TAMPA, Fla. -- Greg Schiano glanced to his left where the three newest members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were seated and smiled broadly.
All-Pro guard Carl Nicks, two-time Pro Bowl receiver Vincent Jackson and well-regarded cornerback Eric Wright comprise the biggest one-day free agent haul in franchise history and figure to play key roles in whether the first-year coach makes a successful transition from Rutgers to the NFL.
"I think they're a perfect fit ... for what we want to do," Schiano said.
Schiano noted that Nicks is a punishing blocker who will help the running game, Jackson is a proven deep threat who'll make the passing attack better and Wright is a much-needed addition for the defense. All three need to play a vital role this season if the Bucs are to rebound from a 4-12 finish that included 10 consecutive losses to end last season.
Barely 14 hours after making a splash by signing Jackson to a five-year, $55.55 million contract Tuesday, general manager Mark Dominik closed five-year deals Wednesday with Nicks, one of the key blockers for Drew Brees on the Saints' record-setting offense, and Wright, who is coming off a solid season with the Lions.
Later Wednesday, the Bucs released veteran center Jeff Faine, who had two seasons remaining on a six-year, $37.5 million contract he signed as a free agent in 2008.
In a statement released by the team, the Orlando native thanked the Bucs for giving him an opportunity to play close to home.
"The move is bittersweet, but I leave in good health, excited and energized for my next opportunity," Faine said.
Nicks received a $47.5 million deal that the four-year veteran called "humbling." Wright, who matched his career high with four interceptions for Detroit last season, got a $37.5 million package -- meaning Dominik negotiated deals totaling more than $140 million in one day after not spending much at all on other team's free agents the past two years.
And it appears the spending spree -- the Bucs entered free agency more than $42 million under the league salary cap -- is done.
"Our eyes are turned toward the draft," where Tampa Bay has the fifth overall pick and will seek to address other needs, Dominik said.
We're not the Big 3 like the Miami Heat, but hey ...” -- New Bucs guard Carl Nicks
on Tampa Bay's free agent splurge
"We've made our mark," the general manager added, "for what we wanted to accomplish."
Jackson gives the Bucs the legitimate No. 1 pass catcher they've lacked since Keyshawn Johnson helped Tampa Bay win its only Super Bowl title 10 years ago. The three-time 1,000-yard receiver had 37 TD receptions in seven seasons with the Chargers and provides a deep threat for young quarterback Josh Freeman.
Jackson's contract, which will pay the receiver $13 million in each of his first two seasons in Tampa Bay, was done in all 5s in honor of Freeman, who wears jersey No. 5.
The 29-year-old was excited to be available after earning nearly $11 million in 2011, when San Diego placed the franchise tag on him. He missed most of 2010 in a salary dispute.
Like Nicks and Wright, Jackson said money was the only lure to Tampa Bay. Each of them like the nucleus of young talent the Bucs have assembled since deciding to rebuild with youth after the 2008 season.
Former coach Raheem Morris led the team to a surprising 10-6 record, narrowly missing the playoffs two years ago. The team took a step backward last season, when Freeman threw 22 interceptions (compared to just six in 2010) and Tampa Bay's defense set a franchise record for most points allowed.
"They have the tools here to do big things," Jackson said. "I'm just looking to do my part."
Nicks made the Pro Bowl in New Orleans that past two seasons and is considered one of the best pass blockers in the NFL. He's also excited that Schiano's blueprint for success revolves around what the coach hopes will be a productive running game that'll take some of the pressure off Freeman.
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The Saints led the NFL in total offense and threw for more yards than any club in league history last season. No disrespect for his old team's approach, but Nicks is looking forward to opening holes for the run-oriented attack that Schiano expects to open things up for Freeman and the passing game.
"We were pass first, pass second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth," Nicks said, adding that it will be "interesting" facing his old team twice a year in the NFC South.
Wright, a five-year veteran, was with the Lions last season after spending four years in Cleveland. With Ronde Barber's future with the Bucs up in the air after 15 seasons and Aqib Talib confronting a legal matter off the field, the Bucs felt it was essential to pursue a proven cornerback in free agency.
Jackson, who during last year's lockout was one of 10 named plaintiffs in the Brady V. NFL antitrust suit filed against club owners, said he doesn't anticipate the size of his contract creating pressure for him to be anyone other than the same type of player that made him one of the most attractive players available in free agency.
Nicks and Wright expect to blend in well, too, although they know all eyes will be on them and Jackson.
"We're not the Big 3 like the Miami Heat," Nicks said, smiling. "But hey ..."
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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