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Bucs' offseason shopping converges in Indy
GM Bruce Allen will observe potential picks, talk to potential free agents.
By Rick Stroud, Times Staff Writer
Published February 21, 2008
Earnest Graham, who is scheduled to make $605,000 this season, is talking to the Bucs about a new contract.
[Brian Cassella | Times]
INDIANAPOLIS - This year, general manager Bruce Allen is looking for players to help the Bucs reload rather than rebuild.
The combine is the place where the draft and free agency collide. So Allen and his staff will be busy evaluating the 333 players invited to display their talents at the RCA Dome while meeting with representatives of veterans who potentially will become unrestricted free agents Feb. 29.
After finishing 9-7 (a five-win improvement from 2006),winning a third NFC South title in the past six seasons under coach Jon Gruden then losing in the first round of the playoffs, the Bucs want to add layers to the foundation constructed last offseason.
There are several fronts Allen will attack at once, and the Bucs are well-armed at nearly $30-million under the salary cap.
"As we unfortunately got to experience last year due to injuries, we're hoping to address every position," Allen said. "We've got about 60 players under contract, and we're hoping to add to that and bring 80 to training camp."
A look at the areas the Bucs will begin to address when the combine begins today.
Beginning at home
Running back Earnest Graham saved the season after Cadillac Williams and Michael Pittman went out with injuries.
He has one year remaining on a contract that will pay him $605,000, essentially the league minimum for a player with his experience. He likely will get more after rushing for 898 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.
Allen will meet with Graham's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, to continue talks on a new deal. The Bucs have re-signed Michael Bennett, likely meaning the end of Pittman's career in Tampa Bay.
The Bucs could target a free agent such as the Chargers' Michael Turner, but his price tag could be too steep. A more likely solution is to draft a running back such as Ray Rice of Rutgers or Chris Johnson of East Carolina in the early rounds.
Allen also needs to decide on bringing back center John Wade, cornerback Sammy Davis and tight end Jerramy Stevens. All likely will hit the free-agent market. Wade, 33, is entering his 11th season, and the Bucs would like to upgrade the position.
Allen is expected to tender contracts to linebacker Antoine Cash, defensive tackle Jovan Haye, safety Kalvin Pearson,tackle Donald Penn, receiver/kick returner Micheal Spurlock, defensive end Greg White, fullback Byron Storer and long-snapper Andrew Economos.
That allows the Bucs to match outside offers and receive compensation if they leave.
Free agent bonanza
Officially, the free-agent signing period doesn't begin until Feb. 29.
But Allen has started the process and will meet with the agents for former Falconsdefensive tackle Rod Coleman and tight end Alge Crumpler in Indianapolis. Crumpler has drawn interest from 11 teams.
Today is the deadline for teams to designate franchise players, so the free-agent galaxy will have fewer stars.
"The list of people who will get franchised is fairly predictable," Allen said. "There's been no surprise so far. We projected that list some time ago. Since January, we've been doing our free-agent work, and the last few weeks, we've turned our focus to the draft and concentrating on the field reviews.
"The free-agent list is going to look a lot different on Feb. 28. Thirty percent of the players on there now will re-sign with their teams."
The Bucs have said they want more playmakers on offense, especially at receiver. Joey Galloway will be 37. Ike Hilliard will be 32. Michael Clayton has never returned to his rookie form, and Maurice Stovall finished the season on injured reserve.
The list of available veterans grows daily. The Bears' Bernard Berrian could be the most coveted if he isn't franchised. Allen also might consider trading for the Broncos' Javon Walker, the Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald or the Lions' Roy Williams.
Defensively, the Bucs might want to think about adding another corner with the departure of Brian Kelly, who exercised a buyout to void the final year of his contract. Bengals defensive end Justin Smith, who was not franchised, also will draw the Bucs' interest.
"We're able to take any phone call ... whether it's a free agent or a trade," Allen said. "Fitting them into our system will be a hard question for us to answer."
Rookie job fair
Workouts are important, but just as valuable are the medical evaluations and face-to-face meetings with prospective draft picks.
The Bucs own the No. 20 overall choice. So it will be hard to project who will be available.
Virginia defensive end Chris Long, Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long, Arkansas running back Darren McFadden, Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan, LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey and Southern Cal defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis are considered the consensus top six.
Many players in the draft have caught the Bucs' eye, including Arizona's Antoine Cason, the Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nation's top defensive back who needs to run a good 40-yard time to solidify a spot in the first round. The Bucs also quietly covet San Diego quarterback Josh Johnson.
When/where: Today-Tuesday; Indianapolis
The skinny: As NFL.com puts it, a "job fair." Invited players eligible for the NFL draft go through drills, tests and interviews.
TV: Among its other coverage, the NFL Network will air workouts Saturday-Tuesday starting at 11 a.m.