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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Season's end also the end of Bucs era

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Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 01:38 PM
TAMPA -

Sunday's matchup at Atlanta marks the end of the 2011 season for the Buccaneers.

For some players, it will mark the end of an era.

Every NFL club changes personnel in the offseason and several Tampa Bay players face uncertain futures.

Ronde Barber could decide to retire after an accomplished 15-year career, or the Bucs may decline to sign a team leader who turns 37 in April. In the spring, a month before the 2012 draft, cornerback Aqib Talib faces a trial in Texas on charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

Tampa Bay also could lose some starting players as unrestricted free agents, a list that includes outside linebacker Geno Hayes and safety Sean Jones.

"I'd like to stay and I think we have a good foundation here," said Hayes, who was benched for two games after the bye week. "I'm not worried about the future. I know football is a business and right now my business is preparing for the Atlanta Falcons."

Jones has started all 31 games for the Bucs since signing as a free agent after the 2009 season. Heading into the Georgia Dome, he ranks second on the club with 89 tackles, trailing only rookie middle linebacker Mason Foster (120).

"I'm going to do everything I can possibly do to win another football game — that's all I can do," Jones said. "After the season is over, then I'll deal with what 2012 will bring. It's been a disappointing year to be sure, but we've got talent here and better days are ahead for this franchise. Obviously, it's going to be a big offseason. We need to concentrate on the small things, the details, and we'll be all right."

After starting only five games (0-5) since being drafted in 2008, backup quarterback Josh Johnson is finishing out his rookie contract.

"I can't even think about next year until this season ends," Johnson said. "Yes, I want to play, but there's nothing I can do about it right now. You control what you can control. It'll be different when the season ends, but right now, I can't even talk about it."

Kicker Connor Barth, who has excelled in the past two seasons, is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent.

"I love it here," said Barth, who has converted on 25-of-27 field goal attempts and all 22 extra-point tries this year. "I've got an awesome guy next to me (punter Michael Koenen) doing a great job as a holder and you can see the consistency. I want to be a Buc. I love the organization and I love the community."

The Bucs could decide to use the transition tag on Barth in an effort to keep him on the roster next fall.

Other potential unrestricted free agents include starting left guard Jeremy Zuttah, running back Earnest Graham, tackle James Lee, wide receiver Micheal Spurlock, cornerback Elbert Mack and safety Corey Lynch.

Defensive end Michael Bennett and running back Kregg Lumpkin are scheduled to be restricted free agents and the Bucs will retain exclusive rights on their primary ground threat, LeGarrette Blount.

Zuttah has started at all three interior line positions and his versatility up front gives Tampa Bay enviable flexibility on game day. A third-round pick in the 2008 draft, Zuttah may be best suited for center, which could impact the future of 30-year-old veteran Jeff Faine.

"I've been playing with these guys for four years, but at the end of the day, the team has to do what's right for them, so we'll see how it goes," Zuttah said. "No matter what happens, I don't think I'll ever work with a better group of guys."


ikaufman@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7833

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