Bucs gets defensive, add DE Johnson, DT McDonald, CB Verner
Defensive help is coming fast for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The headline additions: Defensive end Michael Johnson and cornerback Alterraun Verner.
On the first afternoon of free agency Tuesday, they agreed to terms with Johnson, formerly of the Cincinnati Bengals, on a five-year deal. The 27-year-old was a primary target for new coach Lovie Smith and new general manager Jason Licht in their attempt to re-make a defensive line that was part of a unit that only produced 35 sacks last season — tied for 23rd in the league.
Then Tuesday night, they agreed to terms with Verner on a reported four-year deal. The four-year veteran has 288 tackles with 11 interceptions and two forced fumbles. The 25-year-old spent the past four seasons with the Tennessee Titans, and he appeared in the Pro Bowl after last season after earning a career-high five interceptions.
Also arriving will be former Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Clinton McDonald in a four-year deal. A five-year veteran, he has spent the past three seasons with Seattle after making his NFL debut with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2009. McDonald has 99 career tackles with 5 ½ sacks, three passes defensed and one interception in 52 games.
McDonald, 27, could be paired with defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who’s growing into a franchise face after appearing in his second Pro Bowl last season. McDonald figures to provide competition for incumbent Akeem Spence, a rookie last year who had 29 tackles in 16 games.
Johnson’s addition, though, is intriguing. Since Smith’s arrival, the coach has said his defense requires pressure up front to be effective. Bucs defensive ends were lacking in that category last year, with Adrian Clayborn (six sacks), Da’Quan Bowers (one) and Daniel Te’o-Nesheim (one) not producing enough for Smith’s liking.
No Bucs player has earned at least 10 sacks in a season since former defensive end Simeon Rice produced 14 in 2005.
Johnson should offer an immediate upgrade. He was one of the most coveted defensive free agents for a reason, his youth and agility both assets. A five-year veteran, the Georgia Tech product has 202 tackles, 26 ½ sacks, 25 passes defensed and three forced fumbles. His career-high 11 ½ sacks occurred in 2012, but he only had 3 ½ last season.
Johnson’s potential signing clouds the future of Clayborn and Bowers. Both could be moved to reserve roles, though nothing figures to be decided soon.
In other defensive news, linebacker Dane Fletcher, a four-year veteran who has played for the New England Patriots since entering the league as an undrafted free agent, is scheduled to visit the Bucs, per multiple reports. The 27-year-old has 81 tackles, four sacks and three forced fumbles in his career.
In addition, cornerback Charles Tillman, an 11-year veteran who played under Smith with the Chicago Bears, is planning to visit Tampa, per multiple reports. He could be a possible replacement for Darrelle Revis, who’s expected to be traded or released by 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Meanwhile, also on Tuesday, there were developments in the Bucs’ attempt to improve their offense. They signed tight end Brandon Myers to a two-year deal, and coveted free agent quarterback Josh McCown is scheduled to make his first free-agent visit to Tampa.
McCown, meanwhile, is scheduled to make visits with the Bucs, Houston Texans and New York Jets — in that order. The 34-year-old, 11-year veteran had a breakout season last year for the Chicago Bears as Jay Cutler’s replacement, throwing for 1,829 yards with 13 touchdowns and only one interception.
The Bucs are searching for strong competition for incumbent Mike Glennon, and McCown would be a prime pickup for Smith and Licht.