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Wednesday, Oct 18, 2017
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Bucs Beat: Team to be 'involved' in free agency

TAMPA - Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik said the team will be involved in free agency this year. What everyone wants to know now: How heavily will they be involved? At this point, not even the Bucs can say for sure. New coach Greg Schiano is still in the process of hiring a staff of assistants and evaluating the talent level of the players on the roster. Until he finishes that, Schiano won't know where the biggest needs are. And until he knows where the biggest needs are, he won't be able to determine whether a free agent or a draft pick can best fill the void. That said, Dominik explained a long time ago his philosophy regarding free agency, and that explanation should give fans a good idea of the areas the Bucs are likely to target when free agency begins on March 13.
Dominik's belief is that free agency is where you go to correct mistakes you made in the draft, So, you can bet the Bucs will be looking mostly for cornerbacks, linebackers and maybe a running back. The situation at cornerback is arguably the most dire. Tampa Bay sees recent draftees E.J. Biggers and Myron Lewis as backups and the potential losses of Ronde Barber to retirement or another team and Aqib Talib to a possible suspension or jail sentence could force the team's hand. No one should be surprised then if one of the Bucs' top targets is Falcons corner Brent Grimes. At 5-foot-10 and 183 pounds, Grimes is much like Barber but, at age 29 when the season starts, still in his prime. Also, signing him would weaken a division rival. Dominik did that a year ago when he signed Falcons punter Michael Koenen. He'd do it again to an even greater degree if he lands Grimes. More importantly, he'd go a long way toward stabilizing a potentially weak position. The situation at outside linebacker is nearly as dire as cornerback, but there's a potential fix there the Bucs might explore that involves moving second-year middle linebacker Mason Foster to the weak side. Foster played all three linebacker positions at the University of Washington and, while he was drafted to play in the middle, there are some who believe he will be at his best on the outside. If Schiano agrees, some big options would open up for the Bucs, who could consider signing a middle linebacker such as veteran Stephen Tulloch, 27, of Detroit or a young player on the rise at that position such as Dan Conner, 26, of Carolina. The latter move, again, would weaken a division rival, which is why you can't count out the possibility of Tampa Bay making a play for Falcons linebacker Curtis Lofton. Lofton, who will be 26 in June, is arguably the best middle linebacker available in free agency this year. At 6-foot, 241 pounds, he's a little small, but a big hitter, good leader off the field and, like Grimes, entering his prime. San Diego running back Mike Tolbert may be entering his prime as well, but that's just one of several reasons the Bucs likely will have an interest in luring him to Tampa. The Bucs badly need a third-down back, as well as a back who can hit the right hole with authority in short-yardage and goal-line situations. Tolbert, 26, has proved in his four seasons in the league to be solid in all those areas (he ran for 490 yards with a 4.0 average and eight TDs last season, and caught a career-high 54 passees with two more scores). A back who can work effectively in any situation, Tolbert would be a good complement to LeGarrette Blount and eliminate any need the Bucs might have to reach for a running back during the draft.

rcummings@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7979

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