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Last week we took an in-depth look at the offensive and defensive linemen the Buccaneers could target in free agency, or ones the team could possibly trade for at some point this offseason.
This is the final installment of this series, and in this edition of Flynn's Focus we'll take a closer look at the linebackers and defensive backs that are either scheduled to become free agents or ones that could become available via a trade or release.
Free agency begins on Feb. 29 and the Buccaneers have approximately $30 million in salary cap room to spend.
LINEBACKERS Free Agency Headliners OLB Lance Biggs (Chicago) – Tampa Bay is in search of a successor for 10-time Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks, and Briggs (6-1, 240) is a Pro Bowler himself and appears to be an ideal candidate. He's excelled at the weakside linebacker position in a Cover 2 system that is similar to the one Tampa Bay's defense runs and is just 27 years old. The Bucs have the cap room to sign Briggs, but they might not have a roster spot since Brooks, who will turn 35 in April, still is on the team. It might be difficult to have Brooks and Briggs co-exist in Tampa Bay, which means the Bucs would either have to pass on signing him or part ways with Brooks.
OLB Matt McCoy (New Orleans) – McCoy (5-11, 230) spent the last half of the 2007 regular season in New Orleans after being released by Philadelphia. Tampa Bay inquired about signing him to its practice squad last year and the Bucs are expected to show serious interest in signing him this offseason. McCoy would bring speed and special teams ability to Tampa Bay. The Bucs also believe McCoy, 25, has plenty of upside.
OLB Demorrio Williams (Atlanta) – Williams (6-0, 232) has been a tackling machine on an inconsistent Atlanta defense over the last several seasons. His former Nebraska teammate, Bucs middle linebacker Barrett Ruud, could help recruit Williams to Tampa Bay, where he could make an immediate impact on special teams and compete for playing time at either the strongside or weakside linebacker spots.
MLB Derek Smith (San Francisco) – A 1997 third-round draft pick, Smith (6-2, 237) was recently released by the 49ers after watching his play slip over the past two years. At 33, Smith might not receive much interest from around the league, but Tampa Bay could be interested in signing him to serve as a backup middle linebacker to Barrett Ruud since Jeremiah Trotter is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent and is looking for an opportunity to start with another team. Smith notched at least 100 tackles in his first nine seasons before reportedly battling vision problems in his left eye over the last few seasons. MLB Antoine Cash (Tampa Bay) – Cash (6-3, 236) had an impressive training camp before suffering a season-ending knee injury in preseason. Cash is a capable special teams player and showed he is capable of serving as a backup middle linebacker for the Buccaneers. Even though he is scheduled to become a restricted free agent, Cash likely will return. However, what remains unclear is how he is doing in terms of the rehab associated with his ACL injury, which typically takes anywhere from nine to 12 months to recover from. The Bucs like Cash, but they're not opposed to bringing in another player to serve as Barrett Ruud's backup.
MLB Teddy Lehman (Detroit) – If the Bucs are looking for a cheaper option at the backup middle linebacker spot, Lehman (6-1, 238) could be their man. Injuries have plagued his career, but Lehman's speed and ability to play both middle and outside linebacker could pique Tampa Bay's interest.
Could Become Available MLB Jonathan Vilma (New York Jets) – Vilma (6-1, 230) is a former first-round draft pick, and at 25 he still has plenty of upside. However, Vilma is not a great fit for New York's 3-4 defense, which is why the Jets could trade or release him. Should that happen the Bucs likely would express serious interest in signing him. He has had some knee problems that merit looking into, however. OLB Ryan Nece (Tampa Bay) – Although he excels on special teams and is a is a good leader and teammate in the locker room, Nece (6-3, 224) is scheduled to earn a $1.1 million base salary in 2008, which could prove to be too expensive for the Bucs, especially since he struggled to make the transition to middle linebacker last year and the fact that the Bucs have draft picks invested in younger LBs Quincy Black and Adam Hayward.
DEFENSIVE BACKS Free Agency Headliners CB Asante Samuel (New England) – With Marcus Trufant having the franchise tag placed on him this week, Samuel (5-10, 185) is the undisputed king of free agency at the cornerback position. That means whichever team signs him will have to ink Samuels to very rich contract. The good news is the Bucs have the cap room to spend and are in the market for a cornerback. Samuel's consistency in New England (22 career interceptions) could make the Bucs feel better about signing him to a long-term, lucrative contract. Samuels, 27, also played collegiately at Central Florida, so he could have a mutual interest in playing for Tampa Bay.
CB Brian Kelly (Tampa Bay) – Kelly (5-11, 193) chose to buy himself out of his contract, which means he'll become a free agent on Feb. 29. Even though he's 32, Kelly likely will receive some interest from teams around the league, especially with Seattle CB Marcus Trufant and Oakland CB Nnamdi Asomugha being franchised. Kelly has notched 22 career interceptions since 1998, but he's played in just 13 games over the past two seasons due to injuries. There's a chance the Bucs could re-sign Kelly should he not find what he's looking for in free agency, but with Kelly 32 and Ronde Barber 33, Tampa Bay needs an infusion of youth at the cornerback spot.
DB Dwight Smith (Minnesota) – Smith (5-10, 201) was released by the Vikings this week after having some disagreements with head coach Brad Childress regarding some of his defensive game plans. A former third-round draft pick with the Buccaneers, Smith has established himself as a ballhawk (22 career interceptions) and versatile player (can play cornerback or safety). However, Smith, 29, has had some off-the-field problems and his outspoken ways in Minnesota could give Tampa Bay some reservations about bringing him back to the Buccaneers.
FS Kalvin Pearson (Tampa Bay) – Pearson (5-10, 200) is scheduled to become a restricted free agent, and it appears as though the Bucs may not even offer him a new deal due to the fact that Pearson is seeking a long-term contract. While he hasn't made much of an impact on defense, Pearson is an exceptional special teams player. But the Bucs might be willing to let Pearson, 29, test the open market.
SS Mike Doss (Minnesota) – Tampa Bay isn't necessarily in the market for a safety with Jermaine Phillips and Tanard Jackson established as starters and Sabby Piscitelli and Will Allen in the mix. However, Tampa Bay did express interest in signing Doss (5-10, 207) last year. He even visited One Buc Place before eventually signing with Minnesota. Doss is familiar with the Cover 2 scheme from his playing days in Indianapolis, but he's struggled with injuries in recent years. If the Bucs target a veteran safety in free agency, Doss likely would be one of the players the Bucs would look at. SS Michael Boulware (Houston) – Boulware (6-3, 220) played linebacker at Florida State before entering the league as a second-round draft pick with Seattle, where he was moved to safety. The Seahawks traded Boulware to the Texans last year. He did not pick off a pass with the Texans, but has 11 career interceptions. If he's not opposed to playing a reserve role with the opportunity to compete for a starting job, Boulware, 26, and his physical style of play could pique Tampa Bay's interest.
Could Become Available CB Fabian Washington (Oakland) – Washington (5-11, 185) originally entered the NFL in 2005 as a first-round pick out of Nebraska. Although he has five career interceptions, Washington notched just one pick last year, and some whispers out of Oakland suggest Washington could be released or traded this offseason, especially after the Raiders placed the franchise tag on CB Nnamdi Asomugha. Should Washington, 24, be released, the Bucs could pursue him in free agency. The only problem is that Washington just got arrested in Florida on February 20 for an alleged domestic battery charge.
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