The Bucs have a real quandary here. Their best quarterback remains Jeff Garcia, but he posted a disappointing 63.9 passer rating in the fourth quarter, turns 39 in February and will be a free agent in March. The Bucs might like to move on, but they are not sure about backup Luke McCown, also due to become a free agent, and rookie Josh Johnson isn't ready yet. Backup Brian Griese remains under contract. Given the circumstances, the Bucs could look to add someone through free agency and possibly the draft. Failing that, look for Garcia to come back as the "starter," but with competition for his job to be more wide open.
Many of the Bucs' top players are older veterans: QB Jeff Garcia (38), LB Derrick Brooks (35) and CB Ronde Barber (33). Do the Bucs really want to go into next season with those players a year older? Also, several key reserves are older veterans: DE Kevin Carter (35), RB Warrick Dunn (33) and WR Ike Hilliard (32), to name a few. Finding effective replacements will be a key objective this offseason. It's hard to believe Brooks and Barber won't be around, and Dunn can still be effective in a limited role. But age seemed to catch up to the Bucs at the end of the season, so it's possible some veterans will not return.
The Bucs got some good news regarding Cadillac Williams' knee injury Monday. They can't allow themselves to be swayed by it. Once considered one of the deepest areas on the team, the running game is truly one of the thinnest. Even if he makes it back for training camp, Williams cannot be counted on to provide the production the team needs. Earnest Graham will be back as the feature back and Warrick Dunn is good in a supporting role, but the Bucs need to add a player, either through free agency or the draft, who is good enough to push Graham for playing time. That way, if Graham or anyone else goes down, the running game can keep on going.
The Bucs finished the season with 29 sacks. That's only four more than they had in 2006, when they walked away from the season saying their biggest need was to improve the pass rush. The Bucs still believe Gaines Adams will develop into a dominant pass rusher, but he may need some help. If DE Greg "Stylez" White can't regain the form that had quarterbacks fearing him last year, the Bucs will have to consider changes at the end positions. That, or new defensive coordinator Raheem Morris will have to start blitzing more. For the Cover 2 scheme to be effective, pressure from the front four is a must.
Just like last year, the Bucs can dabble all they want in free agency this spring. The exact figure is not known, but it is believed the Bucs will have close to $30 million of space under the league's projected payroll cap of $123 million. Don't look for the Bucs to spend all of that. They never do. And Coach Jon Gruden isn't sure it's necessary. By spending wisely, though, the Bucs can make the corrections to their roster needed to get them back in the league's upper echelon. Of course, when your greatest needs are quarterbacks, pass rushers, running backs and receivers - all top-dollar positions - cap space can be eaten up pretty quickly.