We’ll conclude our division-wide look at potential free agents with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
All are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents, unless otherwise noted:
Cornerback Ronde Barber, kicker Connor Barth, running back Earnest Graham, defensive tackle Jovan Haye, linebacker Geno Hayes, quarterback Josh Johnson, safety Sean Jones, offensive lineman James Lee, safety Corey Lynch, cornerback Elbert Mack, receiver Micheal Spurlock, offensive lineman Jeremy Zuttah, running back LeGarrette Blount (exclusive rights), receiver Preston Parker (exclusive rights), defensive end Michael Bennett (restricted) and offensive lineman Demar Dotson.
As soon as new coach Greg Schiano gets his staff hired, he and general manager Mark Dominik have to sit down, take a look at the list above and make what could be some difficult decisions. Let’s start with Barber’s future because that’s going to be a hot topic.
Barber played at a reasonably high level in 2011 and the Bucs could look to bring him back with another one-year contract. Of course, it’s also possible that Barber will decide to retire. It’s also possible Barber might want to continue playing, but a new coaching staff could decide to start fresh and give him the same treatment Derrick Brooks got in 2009 and let him walk. If that happens, don’t be surprised if Barber ends up in Washington, where former Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris is now coaching the secondary.
Barber’s status as a Tampa Bay icon makes him the most interesting person on the list of potential free agents. But the list contains plenty of others that will be interesting decisions. Barth and Zuttah seem the most likely to stay. But Schiano, his coaching staff and Dominik are going to have to take a long look at players like Hayes, Lynch and Lee to see if they fit the new system. Jones was a starter last season, but the Bucs may elect to go younger at safety. Graham also is an interesting situation. He can play running back and tailback and has been a dependable player for years. But he’s aging and coming off an injury that put an early end to his 2011 season.
On a side note, defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth currently remains under contract for 2012. But Haynesworth, who was brought in after injuries wiped out the middle of the defensive line in the middle of last season, is scheduled to count $7.2 million toward the salary cap. The Bucs can release him without any cap implications. Haynesworth doesn't have a lot left in the tank and my early impression is that Schiano doesn't seem like the kind of coach that would want the baggage that comes with Haynesworth. Throw in the cap situation and it seems pretty obvious how this one will play out.