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Tampa Bay's defense ranked No. 1 against the pass under defensive backs coach Raheem Morris and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin in 2007. But the Bucs secondary could look a lot different when free agency rolls around in 2009.
That's because strong safety Jermaine Phillips, cornerback Phillip Buchanon, CB Eugene Wilson, CB Sammy Davis and FS Will Allen are scheduled to become free agents next year.
In addition, Morris, who re-joined Tampa Bay's coaching staff in 2007 after a one-year stint as Kansas State's defensive coordinator, is also scheduled to have his contract expire at season's end.
The good news for the Bucs is they are scheduled to be $35 million under the salary cap next year, and that doesn't count any unused cap money they roll over from this season. That means they will have the cap money to reward the players they feel are worthy of new deals.
Tampa Bay is also fairly deep in the secondary. Sabby Piscitelli and Tanard Jackson are second-year players that the Bucs are extremely high on, and for good reason. Jackson broke the starting lineup as a rookie and performed well. Piscitelli led the Bucs in interceptions during his first training camp before suffering a season-ending leg injury in Week 3 of the regular season.
The Bucs also have CB Ronde Barber and first-round pick, CB Aqib Talib, under contract in '09, but Barber will turn 34 in April and Talib is proven at the pro level.
To make matters even more complicated, Kiffin is under contract for the '09 season, which means Morris likely will have his sights set on a defensive coordinator job in the NFL.
Tampa Bay is interested in seeing what Wilson does in his first year with the Bucs. The Bucs are interested in re-signing Allen, but only as a backup as they're comfortable with Jackson as the starter. Allen has been a valuable special teams contributor, though.
The player to keep an eye on might be Phillips, who recorded a team-high four interceptions in 2007 and proved to be a solid player under the guidance of Morris.
The Bucs used a second-round pick to select Piscitelli to become a future starter in Tampa Bay's defense, but if Phillips performs well enough the Bucs would consider using the franchise tag on him in an effort to either sign him to a long-term deal or trade him.
Regardless of what happens to Phillips, the Bucs likely will have some movement in their secondary from a personnel standpoint next year.
Listed below are the cornerbacks and safeties that are scheduled to become free agents in 2009.
CB Nmadi Asomugha (6-2, 210) Oakland CB Ron Bartell (6-1, 205) St. Louis CB Ralph Brown (5-10, 185) Arizona CB Fernando Bryant (5-11, 184) New England CB Phillip Buchanon (5-11, 186) Tampa Bay CB Chris Carr (5-10, 180) Tennessee CB Jason Craft (5-10, 187) New Orleans CB Travis Daniels (6-1, 192) Miami CB Sammy Davis (6-1, 195) Tampa Bay CB Dovonte Edwards (6-0, 182) Detroit CB Demarcus Faggins (5-10, 178) Houston CB Jamar Fletcher (5-10, 180) Houston CB Domonique Foxworth (5-11, 180) Denver CB Chris Gamble (6-1, 200) Carolina CB Aaron Glenn (5-9, 185) New Orleans CB Andre' Goodman (5-10, 185) Miami CB Eric Green (5-11, 194) Arizona CB Jabari Greer (5-11, 180) Buffalo CB Joselio Hanson (5-9, 185) Philadelphia CB Kelvin Hayden (6-0, 195) Indianapolis CB Reynaldo Hill (5-11, 183) Tennessee CB Corey Ivy (5-9, 188) Baltimore CB Eddie Jackson (6-0, 200) Washington CB Chris Johnson (6-1, 200) Oakland CB Eric King (5-10, 185) Tennessee CB Omare Lowe (6-1, 195) Seattle CB David Macklin (5-10, 206) St. Louis CB Bryant McFadden (6-0, 190) Pittsburgh CB R.W. McQuarters (5-10, 194) New York Giants CB Justin Miller (5-10, 196) New York Jets CB Deltha O'Neal (5-11, 194) Cincinnati CB Karl Paymah (6-0, 195) Denver CB Keiwan Ratliff (5-11, 188) Indianapolis CB Allen Rossum (5-8, 178) San Francisco CB Lewis Sanders (6-1, 210) New England CB Benny Sapp (5-9, 190) Minnesota CB Duane Starks (5-10, 175) Oakland CB Scott Starks (5-9, 178) Jacksonville CB Donald Strickland (5-10, 187) San Francisco CB Michael Waddell (5-10, 187) Oakland CB Jason Webster (5-9, 187) New England CB Stanley Wilson (5-11, 189) Detroit CB Eugene Wilson (5-10, 195) Tampa Bay CB Andre Woolfolk (6-2, 197) New York Jets
FS Will Allen (6-1, 200) Tampa Bay FS Oshiomogho Atogwe (5-11, 210) St. Louis FS Rashad Baker (5-10, 198) Oakland FS C.C. Brown (6-0, 208) Houston FS Mike Brown (5-10, 207) Chicago FS Jarrod Cooper (6-1, 215) Oakland FS Chris Crocker (5-11, 192) Miami FS Brian Dawkins (6-0, 210) Philadelphia FS Vincent Fuller (6-1, 190) Tennessee FS Renaldo Hill (5-11, 190) Miami FS Terrence Holt (6-2, 204) Carolina FS Jim Leonhard (5-8, 190) Baltimore FS John Lynch (6-2, 220) Denver FS Marlon McCree (5-11, 202) Denver FS Jon McGraw (6-3, 208) Kansas City FS Gerald Sensabaugh (6-0, 218) Jacksonville FS Tank Williams (6-3, 223) New England
SS Blue Adams (5-10, 187) Cincinnati SS Gary Baxter (6-2, 210) Cleveland SS Yeremiah Bell (6-0, 200) Eastern Kentucky SS Michael Boulware (6-3, 220) Minnesota SS Jerome Carter (5-11, 219) St. Louis SS Oliver Celestin (6-0, 207) Arizona SS Sean Considine (6-0, 212) Philadelphia SS Curome Cox (6-1, 204) Houston SS Glenn Earl (6-1, 215) Houston SS Nick Ferguson (5-11, 201) Houston SS Matt Giordano (5-11, 200) Indianapolis SS Mike Green (6-0, 200) Seattle SS Rodney Harrison (6-1, 220) New England SS Artrell Hawkins (5-10, 195) New York Jets SS Sean Jones (6-1, 225) Cleveland SS Brandon McGowan (5-11, 207) Chicago SS Lawyer Milloy (6-0, 210) Atlanta SS Jermaine Phillips (6-2, 220) Tampa Bay SS Pierson Prioleau (5-11, 188) Jacksonville SS J.R. Reed (5-11, 202) Philadelphia SS James Sanders (5-10, 210) New England SS Darren Sharper (6-2, 210) Minnesota
One player that isn't included on this list is Baltimore S Ed Reed, who is under contract with the Ravens through 2012. However, Reed's base salary is scheduled to increase from $600,000 in 2008 to $3.6 million in 2009, which means the Ravens might not be able to afford him and sign other key free agents. If Reed were to become available, Tampa Bay might be interested, but the team is not willing to overpay for players, even ones as good as Reed. To view some of Reed's highlights, click here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOxBmg9SCbE
Bucs Top 5 Free Agents CB Phillip Buchanon – Buchanon has 16 career interceptions, including five as a Buccaneer. He played well as a starter alongside Barber while Brian Kelly missed most of last season due to injury. The Bucs have been attempting to sign Buchanon to a long-term contract all offseason, but to no avail. Buchanon will have continue to generate turnovers and defend the run in order to make the most of free agency should he hit the open market. At 27, Buchanon certainly appears to be worth investing in, but both sides have to agree on what he is worth. Click here to view highlights of Buchanon. CB Nnamdi Asomugha – If the Bucs are unable to sign Buchanon to a long-term deal and the Raiders do not slap the franchise tag on Asomugha again in 2009, consider Tampa Bay extremely interested in signing the former first-round draft pick. Bucs general manager Bruce Allen drafted Asomugha, 27, in 2003 and probably wouldn't mind being reunited with a talent like Asomugha, who has nine career interceptions and is considered a physical player and balanced cornerback. These highlights certainly support that description of Asomugha. CB Chris Gamble – If the Bucs defense doesn't generate more turnovers this year and loses Buchanon to free agency it could be interested in signing Gamble. Gamble is a turnover machine, evidenced by his 17 career interceptions (two touchdowns) in four seasons with the Panthers. The former Ohio State standout also has some punt return ability. However, the concern the Bucs could have regarding Gamble is the fact that his last name is a fitting description for how he plays cornerback, and sometimes he gets beat by opposing wide receivers because he gambles too often.
SS Brandon McGowan – If Tampa Bay can't re-sign Allen, it still would like to keep the safety position deep. That's why the Bucs could target McGowan, who is entering his fourth year as a backup in Chicago, but has received significant playing time due to Bears S Mike Brown's history of injuries. McGowan started nine games for Chicago last season. McGowan plays in a system that is similar to the Tampa 2, and he notched his first two career interceptions last year. In addition to playing safety, McGowan would have to make an immediate impact on Tampa Bay's special teams if the Bucs were to seriously consider signing him.
SS J.R. Reed – A fomer fourth-round draft pick, Reed turned in an impressive rookie season in 2004 as Philadelphia's primary kickoff returner. However, a freak injury during the 2005 offseason threatened Reed's career due to nerve damage that affected the use of his lower leg and foot. Reed was released by the Eagles in 2006 and played with St. Louis and Atlanta before re-joining Philadelphia before the start of the 2007 regular season. Reed played in 15 games (three starts) and averaged 22.6 yards per kickoff return in ‘07. There's no guarantee Reed will make Philadelphia's 53-man roster this year, but whether he becomes available this year or in 2009, the Bucs could be interested in signing the former South Florida product if they feel he can add depth to the safety position while making an impact on special teams as a cover man and/or returner.
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