Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bucs won't jump right into NFL free-agent pool
TAMPA - When NFL free agency begins Friday at 12:01 a.m., the Buccaneers probably will hit the snooze button. The Bucs heavily pursued defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and linebacker Jonathan Vilma last offseason and tried to pull off trades for quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Matt Cassel. This year, Tampa Bay expects to watch other teams pursue Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers, Denver receiver Brandon Marshall, Arizona linebacker Karlos Dansby and Houston cornerback Dunta Robinson. "We're really going to focus on the draft," Coach Raheem Morris said. "Free agency, it is what it is right now. We'll go out there and see if we can get anybody we feel that can be a part of our direction, but we're really focused on the draft."We had all our scouts and guys in (Indianapolis) last weekend evaluating players (at the NFL Scouting Combine) and sit up there and talk to each other and communicate. We really look forward to the upcoming draft in April, and that's going to be a big part of our development and our growth and we can start it right from the beginning." Tampa Bay could begin improving last year's 3-13 team with either Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh or Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy in this year's draft. Morris had a chance to see both players work out during the combine and had high praise for each. "They were very impressive," Morris said. "You have to mention two guys who had very productive college careers, and you have to mention the two guys who are very impressive in a face-to-face setting. "Whenever you get a chance to be around a 6-foot-4 man, or a 300-pound-or-so man that plays the D-line position that doesn't look like anybody you've seen or played with, and have the talent those guys have, they're very impressive." Morris said he also was impressed by Tennessee safety Eric Berry, who could improve Tampa Bay's secondary, although history suggests that is unlikely. During the past 18 years, no safety has been selected in the top three. The last safety drafted in the top three was Eric Turner, who was the No. 2 overall selection by Cleveland in 1991. Only four safeties have been top-10 picks since 1991, but Morris said history would not determine if Tampa Bay would draft Berry. "I don't think you can think like that," Morris said. "You've got to (judge) everybody on an individual basis ... you've got to let the draft board play out like how you see it as an organization and as a team, and that's what we'll do. "We'll take the best player in order for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to have success next year." The Bucs already have determined what current players can help them in 2010. Tampa Bay previously tendered running back Cadillac Williams, guard Donald Penn, receiver Maurice Stovall and linebacker Barrett Ruud, while electing not to re-sign receiver Antonio Bryant. Morris intends for his team to be better in 2010, but not by pursuing a major free agent right when the market opens. "Last year we were really active in the hunt for a couple of players out there. This year, I don't see that," Morris said. "I see us active in the hunt for pick No. 3 and all the picks we have in this year's draft. We have 10 picks, and they are very important picks."
Reporter Anwar S. Richardson can be reached at (813) 259-8425.