There was little doubt that a major facelift was in store following the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ dismal 4-12 2011 season. A 10-game losing streak closed out the season and gave general manager Mark Dominik a pulse onto which players still wanted to be a part of the organization.
Of the 15 Buccaneers that hit the free agent market, only four were brought back.
Cornerback and organization staple Ronde Barber teetered in between retirement and coming back for one more run. Barber broke his arm in the season’s final game, an embarrassing loss to the Atlanta Falcons, and watched as his longtime friend and head coach Raheem Morris was fired. The signing of free agent corner Eric Wright even more complicated things, but in the end Barber’s heart was still with the Bucs. After agreeing to terms on a new one-year deal, Barber has worked out at safety for most of this summer. Tampa is thin at the position and Barber’s nose for the ball could parlay into a rejuvenated corps.
Also returning to Tampa are restricted free agents Demar Dotson and Michael Bennett. Dotson, a 6’9”, 315 offensive tackle, continues to be a project for the Bucs front office. Dotson could be in for solid playing time if any of the starting linemen go down with an injury. Bennett, a dangerous pass rusher from the defensive end spot, will be expected to put in significant time after the Achilles injury to De’Quan Bowers.
The final of the four returning free agents is kicker Connor Barth. Barth took on the team’s franchise tag, but later worked out a four-year deal with Tampa Bay. Barth missed only two field goals last season and has kicked at a nearly 84% success rate in his five seasons.
Eight other ’11 Buccaneers will wear different uniforms this season.
Safety Corey Lynch and special teams stalwart Michael Spurlock both inked contracts with the San Diego Chargers. There were discussions about possibly bring back Lynch, but after the addition of Wright and the clearing of Aqib Talib (charges in his assault case were dropped), Barber’s move to safety made Lynch expendable. Spurlock made moves on special teams, however his lack of movement up the depth chart at receiver led to his departure.
Offensive tackle James Lee will join former Tampa head coach Raheem Morris in Washington. Lee struggled mightily last season, especially toward the end of the season. Lee filled in nicely for the injured Jeremy Trueblood at the end of the 2010 season and looked to be the next man up on the Bucs line. His play digressed in ’11 and the addition of guard Carl Nicks sealed Lee’s end in Tampa.
Two defensive players that underperformed in pewter and red, linebacker Geno Hayes and safety Sean Jones, are also in different venues. Hayes will fall in behind Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs in Chicago and Jones will join the ever-changing Detroit secondary.
Cornerback Elbert Mack, a longtime favorite of Raheem Morris, joins the revamped New Orleans defense. Backup quarterback and Jon Gruden favorite Josh Johnson, will battle youngster Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco.
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