INDIANAPOLIS — The Buccaneers had an abundance of salary cap space even before it was learned this week that the NFL is planning to bump the 2014 cap up by another $4 million to $130 million.
The Bucs now have one of the more favorable cap situations in the league, with about $19 million worth of maneuverability. And general manager Jason Licht couldn’t be happier, because he believes he’s going to need every dollar.
With only five selections in the 2014 draft — the Bucs don’t have picks in the third or sixth rounds — Licht thinks he’ll need to lean most heavily on the free-agent market to retool the roster for the coming season.
And make no mistake, a major retooling of the roster is almost certainly on the horizon, in part because some of the players coach Lovie Smith inherited don’t fit the schemes he plans to run.
“This roster wasn’t set up with our system in mind,’’ Smith said. “Not that it’s going to be that much different, but we’ll probably change more players than you think.’’
Scheme isn’t the only reason the Bucs are on the brink of undergoing major personnel changes. There is also the matter or their third-place finish in the NFC South last year.
“We were a 4-12 team last year, and with a 4-12 team there’s got to be some retooling,’’ Licht said. “But every team retools now. Even if you’re coming off a Super Bowl season, you’re probably retooling somewhere.’’
With the possible exception of running back and safety, which are the only positions where Licht said he’s comfortable with his starters and immediate backups, the Bucs might get retooled everywhere.
Smith and Licht believe that either a starter or an upgraded backup is needed at virtually every position on the field, and they’re not planning to wait until draft day to find those needs.
“We’re going to try to be proactive,’’ Licht said. “We’re going to try to fill as many holes as we can in free agency, because I don’t want to go into the draft with our first pick, having to pick a position.
“If (the best player available at that time) fits a need, then we’ll do it. And sometimes that’s the way it goes. But it usually doesn’t, so we’re going to be proactive in free agency, and we’re going to do it wisely.’’
Another word for wise is prudent, and that is really what Licht plans to be during the signing period that begins March 11. He doesn’t want to throw big money — or any money at all, really — at a short-term fix.
In a couple of cases, though, he might not have a choice. After all, the Bucs’ two most glaring needs are at defensive end and quarterback, places where veteran free agents tend to be pretty expensive. And one addition might not be enough to satisfy the need, at least not at defensive end. That is one position where the Bucs are so thin that they might need to add several players.
“You can never have too many defensive ends,’’ Smith said. “The moment you say you’re all set with defensive ends, bam, you’ll say, ‘Can you believe this other team just signed another one?’
“So, we’re always going to be looking for defensive linemen. That is the engine of our defense and what we do. And so we have to have a double-digit sack guy on the outside, and right now we don’t have one.’’
The Bucs don’t have a veteran quarterback, either, and Smith made it clear this week that with Mike Glennon and Mike Kafka still in the developmental stages of their careers, he would like to rectify that.
“In an ideal world, you would like to have some kind of a veteran in the mix instead of three young guys that haven’t played a lot,’’ Smith said. “I think you can maybe get away with it at some of the other positions, but it’s not ideal (at quarterback).’’
The Bucs could resolve that issue by re-signing veteran free agent Dan Orlovsky, but they’re looking for a veteran more capable of pushing Glennon for the starting job.
“Absolutely,’’ Licht said. “New coach, new regime, you can’t just hand the keys over and say this guy is our starter. You have to see what he is, and competition drives the best out of everybody. So, that’s what we’ll be looking for.’’