The first departures in what could become an exodus of players from One Buc Place came Thursday when former Tampa Bay Buccaneers right tackle Jeremy Trueblood signed with the Washington Redskins and linebacker Quincy Black was released.
Defensive end Michael Bennett could be the next to go.
Bennett said he spent the better part of Thursday visiting the Miami Dolphins, though the chances of the Bucs re-signing last season’s starting left end seemed to improve on the third day of free agency.
The Seahawks’ signing late Wednesday of defensive end Cliff Avril to a two-year, $15 million contact set a low bar for ends such as Bennett, who led the Bucs with nine sacks last year, the same as Avril.
The Bucs have expressed a desire to have Bennett back, but only at their price, which is far less than the $10.9 million it would have cost to place the franchise tag on him. Bennett also has expressed a desire to return to Tampa Bay if the price is right.
“I wouldn’t count us out of anything,’’ Bucs general manager Mark Dominik said Wednesday, when the team announced the signing of safety Dashon Goldson to a five-year, $41.5 million contract. “Our doors are open.’’
They might want to keep them open for Bennett. A superb run stopper, the Bucs might need him to slow the Atlanta Falcons, who improved their already dynamic offense on Thursday by signing running back Steven Jackson.
The Falcons, of course, are mostly known for their electrifying passing attack. But aside from signing Goldson, the Bucs have done little to address their league-worst pass defense.
Like many teams, Tampa Bay has yet to dip into a flooded cornerback market, where top players such as Sean Smith (Chiefs), Dominique Rogers-Cromartie (Broncos) and Derek Cox (Chargers) have joined new teams.
The Bucs continue to be linked to trade rumors involving Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, tough Dominik indicated on Wednesday it might be late April before the team seriously addresses its cornerback need.
“Coach (Greg Schiano) is not afraid to play young players, to start young players,’’ Dominik said. “I would say, let’s wait until after the draft and see where we are then. It’s still very early in the process.’’
Bucs free agent defensive tackle Roy Miller might be reminding himself of that fact.
Several defensive tackles, such as Cullen Jenkins (Giants) and Chris Canty (Ravens) found new teams, but Miller remains unsigned. It is unknown whether teams have reached out to him. The same goes for Bucs free agent cornerback E.J. Biggers and tight end Dallas Clark.
The Bucs have expressed a desire to retain all three players, and did get back one of their free agents Thursday when they announced the re-signing of defensive tackle Corvey Irvin.
Tampa Bay also announced the signing of free agent wide receiver Kevin Ogletree, a four-year pro out of Virginia who had his best season last year, catching 32 passes for 436 yards and four touchdowns for the Cowboys.
The release of Black came as no surprise. The three-year starting strongside linebacker suffered nerve damage in his left shoulder and neck area while making a tackle against San Diego in November.
Black recently had surgery to repair the damage, but the length of his recovery, which may not be complete for years, has jeopardized his future not just with the Bucs but with the NFL.
Black immediately becomes eligible for a $1 million insurance payout and will be eligible for a $500,000 insurance payout in 2014 if his injury still prohibits his return.
The loss of Trueblood, meanwhile, cuts into the depth at offensive line, where he became a reserve last season after losing the starting job in Week 2 to Demar Dotson.
In Washington, Trueblood will be reunited with former Bucs general manager Bruce Allen, who drafted Trueblood in Tampa Bay, and former Bucs coach Raheem Morris, who coaches Washington’s secondary.