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Last week we took a closer look at the wide receivers and tight ends the Buccaneers could target in free agency, or ones the team could possibly trade for at some point this offseason.
This week's installment of Flynn's Focus takes a closer look at the offensive and defensive linemen 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.
We'll use next week's installment of Flynn's Focus to take a closer look at the linebackers and defensive backs that the Bucs could target should they be released or traded by their respective teams. In the meantime, let's take a closer look at the offensive and defensive linemen.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN Free Agency Headliners T Jordan Gross (Carolina) – Gross (6-4, 300) has started 80 games as a pro and has proven to be a durable player. Gross could add competition to Tampa Bay's right tackle spot, but the Bucs already have a second-round draft pick invested in Jeremy Trueblood, who is also proving to be a good player. Gross might not even make it out of Carolina as the Panthers could place the franchise tag on him. If he does make it to free agency, expect the Bucs to pass on the long-term, lucrative contract and starting job Gross is looking for.
T Max Starks (Pittsburgh) – Starks (6-8, 337) is one big dude, and he's versatile enough to play both tackle spots, which should pique Tampa Bay's interest in signing him. Most of Stark's playing experience has come at right tackle, but he did see a limited amount of action at left tackle last year before injuring his knee. Although Starks will be looking for starting money and a starting job, the Bucs could see value in signing him if the price is right.
T Kwame Harris (San Francisco) – Harris (6-7, 322) is a player the Bucs could target to add depth to their offensive tackle position, particularly at right tackle behind Trueblood. He has started 44 career games, but only 12 of those starts have come over the last two years due to injuries and poor play. The Bucs will not be willing to overpay for Harris.
G Alan Faneca (Pittsburgh) – It appears as though Faneca (6-5, 307) will hit the free agent market on Feb. 29, and if that happens expect the Buccaneers to be one of the first teams to call him. Tampa Bay wants to upgrade its center position, and the Bucs view Faneca as a player that could either solidify the center position or start at left guard and allow the team to move second-year G Arron Sears over to center. Even though he's 31, Faneca, a seven-time Pro Bowler and durable player, likely will command a big contract. The good news for the Bucs is they have $30 million in salary cap room.
G Ryan Lilja (Indianapolis) – Don't be surprised if the Bucs express some interest in signing Lilja (6-2, 290), who has been opening holes for Indy's running game and keeping quarterback Peyton Manning on his feet. Should the Bucs not be able to lure Faneca to Tampa Bay, there's a chance the Bucs could take a look at signing Lilja to play center. Lilja actually started all of Indy's preseason games at center in 2005 when Jeff Saturday was in injured, and should he re-sign with the Colts, Lilja's future could be at the center position anyway since Saturday may not be a Colt in 2009, which is when his contract is set to expire.
C John Wade (Tampa Bay) – Wade (6-2, 304) is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on Feb. 29, and the Bucs are prepared to let him hit the open market. They're not opposed to re-signing Wade, but the Bucs want to see if they can upgrade the center position first. Tampa Bay loves what Wade brings to the table in terms of his ability to be a leader in the locker room, recognize blitzes and make lines calls. However, at 33, Wade is having difficulty holding up physically in the trenches. C Matt Lehr (Tampa Bay) – Lehr (6-2, 304) could return to Tampa Bay, but the Bucs will let him test the free agent market first. One issue the Bucs have with Lehr is his ability, or lack thereof, to make line calls on a consistent basis, which is a strength of Wade's. However, the Bucs do see value in Lehr's ability to play both guard and center.
C Jeff Faine (New Orleans) – Faine (6-3, 291) is a former first-round draft pick out of Notre Dame. He has started 66 career games, including 30 for the New Orleans Saints over the past two seasons. Faine has been part of a New Orleans offensive line that has opened up holes for the Saints' running game and protecting quarterback Drew Brees. However, Faine still has room for improvement at the center position. The Bucs might be willing to sign Faine, but only if the price is right.
Could Become Available T Robert Gallery (Oakland) – A former first-round draft pick, Gallery (6-7, 325) has not lived up to expectations. He can play both tackle and guard, which is why the Bucs could be interested in signing him if and when Gallery hits the free agent market.
T Orlando Pace (St. Louis) – Pace (6-7, 325) is coming off a knee injury and is 32 years old. The Rams might be prepared to move on without Pace, who could prove to be too expensive and not part of St. Louis' rebuilding plans. Unless Luke Petitgout cannot recover from his knee injury, the Bucs probably will not invest a long-term, lucrative deal in Pace if he becomes available.
C Matt Birk (Minnesota) – Birk (6-4, 309) has started 107 of the 130 games he's played in the NFL, including 32 games over the past two seasons. The Vikings could deem Birk and his $5.3 million base salary too expensive this offseason, which could lead to his release or trade. Even at 31, Birk is a player the Bucs would express serious interest in if he were to become available, which is a possibility since 2008 is scheduled to be the final year of his contract and he's scheduled to earn such a high base salary.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN Free Agency Headliners DE Jared Allen (Kansas City) – Allen (6-6, 270) is one of the best pass-rushing defensive ends in the NFL. He's notched 43 career sacks and 16 forced fumbles. Last year, Allen recorded a career-high 16 sacks in Herm Edwards' Cover 2 system, which is similar to Tampa Bay's. Most people in the NFL circle believed the Chiefs would franchise Allen, which still could be the case. However, a source with knowledge of the situation told Pewter Report that the Chiefs have made absolutely no attempt to sign Allen to a long-term contract, which has some believing the Chiefs could franchise him and then shop him around, or possibly not franchise Allen at all. Consider Tampa Bay interested in acquiring Allen if he's available via free agency or trade.
DE Justin Smith (Cincinnati) – Smith (6-4, 275) would be a cheaper alternative to Allen since he's coming off a season where he notched a career-low two sacks. The former first-round pick has 43.5 sacks since 2001, which will pique Tampa Bay's interest. Smith will not be franchised by the Bengals, which is good news for the Bucs, who would be interested in adding him to their rotation along the defensive line and improving their pass rush.
DE Tommy Kelly (Oakland) – Kelly (6-6, 300) has played an integral role in helping Oakland's defense establish itself as one of the NFL's best over the last few years. Kelly, who has notched 13 career sacks, has the ability to play defensive end and defensive tackle. He's also played in a 3-4 and 4-3 scheme. Kelly's versatility could make him an attractive player to several NFL teams, including the Buccaneers, who will look to upgrade their defensive line play this offseason. DT Jovan Haye (Tampa Bay) – Haye (6-2, 285) is scheduled to become a restricted free agent, so the Bucs aren't too concerned about losing him. However, there's no disputing the fact that Haye served as an upgrade at the three technique spot for the Bucs last year, notching six sacks and 97 tackles, which led the defensive linemen. The Bucs aren't opposed to finding an upgrade at that position, but they do want Haye back and likely will do just that.
DT Rod Coleman (Atlanta) – Coleman (6-2, 290) has notched 58.5 career sacks since entering the league in 1999. The fact that he notched just two sacks in five games due to injury along with the Falcons' salary cap woes recently led to Coleman's release in Atlanta. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen are familiar with Coleman, who played for the Raiders from 1999 through 2003. Although he's 31 and no longer in his prime, Coleman, who also has had some off-the-field issues, could serve as a valuable pass rusher on third downs for the Buccaneers in defensive line coach Larry Coyer's rotation.
DT Albert Haynesworth (6-6, 320) – Haynesworth has a unique combination of size and speed, which is why the former first-round draft pick should receive serious interest from several teams on the open market. Haynesworth has recorded 15.5 career sacks and four forced fumbles. Should the Bucs sign him, they could move Haynesworth to nose tackle and slide Chris Hovan over to under tackle. However, Tampa Bay might not be willing to sign Haynesworth to a big contract due to concerns regarding some of his past off-the-field issues. The risk may not be worth the reward for the Bucs.
DT Corey Williams (Green Bay) – Williams (6-4, 313) has recorded a total of 14 sacks over the past two seasons. Although he might be better suited for the nose tackle spot, Williams has the run-stuffing ability and pass rush skills necessary to play under tackle for the Buccaneers in their 4-3 scheme. Williams might be asking for more than the Bucs and some other teams are willing to pay him, though.
Could Become Available DE Jevon Kearse (Philadelphia) – Kearse (6-4, 265) has notched 69.5 career sacks, but only eight of those have come over the last two seasons. The former first-round draft pick played collegiately at Florida and could receive some interest from the Bucs should the Eagles decide to part ways with him. Kearse, 31, is scheduled to earn a $6.46 million base salary in 2008 and has struggled with injuries.
DE Phillip Daniels (Washington) – Daniels (6-5, 276) has recorded 59 career sacks. Tampa Bay is looking to upgrade its pass rush, but it is also looking to get younger along the defensive line. At 34, Daniels probably wouldn't receive much interest from the Bucs if the Redskins decided to release him.
DE Demetric Evans (Washington) – The Redskins are facing some very serious salary cap challenges, which means they could have some cap casualties. Evans (6-3, 275) is one of the players that could be released. He is a better run defender than a pass rusher, evidenced by his 9.5 career sacks since 2001. Should he be released, Evans is a player that could receive some interest from the Bucs, but don't expect Tampa Bay to offer him much more than league minimum if they express any interest in him at all. DT Shaun Rogers (Detroit) – Rogers (6-4, 340) appears to be on his way out of Detroit. The former second-round draft pick has a massive frame and good athleticism, which has helped him notched 29 career sacks, including a career-high seven quarterback takedowns in 2007. He even recorded an interception and returned it 66 yards for a touchdown last season. However, Detroit's defense ranked 32nd overall in 2007, and Rogers has had some off-the-field issues and trouble keeping his weight down to the point where the Lions are ready to move on without him. The Buccaneers aren't willing to trade for Rogers, and if he's released, Rogers probably would only receive a one-year contract offer worth league minimum from the Bucs. Rogers would basically be given the opportunity to resurrect his career in Tampa Bay just like players like defensive tackles Chris Hovan and Ryan Sims have been given, but another team could be willing to sign Rogers, 28, to a bigger deal.
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