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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.
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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