For the second year in a row, the via The Tampa Tribune:are set to be major players in NFL free agency. The Bucs have $30.1 million in available salary cap space, which is the fifth-most in the league,
"That has actually opened a lot of cap room for us going into 2013 -- a tremendous amount," Bucs general manager Mark Dominik said. "We've got a chance to be (heavily) involved in free agency again."
With so much cap room, Tampa Bay should be able to bring in some top talent that will immediately improve the roster. That, combined with the financial situations of the Bucs' NFC South rivals, could lead to a rapid rise in the division. The Atlanta Falcons are the only other South team under the salary cap -- just $2.1 million -- while the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers are $20.6 million and $13.7 million over the cap, respectively.
Last offseason, the Buccaneers signed big upgrades to their offense in wide receiver Vincent Jackson, left guard Carl Nicks, tight end Dallas Clark and backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky. Jackson caught 72 passes for 1,384 yards and eight touchdowns, and Orlovsky was a key contributor to an offensive line that allowed the fourth-fewest sacks during the 2012 regular season. Both players were selected to the Pro Bowl after the Bucs set franchise records with 5,820 total yards and 389 points in 2012.
Another big signing for Tampa Bay in 2012 was cornerback Eric Wright. However, Wright only played in 10 games thanks to injuries and a four-game suspension for taking Adderall without a prescription. The Buccaneers' defense, a strength for the team in recent history, was awful. Tampa Bay allowed 379.9 yards per game, which ranked 29th in the NFL, and it ranked 23rd in the league by giving up 24.6 points per contest. This offseason, the Bucs will likely look to boost its lackluster defense.
The passing defense was what hurt the Buccaneers the most in 2012. Tampa Bay's 297.4 passing yards allowed per game was the worst in the league, and opponents' passer rating of 93.5 was the second-highest. With that in mind, it's likely that the Bucs will hit the defensive back market this time offseason. Brent Grimes, Sean Smith, and former Buc Aqib Talib are probably the best cornerbacks available, and the list of available safeties could include Ed Reed, although, re-signing Ronde Barber will likely take priority at that position. Improving the secondary is certainly a must for the Buccaneers, as the NFC South features three of the NFL's most dynamic quarterbacks in Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton.
If the Buccaneers decide to focus on defense and manage to get results out of their new players next season, they could contend immediately for a South title. That would be an impressive feat for a franchise that finished 4-12 just two seasons ago.