15 free agents that make sense to the Bucs

While the Bucs weren’t expected to be very active in free agency due to salary cap restrictions, they’ve been anything but. Re-signing core defenders Lavonte David and Jamel Dean and key reserves Anthony Nelson, Patrick O’Connor and Deadrin Senat to name a few were just part of the equation to keep the roster competitive. With the outside additions of quarterback Baker Mayfield, running back Chase Edmonds, defensive tackle Greg Gaines and most recently kicker Chase McLaughlin, the team has shown that they are still looking to win in 2023.

The Bucs are currently at about 60 players on the roster, well below the 90-man off-season limit. And while that number will be supplemented by draft picks and a bevy of undiscovered free agents, the team will need a few more free agents to complete the roster. While free agency has been underway for nearly two weeks, there are still plenty of capable veterans who can make an impact on the team in the 2023 season.

Wide receiver

Chiefs WR Byron Pringle – Photo by: USA Today

The Bucs top their depth chart with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, and Russell Gage back after a pay cut. However, behind them are the unproven Kaylon Geiger and Deven Thompkins. The Bucs need to bring more talent and depth to the position, and there are plenty of cost-effective options on the market.

The Bucs could also look to the middle rounds of the draft to tackle the position, with Nebraska’s Trey Palmer gaining a lot of steam as a potential option. Palmer was featured in the recent Pewter Report 7-Round Bucs Mock Draft.

However, if the Bucs tap into the free agent market, former Chief and Tampa resident Byron Pringle can mean a lot. Pringle left Kansas City for the Bears last season, and things didn’t turn out the way either side expected. A strong run blocker, Pringle was limited to just 11 games due to injury. He posted just 10 receptions for 135 yards and two scores, following a season of 42 catches, 568 yards, and five touchdowns in 2021.

If the Bucs are looking for a mostly outside option, Ravens receiver Demarcus Robinson could intrigue them. After four seasons with the Chiefs, Robinson signed a one-year contract with the Raven, where he caught a career-high 48 passes for 458 yards and two touchdowns.

Finally, another option the Bucs could look at is slot receiver Chris Moore. Last season with the Texans, Moore racked up 48 receptions for 548 yards and two touchdowns. With injuries to starters Brandin Cooks and Nico Collins, Moore stepped down and started seven games for Houston.

Tight end

In what is considered one of the deepest tight end drafts in recent years, the Bucs could very well dive in, even after putting two players in the position last year. Prospects like Iowa’s Sam LaPorta, Old Dominion’s Zach Kuntz, and Cincinnati’s Josh Whyle could fit the bill as additions to the roster. But with the release of Cam Brate, the room is missing a veteran.

There aren’t many cheap options in free agency with perks, but former Bengals tight end Mitchell Wilcox could be a good fit. Although Wilcox has only been in the league for three years, he spent two of those under the coaching of Zac Robinson, who hails from the McVay coaching tree.

Dave Canales will certainly lead a ton of 12 staff who has two tight ends. It may be helpful to have a young veteran familiar with a similar system. Wilcox finished the 2022 season with 17 receptions for 131 yards and a scoring while adding a respectable 64.8 blocking rating from PFF.

Offensive tackle

Tennessee Rt. Darnell Wright

Tennessee RT Darnell Wright – Photo by: USA Today

The Bucs have been mum on their plans to tackle this offseason after releasing longtime veteran Donovan Smith. Currently, they don’t have many internal options on the roster either. The team will certainly contribute to this position – probably in design and possibly in free agency. The Bucs need a starter to play against Tristan Wirfs, as well as a backup to replace Josh Wells.

Last year’s second round Luke Goedke is an option at right tackle if Wirfs moves to the left. But there has been speculation that the Bucs could field a tackle in the first round. The two most talked about prospects are Tennessee’s Darnell Wright replacing Wirfs at right tackle, or Oklahoma’s Anton Harrison manning the left side as Smith’s replacement.

If the team turns to free agency, former Broncos tackle Cameron Fleming is a good fit. Fleming started 15 games for the Broncos last season, including nine at right tackle and six at left tackle. He finished the season with an overall block grade of 72.6 from Pro Football Focus and has 61 career starts.

Another option is former Patriots tackle Isaiah Wynn. After tackling left for the first three seasons, Wynn made the switch to right tackle this season. While results haven’t been the best in his seven starts, the 27-year-old would be a solid addition as a backup swing tackle. He also started a game at left guard.

Outside Linebacker

Bucs Olb Carl Nassib

Bucs OLB Carl Nassib – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Even after bringing back Anthony Nelson and Cam Gill, the Bucs still need to add to the passing rush this offseason, with an emphasis on getting faster. While the best way to achieve that will be with young talent throughout the draft, they can look to the free agent market to bolster the space. The team is also not ruling out Carl Nassib’s return as some uncertainty remains as to when Shaq Barrett will be able to return after an Achilles tendon injury early last season.

If the Bucs choose to go the veteran route, there are a few players who could be of interest. Kyle Van Noy, who spent last season with the Chargers, has the versatility Bowles covets in his defensemen. He finished last season with 46 tackles, eight tackles for loss, five sacks on 32 pressure points, and a force fumble in 15 starts.

Bowles would also look forward to a reunion with Cardinals edge rusher Markus Golden, whom he coached at Arizona. Golden finished 2022 with 48 tackles, seven tackles for loss, and four sacks on 46 pressures in 14 starts.

If the Bucs are looking for a young resurrection project like they did with Shaq Barrett a few years ago, they could target another Shaq in Shaq Lawson. The former Bills first-round pick finished last season with four sacks on 20 total pressures. He started six games in 2022 with 31 tackles, six for a loss and a forced fumble.

Another player they could look at is Texan Rasheem Green. Only 25, Green finished last season with five sacks on 26 total pressures. At six feet tall and weighing 295 pounds, he brings out a great size. He picked up 42 tackles, including five tackles for loss in 2022.

Inside Linebacker

The Bucs will return both starters to the position after pinning Lavonte David to a one-year contract. However, the team has largely unknowns behind it. KJ Britt has been a key special teamer but has not shown himself to be reliable or good when pushed into a starting role.

While the draft isn’t full of impact starters at the position the Bucs don’t need this season. Mid-round selections like Auburn’s Owen Pappoe or Jackson State’s Aubrey Miller Jr. would fill the need for an upward backup.

But if the Bucs were looking at Free Agency Cardinals, linebacker Ben Nieman could make a lot of sense. He is only 27 years old and recorded 43 percent of defense shots for Arizona in 2022. Perhaps his best attribute is his tackling, with a tackle rating of 90.3. Nieman finished with a total of 70 tackles, with only one missed tackle all season, and a fumble to recover. He is also a true special teamer with 181 snaps and two special team tackles.


Bucs S Keanu Neal

Bucs S Keanu Neal – Photo by: USA Today

Of course, there’s still the possibility of the Bucs bringing back Logan Ryan or Keanu Neal, the team could also look outside the building for an upgrade. After a year in motion, Tampa Bay could look for a more traditional strong security with some versatility. Neal played admirably when thrust into a starting role and came up with several big plays, but also allowed more than his fair share.

If the Bucs aren’t looking at the draft with the likes of the aforementioned Branch, or Florida State’s Jammie Robinson or Illinois’ Sidney Brown, they could turn their attention to free agency and target John Johnson III.

Johnson was released by the Browns earlier in the off-season, but has not fully lived up to the expensive contract he received three years ago. He’s still a tackle machine, though, with 101 stops last season. He had a bad year and has been playing more free safety lately but has the versatility that Bowles loves at the back.

Although a bit older at 32, Rodney McLeod was quietly one of the top box safeties in football for the Colts last season. Per PFF, he was the second best cover safety, with a grade of 85.3 and finished as the seventh best overall safety, with a grade of 80.1.

The veteran finished the 2022 campaign with 15 starts and 96 tackles, five for losses, eight pass deflections and two interceptions. Including one for a touchdown. He has enough versatility to move into secondary and also plays on several special teams, recording three tackles last season.

Corner back

Bucs head coach Todd Bowles

Bucs head coach Todd Bowles – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

With the outside locked by Carlton Davis III and Jamel Dean, the Bucs really need a corner kick. Bowles reiterated at the NFL Annual Meeting that Antoine Winfield Jr. will play strictly free safety this season. While the draft is deep in the cornerback position this year, most of the top prospects are outside guys. There are also few hybrid protections, the most popular being the Brian Branch in Alabama.

After spending last season with the Chargers, Bryce Callahan has yet to find a home. He has been a regular corner kicker over the years, finishing last season with 46 tackles and three interceptions. Another player they could consider is Troy Hill. Last season with the Rams, Hill collected 67 tackles and an interception. He played more on the outside in 2022 but is a solid defender and recorded two sacks while playing mostly out of the slot in 2021.

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