Free agency hasn't started yet, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers likely will be in the market for a defensive end when it begins on Friday.
That's because the Buccaneers made two roster moves Wednesday in an effort to get younger on defense, releasing veteran defensive ends Kevin Carter and Greg Spires.
Both roster moves create $9.227 million in cap room and put the Bucs approximately $41 million under the league-mandated cap with free agency scheduled to begin on Friday.
While Tampa Bay likely will pursue a veteran free agent defensive end, it could also look to the 2008 NFL Draft to bolster its defensive line and improve its pass rush, which generated a total of 33 sacks last season.
Tampa Bay signed Carter to a four-year contract in free agency last year shortly after he had been released by Miami.
Carter, who turns 35 in September, was scheduled to earn $3.8 million in base salary and a team-high $5.8 million cap value in 2008. However, his deal did not include a signing bonus, making it easy for the Bucs to part ways with Carter.
A former first-round draft pick with the St. Louis Rams, Carter recorded his 100th career sack vs. Washington on Nov. 25 and has notched 770 career tackles in 208 games (203 starts). He started 14 of the 16 games he played in as a Buccaneer in 2007, notching 73 tackles and three sacks.
Spires played in just 10 games (eight starts) with the Buccaneers in 2007 due to a torn calf muscle he sustained during the regular season. He notched 43 tackles and just two sacks.
Tampa Bay acquired Spires as a free agent during the 2002 offseason. He notched 340 tackles and 26 sacks during his six-year tenure as a Buccaneer, which included Tampa Bay's Super Bowl XXXVII season.
Spires, who is scheduled to turn 34 in August, was scheduled to have a base salary of $3.9 million and a cap value of $4.361 million in 2008.
The release of Spires, who was recently named to Pewter Report's All-Pewter and Red team, which recognized the best Buccaneers from 1997-2007, leaves Tampa Bay's roster with just four players who played on the Super Bowl championship team – linebackers Derrick Brooks and Ryan Nece, cornerback Ronde Barber and safety Jermaine Phillips.
Tampa Bay still has five defensive ends on its current roster, including Greg White, who led the team in sacks (eight) and forced fumbles (seven) in 2007, Gaines Adams, last year's first-round pick, Patrick Chukwurah and unproven players such as Charles Bennett and Marquies Gunn. White and Adams are currently slated to start at right and left defensive end, respectively, due to the fact that they combined for 14 sacks in the regular season.
Because White and Adams were first-year starters in 2007, Tampa Bay will want to add at least one more veteran to the mix. Sources tell Pewter Report that the Buccaneers will be targeting former Cincinnati Bengals franchise player, defensive end Justin Smith, once free agency begins on February 29.
Stopping the run was the forte` of both Spires and Carter, who rotated regularly at left defensive end in 2007, and that happens to be Smith's strong suit, although he does have 43.5 sacks in his seven years in the NFL. He would be an ideal replacement at left defensive end and would free up Adams to rotate between the left and right defensive end positions to maximize his speed and pass rushing ability.
Other veterans the Bucs could be interested in signing include Antwan Odom (Tennessee), Bobby McCray (Jacksonville), Jevon Kearse (Philadelphia) and Tommy Kelly (Oakland).
The 2008 NFL Draft is also well stocked at the defensive end position with a player such as Florida's Derrick Harvey being a first-round option for Tampa Bay, which picks 20th overall.
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