Bucs’ free-agent wish list: Defensive end, quarterback and return help

In need of improving their pass rush, the Buccaneers might target defensive end Jared Allen in free agency. Allen has been a five-time Pro Bowler and four-time first-team All-Pro in 10 years with the Chiefs and Vikings.

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TAMPA, Fla. — ‘Tis the time for free-agency wish lists. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers should be prepared to spend, spend, spend.

Expect the Bucs to be active shoppers with many holes to fill. Concentration should be paid to improving the talent at defensive end, but there are other needs, as well.

Adding a quarterback. Securing a true return threat. Improving depth at wide receiver.

Coach Lovie Smith’s Tampa Bay tenure is two months old, and it’s almost time to transition from evaluation to shaping the roster.

"Of course we’re going to start evaluating our roster and seeing exactly what we have and seeing exactly what direction we need to go, whether it’s with the draft, free agency," Smith said in January. "There are a lot of good football players out there, and we’re going to draw on all of our experiences — from my time in Chicago and all of the other coaches."

Here’s a look at five players the Bucs could target in free agency when the new league year opens next Tuesday:

1. DE JARED ALLEN

Little FA market value with Bucs ties

The 10-year veteran is a five-time Pro Bowl player and a four-time first-team All-Pro. He has 554 career tackles, 128.5 sacks, 29 forced fumbles and 17 fumble recoveries. He has produced double-digit sack seasons each year since 2007, and he had a career-high 22 in 2011.

Why he’s valuable: Allen is a proven asset in this league. There’s little reason to think he wouldn’t perform at the same level for Tampa Bay as he showed with the Kansas City Chiefs and Minnesota Vikings in earlier years. In Smith’s defensive scheme, pressure is crucial, and Allen would fit the need well.

Why the Bucs need him: Hello, where’s the edge rush? The Bucs are in dire need of a defensive end who can make a quarterback’s life miserable. Adrian Clayborn has 13.5 sacks combined in his first three years in the league, and Da’Quan Bowers (5.5 sacks in three years) has been a disaster. An upgrade must come fast.

What he could cost: He won’t come cheap. Allen had a base salary of $14,280,612 with the Vikings last season that included a $2,583,344 signing bonus. Still, he would be worth the investment to bolster an anemic Bucs pass rush that only produced 35 sacks last season, which was tied for 23rd in the league.

2. QB JOSH McCOWN

A journeyman throughout much of his nine-year NFL career, he received a break last season when he performed well with the Chicago Bears in Jay Cutler’s absence. He threw for 1,829 yards with 13 touchdowns and one interception in eight games. His 66.5 completion percentage was a career high.

Why he’s valuable: Competition at quarterback is always key, and there’s no way Tampa Bay should enter the upcoming season with Dan Orlovsky as Mike Glennon’s lone threat. McCown, 34, is a well-traveled veteran who could push Glennon for the starting job. Any time someone throws 13 touchdowns to only one interception, that’s worth digging a little deeper.

Why the Bucs need him: Is Glennon the answer? That remains an open-ended question. Signing McCown would bring more depth to the position as well as give the Bucs greater clarity behind center.

What he could cost: He should be relatively inexpensive. He played last season with a base salary of $840,000 with a $25,000 signing bonus. He can expect a healthy bump in his bank account because the NFL overvalues quarterbacks.

He’s a two-time Pro Bowl player and a one-time All-Pro. Known for his knack for creating turnovers, he has 13 forced fumbles combined the past two seasons. An 11-year veteran, he has 36 career interceptions.

Bucs positional analysis

Why he’s valuable: Perhaps Darrelle Revis will be dealt to an over-eager bidder. Or perhaps the new regime won’t think Johnthan Banks is the answer as the team’s No. 2 cornerback. Whatever the case, Tillman could create defensive opportunity for the Bucs.

Why the Bucs need him: Tillman could be a guy to bring more versatility to an already strong secondary. Revis — if he stays — owns his lockdown reputation for a reason. Tillman would fit in well with Smith’s vision because of his background with the coach.

What he could cost: He could be costly. He made a base salary of $7.95 million last season. In the coming weeks, he could command north of $9 million a year.

4. KR DEVIN HESTER

He’s a three-time Pro Bowl player and a four-time All-Pro. Rightly so, he has earned a reputation as one of the most dynamic return men in the league. He will be a game-breaker for any team that signs him.

Why he’s valuable: Games can be won on special teams, and Hester provides that ability. Given the Bucs’ offensive struggles last season, they could use a proven threat in the return game.

Why the Bucs need him: Their return game has been invisible of late. Why not invest in someone who can win games with the right crease and a little space? Hester provides that option.

What he could cost: Expect to pay more than $2 million a year. Last season, he made a base salary of $1,857,523 with an $833,333 signing bonus. He’d be worth the cost, though.

5. WR DEXTER McCLUSTER

In a short time, he has established himself as a versatile threat with his speed and mobility. He has 1,500 yards receiving with five touchdowns in four NFL seasons, but he has become known for his threat in the return game. A one-time Pro Bowl player, he had a career-best 686 return yards with two touchdowns last season.

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Why he’s valuable: Like Hester, he could win games with the right opening. Who wouldn’t want such a player on their roster? He’s valuable in more ways than one.

Why the Bucs need him: Tampa Bay shouldn’t settle for being invisible during kick returns any more. Time to sign a difference-maker. Time to make an impact in the area.

What he could cost: He would be cheaper than Hester. Last season, he made $630,000 in base salary with a $560,000 signing bonus. He’d be a more economical option.

FINAL THOUGHT

Signing all five of these players is unrealistic, but securing two or three could make a big difference leading into Smith’s first season. The first priority should be bolstering the defense by signing a proven asset at defensive end. From there, adding a competitor for Glennon and improving the return game should be interests.

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.