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David is just beginning the five-year contract extension he signed in 2015 while Alexander's rookie deal goes through 2018. Those two will remain at the heart of the Buccaneers' defense for years to come, and the team could easily cover the third starting spot this year with Danny Lansanah, a restricted free agent likely to return, or Bruce Carter, who is going into the second year of a deal signed last March.
Counterpoint: Linebackers are always on the radar at this time of year. More often than not, when the Buccaneers have wrapped up their work on the unrestricted free agent market, there's been a new linebacker in the bunch. That has been true each of the last three years and in seven of the past 10 offseasons, and one of the primary reasons is that linebackers can often contribute significantly on special teams even if they aren't likely starters on defense.
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In the weeks leading up to the start of free agency on March 9, Buccaneers.com is taking a position-by-position look at the players who may be available when the market opens, hoping to determine the ones who could be good fits for the Buccaneers. The usual caveat applies: This is not meant to reflect the opinions or strategies of Tampa Bay General Manager Jason Licht, Head Coach Dirk Koetter or any of their assistants. In fact, since the players mentioned below are still under contract until the start of the new league year, Licht and company could not comment on them specifically even if they wished to do so, lest they be guilty of tampering.
Since the Buccaneers will continue to operate out of a 4-3 base alignment on defense under new coordinator Mike Smith, we'll be focusing on 4-3 outside 'backers like David and MIKE linebackers like Alexander. We've already touched on 3-4 pass-rushers like Von Miller and Bruce Irvin in the defensive end/edge rushers analysis.
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Some of the best defenses in the league are dealing with multiple pending free agents this spring, which raises the possibility that a few top performers will actually make it to the open market. That could be true with insider linebackers Danny Trevathan and Derrick Johnson of the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs, respectively. Trevathan has the advantage of age (26 to Johnson's 34) and a potential upward career trajectory as he could produce even more with a chance to play every down in another defense. Johnson, of course, has a longer track record, including four Pro Bowls since 2011, and he's coming off another fine year. Again, however, both of these players are likely to depart their current teams only for an obvious starting spot elsewhere, and that wouldn't appear to be the case in Tampa.
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There aren't nearly as many options for those teams trying to find a starting outside linebacker. Tennessee's Zach Brown was technically playing inside linebacker last year in the Titans' 3-4 front, but he was the weakside 'backer when the Titans ran a 4-3 earlier in his four-year career. The 2012 second-round pick has not yet blossomed into a standout and he started just five games last year, but there still might be potential for him to take a big step forward with another team.
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Otherwise, there aren't many young guns about to hit the market at outside linebacker. Cincinnati's Vincent Rey is just 28 but he has only started 25 games in six years, including eight last fall. With a lot of pending free agents on defense, the Bengals may have to decide between re-signing Rey or bringing back fellow linebacker Emmanuel Lamur, a former undrafted free agent who started 13 games in 2014 but just two last year. There are also some very recognizable LB names due to hit the market, but they may all be nearing the end of their runs as NFL starters: Chad Greenway (33), Justin Durant (30) and Philip Wheeler (31). Sean Weatherspoon, the former Falcon first-rounder, is 28 but he missed all of 2014 due to an Achilles tendon injury and failed to regain a starting role last year after signing with the Cardinals.
Bucs' Overall Interest Level at the Position: Low
The likely crop of free agent linebackers does not look particularly fertile in 2016, particularly in regards to traditional 4-3 outside 'backers. That and Tampa Bay's relative strength at linebacker, especially compared to several other spots on a defense sure to be reworked this offseason, would seemingly put the position low on the team's offseason priority list.
Still, the Buccaneers may go hunting for additional depth and special teams help among the available linebackers. Tampa may not be the likely destination for the big-name free agent LBs this year, but it wouldn't be surprising to see some lower-profile additions at the position.