The young core of Tampa Bay Bucs overachieved in 2010, winning a surprising ten games because of Josh Freeman’s development and his knack for late game heroics.
It was a hard-working group greater than the sum of its parts. So can they take the next step in 2011?
The schedule is going to get tougher and they have some big decisions to make this offseason before they can start printing playoff tickets again. Let’s take a deeper look at their free agent priorities.
The Big Ones: Guard Davin Joseph and linebacker Barrett Ruud.
It was hard to pick just one of these two cornerstone young starters. They are both good, but not necessarily great young players. Joseph will probably be the bigger priority because he’s shown more signs of being a dominant player.
Still, Joseph is coming off a relative down year in which he missed the final five games to injury and the Bucs young line survived without him. He could make a killing on he open market.
Ruud has led the team in tackles since 2007, but previously felt unappreciated by the team. The Bucs reportedly don’t want to use the franchise tag on either player. It wouldn’t shock us if Joseph and Ruud got better deals elsewhere.
The Key Ingredients: Safety Ronde Barber, linebacker Quincy Black, and running back Carnell Williams.
The Bucs should be able to come to an agreement with Barber, who seems ageless. The team would like to bring back Cadillac in a third-down role. Black started 23 games over the last two years. He’ll be a lot cheaper to keep than Ruud.
Might be on the way out: Fullback Earnest Graham, tackle Jeremy Trueblood, and defensive lineman Stylez G. White.
Graham is due a lot of money for a fullback/reserve runner and could be cut. The Bucs can survive letting Trueblood go, and the team doesn’t figure to re-sign White because of repeated questions about his work ethic.
The Bucs don’t have a huge amount free agents, but they do have important ones. They can probably only afford to re-sign Ruud or Joseph and may lose boh. We’d try to bring back Quincy Black so that the linebacker group isn’t depleted.