The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took a big step forward in 2016, flirting with the postseason in the NFC South. Jameis Winston was a big reason for that, but the defense began to play much better late in the season, giving the Bucs a chance at the playoffs.
Coming off of a solid season, the Buccaneers are built to improve even more. They have the third-most cap space in the NFL at $68 million, so they have the money to go after the top players available in free agency. Could a safety be in the cards? What about a speedy receiver?
Here are five players they should target next week.
CB Prince Amukamara (Jaguars)
Vernon Hargreaves is sure to be one starter, as will Brent Grimes, but Tampa’s nickel package lacks talent at corner. Amukamara played well for the Jaguars on a one-year deal last season, proving he can stay healthy and be an effective cornerback. Signing Amukamara wouldn’t break the bank for Tampa Bay, but he’d be a starter from Day 1 when the Buccaneers go to their nickel defense. He’d be a smart signing as long as the contract is structured to be incentive-laden.
TE Martellus Bennett (Patriots)
Cameron Brate is coming back after his breakout season, but what’s better than one big tight end? Two big pass-catching tight ends. Bennett revived his career in New England, showing he can be a consistent threat in the passing game and a solid blocker when asked to do so. Teams are moving more towards three wide receiver sets, but having two dynamic tight ends you can deploy puts the defense in a bind. Bennett would give the Buccaneers exactly that.
DE William Gholston (Buccaneers)
Gholston isn’t a flashy re-signing, but at 25 years old and coming off his best season as a pro, it’s worth it for the Bucs to retain him. He has good potential and won’t be a high-priced free agent. The Buccaneers need pass rushers, but with not many available in free agency anymore, they’ll likely have to turn to the draft – which is a good thing. A rookie paired with Gholston and Noah Spence would give the Buccaneers a good rotation.
WR Kenny Stills (Dolphins)
Vincent Jackson’s future is uncertain, and outside of Mike Evans, the Bucs are a bit thin on talent. Stills will be one of the top free-agent receivers on the market, and while one report suggests his market is $12 million per year, that’s unlikely to happen. He’s the definition of a deep threat, but he’s also developing as a more well-rounded wideout. At 24 years old, he’ll be one of the youngest players out there and is sure to command a great deal of interest. The Bucs should make him a priority and give Jameis Winston a speedy receiver to go with Evans.
The Buccaneers’ top target of free agency was likely to be Eric Berry. He signed a long-term deal with the Chiefs, so that’s not happening. The next best option? Jefferson, who’s a terrific safety. The Buccaneers need a playmaker on the back end to pair with Bradley McDougald or a rookie draft pick. He thrives as a strong safety close to the line of scrimmage, setting the edge in the run game and covering underneath routes in the passing game. He won’t be cheap, but Jefferson would be a game-changing player for the Bucs.