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Tampa Bay certainly will have the salary cap room to target free agent offensive linemen in 2009.
The Bucs are scheduled to be $35 million under the league-mandated salary cap next year
However, don't look for that to be the case. Tampa Bay's offensive line has been a work in progress since head coach Jon Gruden's arrival in 2002, but this unit appears to be set for the foreseeable future.
Tampa Bay's projected starters – left tackle Luke Petitgout, left guard Arron Sears, center Jeff Faine, right guard Davin Joseph and right tackle Jeremy Trueblood – are all under contract with the Bucs in '09.
The same can be said for Donald Penn, who is competing with Petitgout for the starting left tackle spot, as well as Dan Buenning and Jeremy Zuttah, each of whom are competing for the backup center and guard jobs.
One player, Bucs G/T Anthony Davis, is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in '09, but he'll have to make this year's 53-man roster first, which is no guarantee.
With the exception of Petitgout, 32, this is a young and talented group of offensive linemen. Outside of Petitgout, Faine is the oldest starter at 27 and Sears is the youngest at just 23.
Bucs offensive line coach/offensive coordinator Bill Muir even told Pewter Report earlier this offseason that this was the best group of offensive linemen Tampa Bay has had since he was hired in '02.
The one position the Bucs could target in free agency in 2009 as it pertains to the offensive line is left tackle. Given Petitgout's age and the fact that he's coming off a partially torn ACL from last year, there's a chance the Bucs may feel they can upgrade the position, especially if Penn cannot build on his impressive performance from last year.
Listed below are the offensive linemen that are scheduled to become free agents in 2009. Don't pay too much attention to the centers and guards on this list as Tampa Bay is most likely to target tackles next year.
C Matt Birk (6-4, 308) Minnesota
C Melvin Fowler (6-3, 310) Buffalo
C Lennie Friedman (6-3, 295) Cleveland
C Eric Ghiaciuc (6-4, 300) Cincinnati
C Eric Heitmann (6-3, 318) San Francisco
C Scott Jackson (6-4, 300) Houston
C Nick Leckey (6-3, 300) St. Louis
C Matt Lehr (6-2, 304) New Orleans
C Brad Meester (6-3, 300) Jacksonville
C Tom Nien (6-,3, 286) Denver
C Chukky Okobi (6-1, 305) Houston
C Scott Peters (6-3, 312) Arizona
C Duke Preston (6-5, 326) Buffalo
C Brett Romberg (6-2, 298) St. Louis
C Grey Ruegamer (6-4, 299) New York Giants
C Jeff Saturday (6-2, 295) Indianapolis
C Chris White (6-2, 285) Houston
C Tony Wragge (6-4, 320) San Francisco
G P.J. Alexander (6-4, 297) Denver
G Stacy Andrews (6-7, 342) Cincinnati
G Joe Berger (6-5, 305) Dallas
G Elton Brown (6-5, 330) Arizona
G Jason Brown (6-3, 320) Baltimore
G Milford Brown (6-5, 330) Carolina
G Cooper Carlisle (6-5, 295) Oakland
G Anthony Davis (6-4, 322) Tampa Bay
G Toniu Fonoti (6-4, 350) Carolina
G Kynan Forney (6-3, 307) Atlanta
G Mike Goff (6-5, 311) San Diego
G Adam Goldberg (6-7, 318) St. Louis
G Chris Gray (6-4, 305) Seattle
G Geoff Hangartner (6-5, 301) Carolina
G Russ Hochstein (6-4, 305) New England
G Corey Hulsey (6-4, 325) Detroit
G Chris Kemoeatu (6-3, 344) Pittsburgh
G Pete Kendall (6-5, 292) Washington
G Evan Mathis (6-5, 305) Carolina
G Seth McKinney (6-3, 315) Cleveland
G Qasim Mitchell (6-5, 325) San Francisco
G Stephen Peterman (6-4, 323) Detroit
G Tutan Reyes (6-3, 310) Jacksonville
G Jeb Terry (6-5, 311) San Francisco
G Jason Whittle (6-4, 279) Buffalo
G Scott Young (6-4, 312) Philadelphia
T Anthony Alabi (6-5, 315) Kansas City
T Jordan Black (6-5, 310) Houston
T Vernon Carey (6-5, 335) Miami
T Kirk Chambers (6-7, 314) Buffalo
T Marc Colombo (6-8, 320) Dallas
T Trai Essex (6-4, 325) Pittsburgh
T Patrick Estes (6-7, 310) Buffalo
T Jason Fabini (6-7, 309) Washington
T George Foster (6-5, 338) Detroit
T Brandon Gorin (6-6, 308) St. Louis
T Jordan Gross (6-4, 300) Carolina
T Adrian Jones (6-5, 296) Kansas City
T Daniel Loper (6-6, 320) Tennessee
T Chad Mustard (6-6, 265) Denver
T Frank Omiyale (6-4, 310) Carolina
T Rob Petiti (6-6, 327) St. Louis
T Jon Runyan (6-7, 330) Philadelphia
T Marvel Smith (6-5, 321) Pittsburgh
T John St. Claire (6-6, 318) Chicago
T Max Starks (6-8, 337) Pittsburgh
T John Stinchcomb (6-5, 315) New Orleans
T Will Svitek (6-6, 300) Kansas City
T Mark Tauscher (6-3, 315) Green Bay
T Tra Thomas (6-7, 325) Philadelphia
T Seth Wand (6-7, 325) Oakland
T Ray Willis (6-6, 315) Seattle
T Floyd Womack (6-4, 328) Seattle
If the Bucs are looking to add competition and depth to their offensive line they will have several players to choose from, including some former Bucs players in Russ Hochstein, Toniu Fonoti, Matt Lehr, Jeb Terry, Jason Whittle and Scott Jackson. But there's a reason why the Bucs parted ways with these players in the first place.
Tampa Bay will also be in good shape as far as backups are concerned if Zuttah and Buenning progress, and either second-year G/T Chris Denman or Davis can show they're capable of providing quality depth on the 53-man roster this year.
As far as the tackle position is concerned, the Bucs could have several options in free agency in terms of landing a relatively young player with starting experience and impressive credentials.
New Orleans' Jon Stinchcomb (28), Pittsburgh's Max Starks (26), Carolina's Jordan Gross (28), Green Bay's Mark Tauscher (31) and Dallas' Marco Colombo (29) are scheduled to hit the open market in February.
The Bucs lured one Saints offensive lineman away from New Orleans in February by making Faine the highest-paid center in the league, so it would be interesting to see if the team pursued Stinchcomb as well.
However, each of these players has played right tackle for their respective teams. There's no guarantee any of them could make a successful transition from right to left tackle, as the Bucs found out the hard way with Todd Steussie.
If Tampa Bay did sign one of these veteran right tackles it could prompt the Bucs to move Trueblood over to left tackle, which is where he played and excelled at Boston College.
But Trueblood is not suited for the left tackle position at the NFL level and is just coming into his own at right tackle for the Bucs, so this move would be a risky one to say the least.
The Bucs should also have a few proven left tackles to choose from next year, including Philadelphia's Tra Thomas, Pittsburgh's Marvel Smith and Seattle's Floyd Womack.
Thomas, 33, is getting a little long in the tooth, but he's well versed in the West Coast offense, which could pique Tampa Bay's interest should the Bucs want an upgrade over Petitgout and/or Penn and believe Thomas still can play in the NFL.
Womack has significant starting experience, but he's struggled with injuries and consistency. Like Thomas, Womack does have familiarity with the West Coast offense from his playing days under Mike Holmgren in Seattle. He is also only 29 years old.
Smith has played alongside Alan Faneca in Pittsburgh, so it should be interesting to see how he fares at left tackle since the All-Pro guard left the Steelers for the Jets in free agency. If he performs well, Smith, 29, might be the most sought-after offensive lineman in free agency should he hit the market as scheduled in '09, and the Bucs likely would be one of the teams that shows serious interest in signing him.
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