Bucs early free agency moves a mixed bag
TAMPA, Fla. — One week has passed, and gifts have been granted. If free agency is like the NFL’s Christmas, then the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should have mixed feelings about what left and what landed in their facility.
The good: The Bucs inked a marquee secondary signing. Dashon Goldson is a proven pro who offers a needed boost at safety. He’s agile at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, and at 28 years old, he has the chance to be an asset at One Buccaneer Place for years.
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The bad: The Bucs let a proven pass rusher go elsewhere. Defensive end Michael Bennett became miffed by what he viewed as Tampa Bay not giving him his proper due. Rather than allowing the Bucs to match an offer from the Seattle Seahawks, Bennett took his services to what has become one of the NFL’s most competitive divisions.
There remain holes to be filled, contracts to be signed and futures to be learned, though. One week down. Let the giving continue.
Dashon Goldson (safety, unrestricted) – The two-time Pro Bowl player signed a five-year deal worth $41.25 million. He spent his first six seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, earning 443 tackles, three sacks and 14 interceptions.
LeGarrette Blount (running back, restricted) – The former-starter-turned-backup signed a one-year deal worth $1.75 million. He has played three NFL seasons, all with the Bucs, but he rushed for a career-low 151 yards with two touchdowns on 41 carries behind rookie Doug Martin last season.
Tom Crabtree (tight end, unrestricted) – The three-year pro signed a two-year deal worth $1.6 million. His previous time in the NFL was spent with the Green Bay Packers, with whom he had 18 catches for 302 yards and four touchdowns.
Kevin Ogletree (wide receiver, unrestricted) – The four-year pro signed a two-year deal worth $2.6 million. In his time with the Dallas Cowboys, he had 57 catches for 730 yards and four touchdowns.
Daniel Te’o-Nesheim (defensive end, restricted) – The three-year pro was given the lowest restricted free-agent tender, worth $1.323 million. The former Philadelphia Eagles player appeared in a career-high 16 games last season, with 14 starts, and earned 39 tackles and four sacks.
Jonathan Casillas (linebacker, unrestricted) – The four-year pro signed a one-year deal worth $1.4 million. In his previous time in the NFL, all with the New Orleans Saints, he earned 85 tackles and three sacks in 38 games.
Michael Bennett (defensive end, unrestricted) – The four-year pro signed a one-year deal worth $5 million with the Seahawks. He had 98 tackles and 15 sacks – including a career-high nine last year – after joining the Bucs during the 2009 season.
Jeremy Trueblood (offensive tackle, unrestricted) – The seven-year pro reached an undisclosed agreement with the Washington Redskins. The move unites him with former Bucs general manager Bruce Allen, who drafted him in the second round – 59th overall – in 2006.
Roy Miller (defensive tackle, unrestricted) – The four-year pro signed a two-year deal worth $4.5 million with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He had 140 tackles with three sacks in 62 games after the Bucs selected him in the third round – 81st overall – in 2009.
There are many things to like about Goldson, a two-time Pro Bowl player. He brings a hard, physical style from San Francisco that should add edge to a secondary that lacked the trait a season ago. Fitting with his nickname, “The Hawk,” he has shown an eye for the ball, earning 14 interceptions in his career, including a combined nine over the past two years.
The Bucs needed to make a headline signing in the secondary. They accomplished that with Goldson, who was given the full-court-press treatment with a private jet flown to California to carry him to Tampa before agreeing to terms. It will be interesting to see him work alongside young safety Mark Barron, who had 88 tackles and one interception as a rookie. The pair has the potential to create a hard-knocks duo deep down the field. With time, the attitude could translate to the rest of the defense.
Why let Bennett leave so easily? He entered free agency as one of the Bucs’ top defensive talents, and Seattle was eager to scoop him up in a one-year deal that adds to an NFC West arms race between the Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers. He’s a player on the rise: His tackle and sack totals have increased each year, and he proved formidable last season in leading the Bucs with nine sacks. (No other player had more than defensive tackle Gerald McCoy’s five. Overall, Tampa Bay had 27. )
Before free agency, Bennett had said he would give the Bucs a chance to match any offer he received from a potential suitor. But that turned out not to be the case, after Bennett felt slighted by what he perceived to be Tampa Bay’s lack of interest. The Bucs will still be strong up front – they led the league in rush defense last season by allowing an average of 82.5 yards per game – but losing Bennett weakens the unit.
Has the biggest weakness been addressed?
Not completely. Goldson is a strong signing, but the cornerback situation remains unaddressed. Certainly, trading for Darrelle Revis would appease the Twitterverse, but the Bucs must ask themselves serious questions before committing to what would be a costly agreement: Is the four-time Pro Bowl player’s left ACL going to hold? How much more elite production can he give? Is he worth the unknowns as this point?
All are valid questions, but this fact stands: The Bucs are running out of options at their weakest area. The market for free-agent cornerbacks has dwindled, and E.J. Biggers and Brandon McDonald remain unsigned. The draft is an option. But if Revis doesn’t fit into the picture, the Bucs may as well re-sign Biggers – who played well in Aqib Talib’s absence last season – and search for other ways to bolster depth. As their situation stands, the Bucs have a long way to go to make significant gains to patch a pass defense that allowed a league-worst 297.4 yards per game last season.
What’s still out there?
More answers to the Bucs’ pass-defense woes. Currently, there are many unknowns: Will a trade for Revis happen? Will they re-sign Biggers and/or McDonald? What will become of 16-year veteran Ronde Barber?
Goldson’s addition suggests that Barber’s time at Tampa Bay may be coming to an end. The Bucs could use Barber’s veteran leadership again, but it won’t be a big surprise if he chooses not to return. On the other side of the ball, the future of 10-year veteran tight end Dallas Clark is up in the air as well. Both players would be welcomed back, but there’s the chance the Bucs may have to look elsewhere.
Call it a mixed bag. Gaining Goldson was a plus, but it’s curious the Bucs didn’t make a bigger move to keep Bennett. The secondary needs an answer at cornerback, thought the current free-agent market is lacking at this point. It will take some creativity either to devise a responsible trade for Revis or find a solution elsewhere.