Most have had Bears return specialist Devin Hester pegged as the top special teams free agent to be targeted by the Buccaneers in free agency, and rightly so, as Hester and new Bucs head coach Lovie Smith spent seven seasons together in Chicago. It was Smith, in fact, who drafted Hester in the second round back in 2006, and Hester was vocal in his dismay when Smith was fired following a 10-6 record after the 2012 season.
However, a league source told PewterReport.com on Monday that Tampa Bay is turning its attention to Chiefs free agent receiver and kick returner Dexter McCluster. The source said McCluster, a Largo, Fla. native, “wants to come back home and will give the Bucs a bit of a hometown discount.”
The source also told PewterReport.com that Tampa Bay is poised to make “more than one splash move in free agency,” and that the team has had dialogue with as many as four players who could command as much as $10 million per season. The source said that the Buccaneers won’t “get them all, but will make a splash.”
While the Bucs appear to be hot and heavy in pursuit of McCluster, it doesn’t rule out Hester rejoining his former head coach. The Buccaneers could be looking at McCluster to upgrade the wide receiver position that could use an infusion of speed, talent and depth. Hester, depending on his salary demands and interest from other teams, could also be signed to handle the return duties.
As a receiver for the Chiefs, McCluster set a career high with 53 receptions for 511 yards and two touchdowns last year. Over his four-year career in Kansas City, McCluster has totaled 172 catches for 1,500 yards and TDs. The dual threat is also an accomplished punt returner with a 12.1-yard career average and three punts returned for touchdowns, including an 89-yard TD return last year for the Chiefs.
New Tampa Bay special teams coordinator Kevin O’Dea, who coached with Smith in Chicago, also coached McCluster last year in Kansas City as part of Andy Reid’s staff.
The Buccaneers have been rumored to be the front-runners for a number of other high-profile free agents. The Baltimore Sun reported on Sunday that the Bucs and tackle Anthony Collins have worked out parameters on a deal worth between $6-7 million per season. The Buccaneers offensive line was the most expensive in football last year and struggled mightily last year. As a result, other players besides Joseph could end up ultimately pay the price.
Also late Sunday, it was reported that the Buccaneers had interest in the versatile, but oft-injured Rodger Saffold, who can play guard or tackle. According to reports, Saffold has told the Rams he will sign elsewhere. Later, reports have the Oakland Raiders as the favorite to obtain his service. The Raiders have the most salary cap space available with approximately $60 million of room.
Early Sunday morning, Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune, reported that 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.
Tampa Bay’s chances of signing Johnson was thought to be helped when Minnesota agreed to terms with their own defensive end, Everson Griffen on Sunday afternoon.
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.
Another source told PewterReport.com that the Collins and Johnson reports are the “real deal,” and are very much in the works.
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, surfing and family time at the beach. In addition, Cook can be found in front of a television or in Doak Campbell any time the FSU Seminoles are playing. 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 [email protected]
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