The Tampa Bay Buccaneers found themselves at the bottom of the league after a disappointing 3-13 season. Still, they are one of the youngest teams in the league and they showed potential against some tough opponents.
Having locked up their franchise quarterback, the focus of this off-season will be giving him the tools he needs to succeed. If they can lock up some playmakers for Josh Freeman to throw to, they could surprise some people in 2010.
The Bucs do have some decisions to make concerning a couple of their key players. Antonio Bryant (UFA) and Carnell Willliams (RFA) are both set to be free agents this off-season. Both guys have been productive when healthy, but their health has been a very big issue throughout their careers. Tampa Bay will take a wait and see approach with Bryant, so he may or may not be back with the team. I think most clubs will shy away from Carnell Williams given his injury history, so he will most likely be back with the Bucs.
On the defensive side of the ball, Tampa Bay needs to figure out what they're going to do with Barrett Ruud. Ruud is a restricted free agent this year, and he has been vastly underpaid given his production. The Buccaneers do have some cap room, so I expect that the two sides will work out a long term deal sometime this off-season.
Take a look at the rest of Tampa Bay's free agents after the jump...
WR Antonio Bryant (UFA) - Bryant followed up a great 2008 with an injury plagued 2009. The Bucs are not expected to use the franchise tag on him so he will hit the open market. Tampa Bay may still decide to offer him a contract if the price is right.
WR Brian Clark (RFA) - Clark has been solely on special teams throughout his career, but saw some time at wide receiver due to injuries.
DB Elbert Mack (ERFA) - Mack is diminutive in stature at only 168 lbs, but the undrafted 2nd year man spent 2009 as the Bucs nickel back.
LB Matt McCoy (RFA) - McCoy was continually released and resigned throughout 2009. He spent time on special teams as well as outside linebacker.
T Donald Penn (RFA) - Penn has started the last three seasons at left tackle for Tampa Bay. He struggled with his mobility down the stretch, and depending on what source you believe he will either be resigned or replaced with a first round draft pick.
LB Barrett Ruud (RFA) - Ruud has been one of the few bright spots for the Buccaneers, and they have had talks about a contract extension in the past. He should be a priority for Tampa Bay, and I expect the two sides will get a deal done this offseason.
RB Clifton Smith (ERFA) - Smith has excelled on both kick-off and punt returns since coming into the league, and he is expected to return to that role in 2010.
FB Byron Storer (ERFA) - Storer is still struggling to recover from an ACL injury.
WR Maurice Stovall (RFA) - Stovall has not gotten many opportunities in the Bucs offense, but when he has he hasn't made the most of them.
T Jeremy Trueblood (RFA)
DL Jimmy Wilkerson (UFA) - Wilkerson had a career high 6 sacks in 2009, but if he returns to Tampa Bay he may have to accept a backup role behind fourth round pick Kyle Moore. He was forced to undergo ACL surgery in mid-January.
RB Carnell Williams (RFA) - Williams has proven to be a versatile and productive back, but his injury history should scare away other teams looking for a starting running back. Tampa Bay should be able to keep Cadillac with a cheap tender offer.
LB Rodriques Wilson (RFA) - Wilson has been limited to special teams during his tenure with the Bucs.
Defensive Tackle - Tampa Bay needs help along the defensive line. They are not very stout against the run, and a big body in the middle of their line would go a long way towards shoring up their porous run defense. Having an effective defensive tackle will also create more space for middle linebacker Barrett Ruud to run to the football.
Defensive End - The Buccaneers also need to find a way to get more pressure on the quarterback. When you play the Tampa 2 defensive scheme, you are relying on your front four to disrupt your opponent's offense. Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, their front four has not been able to get consistent pressure. Look for them to acquire a pass rusher to fill in at the defensive end position and get after the quarterback.
Wide Receiver - The re-emergence of Kellen Winslow has been a pleasant surprise, but the Bucs still need a number one wide receiver. Antonio Bryant is a nice player, but even if they bring him back he is better suited for a number two role. Quarterback Josh Freeman has a very strong arm, so it would make sense for them to bring in a guy with speed who can stretch the field and make big plays.
Cornerback - Ronde Barber is getting up there in age, and as of right now there is no heir apparent in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers are set with Aqib Talib on one side of the field, but they need to find someone who can take over for Barber when he decides to hang up his cleats.
Safety - Adding an impact safety would help every facet of the Buccaneers defense. Obviously, it is very difficult to find those types of players so they may end up just adding depth at the position.
Offensive Line - Tampa Bay's offense line was much maligned in '09, but the unit as a good chance to rebound next year. A lot of their struggles were due to poor quarterback play and with the continued progression of Josh Freeman, that will hopefully not be an issue for much longer. Still, you can never have too many good linemen so I expect they will at least try to add some depth.
Buccaneers fans cannot be happy with the way their team has played the past few years, but the team did show some progress in 2009. Tampa Bay managed to beat both the Packers and the Saints so while the wins were few and far between, at least they were of a high quality.
If they are going to continue to improve the Bucs will need to shore up their offensive and defensive lines, as well as add some playmakers on offense.
The team has committed to Josh Freeman as their franchise quarterback, and so far that looks like a pretty wise move. If they can give him some more dynamic targets to get the ball to, they could have the makings of a pretty special offense.
As he plays more he will hopefully be able to make quicker decisions with the football, which will in turn help his offensive line. I think Tampa Bay would do wise to take a wait and see approach with the line. They don't necessarily need to go out and pick up a big name player, instead they should give the unit a chance to gel and add some depth to increase competition.
On defense it's all about getting more consistency from their front seven. Nobody on that front, besides Ruud, is very good against the run so the Bucs should be in the market for nearly every run stopper available. Defensive linemen are valuable assets for NFL teams, so this may be an area that they address via the draft rather than in free agency.
The same can be said for the cornerback position. Tampa Bay doesn't necessarily need to add another starter in 2010, but they would do well to pick up a young corner that can come in and play nickel while Barber finishes up his career.
If you were the Bucs, what would you do with Carnell Williams? Do you think they should bring back Antonio Bryant? What kind of contract do you think Barrett Ruud deserves? Which Tampa Bay free agents would you want on the 49ers?