive Tackles Available
1. Calais Campbell – Cardinals
2. Chris Baker – Redskins
3. Brandon Williams – Ravens
4. Dontari Poe – Chiefs
5. Nick Fairley – Saints

Outlook: Expect the Bucs to add players via free agency and the draft to solidify the position, particularly if they let Akeem Spence get away. McDonald has had some injury problems, and McCoy isn’t getting any younger and the tackle position will need to be addressed at some point. Fortunately for Tampa Bay, defensive tackle is one of the few positions in free agency that has a decent crop of players to choose from. 

Bucs Best Bet: Chris Baker
The Bucs will need to add some depth, if not starting quality play at the tackle position and Baker is the player that could immediately step in and help this team get better upfront, and area the team struggled in a times last year.

LINEBACKERS
2017 Bucs Free Agents: Daryl Smith

Kwon Alexander got even better in 2016, and the Bucs hope to see him to take an even bigger jump in 2017. After a somewhat sluggish start in Mike Smith’s new defense, Lavonte David ended the season playing better and while he didn’t put up the tackle numbers he has in the past, the team was pleased with his overall game. After those two, depth becomes an issue especially with the team expected to part ways with last season’s starter on the strong side in Daryl Smith.

Top Free Agents Linebackers Available
1. Dont’a Hightower – Patriots
2. Zach Brown – Bills
3. Kiko Alonso – Dolphins
4. Gerald Hodges – 49ers
5. Jelani Jenkins – Dolphins

Outlook: With the Bucs playing nickel more than half the time, prioritizing finding linebackers in free agency most likely is far down the list. Expect the Bucs bring in some undrafted guys to compete for backup spots, as they like Devante Bond to take over for Daryl Smith as a starter moving forward. 

Bucs Best Bet: Michael Morgan
Morgan is still fairly young (29) compared to Daryl Smith anyway, but has been overshadowed somewhat by the Seahawks’ outstanding linebacker unit. He may end up commanding more money than the Bucs want to pay for a player that would be part time in Mike Smith’s defense.

CORNERBACKS
2017 Bucs Free Agents: Josh Robinson

The cornerback unit took nice step forward last season. Rookie Vernon Hargreaves did a decent job, and should be better in 2017. The Bucs were pleased with the play of Brent Grimes, but the veteran only has one more year left on his contract. Tampa Bay also was happy with the play of undrafted rookie Javien Elliot and think he will get better in time. The team is also high on Ryan Smith who moved from safety to cornerback full time last year. 

Top Free Agents Cornerbacks Available
1. Logan Ryan – Patriots
2. A.J. Bouye – Texans
3. Prince Amukamara – Jaguars
4. Morris Claiborne – Cowboys
5. Stephon Gilmore – Bills

Outlook: Finding some young blood is something the Bucs would like to do this offseason, and could look to find a player or two to bring in this offseason. This year’s corner market is top heavy, which means pricey, so it is likely new additions will come through the draft as opposed to free agency. 

Bucs Best Bet: Josh Robinson
Bringing Robinson back makes sense with a year in the system and his special teams prowess. The Bucs will have some competition, but there isn’t expected to be a huge market for Robinson.

SAFETIES
2017 Bucs Free Agents: Bradley McDougald, Chris Conte

With their two starters from last season, Bradley McDougald and Chris Conte, set to test the open market, the Bucs need safety help. Keith Tandy came on late last season and has earned the right to enter camp as a starter, but that still leaves a spot wide open, plus a need for depth at the position.

Top Free Agents Safeties Available
1. Tony Jefferson – Cardinals
2. John Cyprien – Jaguars
3. Micah Hyde – Packers
4. T.J. McDonald – Rams
5. J.J. Wilcox – Cowboys

Outlook: It would be a surprise if the Bucs don’t sign a safety in free agency, or maybe two. What wouldn’t be a surprise would be to see them bring one, or even both, of last year’s starts back on a short term deal and allow a drafted player time to develop. The Bucs could also go after a player like Dallas’ J.J. Wilcox, who is still young, has a higher ceiling and is a good cover safety.

Bucs Best Bet: Bradley McDougald
McDougald is thought to have more upside than Conte at this point and he played well down the stretch as the defense found their footing midway through 2016. Wilcox might also be in play, it just depends on the type of interest he gets in free agency from other teams.

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About the Author: Mark Cook

Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, the beach and family time.Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at mark@pewterreport.com
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