Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Greg Hardy

The top two free agents (Jimmy Graham and Greg Hardy) in the NFC South have been hit with the franchise tag. But plenty of division talent is on the market -- and that doesn't even include Darren Sproles, who will be either traded or released by the Saints. The four writers who cover the NFC South (Pat Yasinskas in Tampa Bay, Mike Triplett in New Orleans, David Newton in Carolina and Vaughn McClure in Atlanta) got together and picked the top 15 free agents in the division.

1. Jimmy Graham, Saints TE: Whether he's a tight end or receiver, he has been one of the most dynamic playmakers in the NFL, leading the league with 36 TD catches over the past three years.

2. Greg Hardy, Panthers DE: The Panthers had no choice but to place the franchise tag on Hardy. He played both defensive end spots, tackle and dropped into coverage. He led the team in sacks and quarterback hurries.

3. Jonathan Babineaux, Falcons DT: Aging veteran Babineaux still has a knack for getting in the backfield, although he would admit his sack numbers need to be better.

[+] EnlargeZach Strief
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsZach Strief, a seventh-round pick in 2006, has spent his entire eight-year career in New Orleans.
4. Mike Mitchell, Panthers S: He brought an attitude to the league's second-ranked defense with his aggressiveness.

5. Zach Strief, Saints OT: Strief is a solid veteran starter coming off his best season to date. He's not a dominator, but versatile and experienced enough to start for just about any NFL team.

6. Brian de la Puente, Saints C: He has been another solid starter over the past three years and finished strong in 2013 after a slow start.

7. Lance Moore, Saints WR: Moore's role diminished in the Saints' offense last year, but the sure-handed slot receiver is one year removed from a 1,000-yard season and can still be an asset at age 30.

8. Malcolm Jenkins, Saints S: He is a full-time starter who shows flashes of big-play potential every year, but the former first-round pick has never consistently met lofty expectations.

9. Captain Munnerlyn, Panthers CB: He may be undersized at 5-foot-9, but he proved he could be an every-down corner for the first time in his career.

10. Ted Ginn Jr., Panthers WR: Not only did he give quarterback Cam Newton the deep threat that he needed, he led the team in kickoff and punt returns.

11. Jabari Greer, Saints CB: Greer was one of the most underrated corners in the NFL over the past five years, but now he’s 32 and recovering from a major knee injury.

12. Peria Jerry, Falcons DT: The former first-round pick hasn't lived up to expectations in part due to injury, but he has shown a few flashes.

13. Erik Lorig, Buccaneers FB: Lorig is a versatile fullback who can make an impact as a lead blocker in the running game and also has some ability as a receiver out of the backfield.

14. Bruce Campbell, Panthers OT: With the retirement of left tackle Jordan Gross there's at least an opportunity for Campbell to be in the mix for a starting position.

15. Adam Hayward, Buccaneers LB: Hayward is one of the league’s better players on special teams. He also has value as a backup because he can play inside and outside linebacker.
Saturday’s mailbag question of the day comes from Frank in Dalton, Ga. He asks if I think the Bucs will make a run at Carolina’s Greg Hardy.

The need at defensive end is significant and Hardy’s a rare talent who is in his prime. Adding someone like him could be all it takes to make Tampa Bay’s defense dominant.

But I think it’s a long shot that you’ll see Hardy land in Tampa Bay. First off, I think the Panthers will do their best to try to keep him. Second, this isn’t like last year when the Bucs had a ton of salary-cap room and went out and got Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson.

The Bucs are in decent cap shape (right now, they’re about $10 million under the projected cap), but that’s not nearly the type of cap space they had last year. Hardy would eat up virtually all the cap space and the Bucs have other important needs that need to be addressed.

I do think the Bucs will add a defensive end in free agency or the draft, but I don’t see Hardy ending up with them.

Is end near for Da'Quan Bowers?

December, 27, 2013
TAMPA, Fla. – Back in June, I started my list of the top 25 players in the NFC South with Tampa Bay defensive end Da’Quan Bowers.

I missed it by at least 100 and notably left Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy out of the top 25. My thinking at the time was simple – Tampa Bay’s front office and coaching staff were expecting a huge year from Bowers. I mean double-digit sacks were the minimum expectation. I didn’t project a bad season for Hardy, but I thought -- based on everything I was hearing -- Bowers’ season would be better.

As it turned out, Bowers had just one sack and seven tackles while playing in a backup role. Bowers wasn’t even able to crack the starting lineup on a regular basis.

His knee (and the Bucs say it’s not the same one that caused pre-draft concerns in 2011) limited him more than we ever knew.

“I was hoping that actually the surgery will help him because I think he’s – and maybe people wouldn’t be aware of it – I know for a fact he was nursing that all year,’’ Bucs defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan said. Thursday “He’s never been well. You’re trying to decide all season on whether or not to make that move. ‘Is he healthy enough to play? Can he at least play on third down? Or are we better off just getting him to have surgery and get him cleaned up and let him rehab for an off season and come back?’ I think you’ll see a different guy next offseason.”

A different guy next season? Maybe so. But let’s not count on it. When Bowers was coming out in the draft, a lot of people thought he would last no more than four seasons due to some knee issues.

Bowers, even if he comes back next season, is headed for his fourth season.

QB Watch: Buccaneers' Mike Glennon

October, 23, 2013
A weekly analysis of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' quarterback play.

Rewind: Mike Glennon completed 26 of 44 passes for 256 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in a 31-23 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. He was sacked three times and lost a fumble.

Fast-forward: It seems every week is something new for the rookie. The Atlanta game was his first on the road. On Thursday night, Glennon will make his first prime-time start when the Buccaneers host the Carolina Panthers at Raymond James Stadium.

Pick your antidote: In Glennon’s first three starts, opposing defenses loaded the box to try to stop running back Doug Martin. But Martin is dealing with a shoulder injury now, so the Bucs will also have a rookie at running back: Mike James, who is likely to pick up most of Martin’s workload. That could prompt Carolina to go to a different tactic than Glennon’s previous opponents and focus on stopping the passing game.

Prediction: It’s not hard to envision trouble on the horizon. Glennon is not noted for his mobility, and his offensive line hasn’t been playing very well. Throw in the fact that Carolina has two good defensive ends in Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson, and Glennon could be in for a long night.