While the Bucs were extremely active early in free agency, they still have not addressed their biggest concern, the linebacker position. This was, by far, the weakest position on the field last season for the Bucs, and needs to be addressed both in free agency and the draft.
I’m not ready to give up on Mason Foster as a MLB, but his most natural position is OLB, where he played at University of Washington. If the Bucs are looking to upgrade at each position, moving Foster back out to OLB would present an upgrade over Geno Hayes. It would, also, represent “addition by subtraction” by taking Foster out of a position where he clearly looks uncomfortable.
Quincy Black will be back with the Bucs next season, as his 2012 contract is guaranteed. If the Bucs are serious about winning, he should have to compete for the starting position with Dekoda Watson, who has shown the ability to make splash plays when given the opportunity. Starting spots need to be based on merit, not cap numbers.
That leaves us with the quarterback of the defense, the MLB position. In the past, I’ve mentioned Curtis Lofton and Stephen Tulloch as potential options. While Lofton still appears to be on the Bucs radar, there are two other names that should be considered options.
One name I would be content with is London Fletcher. While he’s no spring chicken, he still makes plays. In fact, he led the NFL in tackles last season. He is a big, physical MLB that would be an immediate upgrade in the run defense, while being adequate in the passing game. Something the Bucs lack on defense is veteran leadership, something that Fletcher would bring.
Another name that the Bucs should be considering is Vikings linebacker EJ Henderson. Henderson shares many of the same traits that Fletcher has. He is a strong, athletic MLB that would bring a needed toughness to the Bucs defense. His strength is in run defense, but he is more than adequate in the passing game.
The Bucs must bring in a veteran linebacker that can bring toughness and leadership. Even if they bring in a MLB through free agency, it is still a position that should be targeted high on draft day. The Bucs need to build depth at every position on the defense, so the ideal scenario is bringing in a starter in free agency, while drafting a talented linebacker in the top 2-3 rounds that will have the opportunity to start in a couple years while providing depth in the short term.