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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Buccaneers Free Agency Review: D-Line

Finding valuable pass-rushers in free agency is not easy, but the Bucs landed two key defensive ends shortly before their Super Bowl run.

DE Michael Johnson and DT Clinton McDonald sign their contracts at One Buc Place on Wednesday, March 12.

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In the two-plus decades since the advent of unrestricted free agency in 1993, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have tried their hand at important players at every position on the depth chart, with varying levels of success. With the 2015 free agency period set to begin on Tuesday, March 10, is taking a look at the team's free agency history, position by position. Today: Defensive Linemen.

(Note: This list contains only players who were unrestricted or restricted free agents, and thus does not include players who were available because they had been released by their previous teams prior to free agency.)

1994: DE Jeff Hunter
An 11th-round pick in 1990, Hunter had bounced around among four teams during his first four seasons, showing some pass-rush ability even as he had a hard time nailing down a long-term job. He had three sacks in seven games for Detroit as a rookie, then six sacks in 16 games, with no starts, in his second season. The Bucs gave him a try after he posted another three sacks in five games with Miami in 1993, but he was released after playing in just one September game.

1995: DT Marc Spindler
A third-round pick who had some mild success early in his career in Detroit, Spindler went from the Lions to the Jets in 1995, then back to the Lions in 1997. The Bucs ended up being part of his travel plans, as they signed him as an unrestricted free agent in 1995 but then decided to trade him to New York near the end of the preseason.

2001: DE Simeon Rice

Without a doubt one of the best – if not the best – free agent signings in franchise history. Monte Kiffin convinced Rice that he could be the final piece to the Buccaneers' defensive puzzle, and he was both persuasive and correct. Rice came aboard and pushed Tampa Bay's pass-rush to another level, teaming with future Hall of Famer Warren Sapp to provide the type of relentless front-four pressure that drives a strong Tampa Two defense.

Rice had 11 sacks in his first year as a Buccaneer, starting a five straight double-digit sack totals. From 1999-2005 (including two seasons in Arizona), Rice led the NFL in sacks and was invited to three Pro Bowls. During the Bucs' three-game postseason run to the title in 2002, he had four of the team's 11 sacks as Tampa Bay's most famous defense complete dominated the playoff field.

2002: DE Greg Spires
The Bucs hit on the defensive end position in free agency for two years in a row, which is no easy task. In this case, they did it with a stealthier move, picking up a player who had mostly been a reserve – albeit with some intriguing sack totals – for four seasons in New England and Cleveland. Spires was brought in to provide depth and competition for the presumptive starting DE duo of Rice and Marcus Jones, but instead he was impressive enough to unseat Jones almost immediately.

Jones was eventually released and the Bucs went to the Super Bowl with Spires opposite Rice on that powerful front line. Spires even turned in two sacks in the playoffs and a tipped pass that led to a pick-six in Super Bowl XXXVII. That season alone would have made this a successful signing, but Spires played another five years in Tampa, all as a starter, always solid and sometimes extremely productive, as in his eight-sack campaign of 2004.

2004: DE Lamar King and DT Darrell Russell
As I've mentioned several times this week, the 2004 free agency class was an unfortunate bunch from top to bottom (with apologies to punter Josh Bidwell). That's true of the two defensive linemen in the group, but that wasn't a terrible surprise, even at the time. Both King and Russell were long-shot reclamation projects, and neither hit.

In fact, both were former first-round picks. Russell had started his career very strong in Oakland (and had spent several years with then-Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden), but his career had been derailed by suspensions for use of banned substances. He missed a season and a half before returning for eight games with the Redskins in 2003. The Bucs gave him a shot in '04 but he landed another suspension and this one would end his career. He was later killed in a car accident in 2005. King's NFL struggles were of the more common variety: He had trouble staying on the field due to injuries. After five seasons and just 12 sacks in Seattle he signed with the Buccaneers but was released before the season after once again suffering an injury.

2005: DT Chris Hovan


Chris Hovan played 10 seasons in the NFL, evenly split between the Vikings and the Buccaneers, but it almost seems like two different careers. A first-round pick by Minnesota in 2000, Hovan put up good pass-rush numbers early and drew attention with his elaborate eye-black applications and long hair. He even spent some time as a notable foil for Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre.

In his five seasons in Tampa, Hovan recorded just five sacks but was nonetheless a valuable anchor for the Bucs' defensive line. Missing just one game and one start during that half-decade, Hovan moved on from the eye-black and the long hair but maintained his position as one of the leaders in the Buccaneers' locker room.

2007: DE Patrick Chukwurah
Something of a DE-LB tweener, Chukwurah didn't fit the usual profile of a Buccaneer Tampa Two player, and he never carved out much of a role with the team, though he was of some help on special teams. H played in nine games and had one sack in 2007, his final action in the NFL…at least so far. The Buccaneers actually brought Chukwurah back three different times after he was released in the summer of 2008, and he was last seen with the Seahawks in 2013.

2008: DEs Marques Douglas and Jimmy Wilkerson

Photos of's 101 best free agents expected to hit the market on March 10. (Note: this list includes players that were franchise tagged on Monday, March 2)

These two signings worked out for the Buccaneers, although in extremely different ways.

Douglas seemed like the higher-profile acquisition at the time, as he had been a starter in Baltimore and San Francisco for the previous five years and had produced 17 sacks during that span. Wilkerson, meanwhile, was a former sixth-round pick who had started just five games in five seasons with the Chiefs and produced just one sack.

Wilkerson, however, would be around a lot longer than Douglas. The Buccaneers chose to flip Douglas back to the Ravens in August, netting a draft pick that would turn into useful wide receiver Sammie Stroughter. Meanwhile, Wilkerson proved to be much more than his KC numbers would've indicated. He had five sacks as a reserve in 2008 and then took over a starting job the next year and racked up six more.

2011: DT John McCargo
Another former first-round pick who had failed to live up to those expectations but was getting a second shot with a new team. The Bucs cut McCargo before the season, though they did bring him back twice in the second half of the campaign, giving him a shot to play in the last four games of his NFL career.

2012: DT Gary Gibson, DE Wallace Gilberry and DT Amobi Okoye
With Head Coach Greg Schiano and Defensive Coordinator Bill Sheridan bringing a new defense to town, the Bucs did some shopping among the veteran linemen to look for players that would fit. Gibson, a former player for Schiano at Rutgers, was the only one of those three who would make it to the regular season in 2012. He stuck around for two seasons, appearing in 29 games and totaling 21 tackles in that time.

Gilberry looked like he had a similar profile to Wilkerson's in Kansas City, but this time the Bucs moved on quickly, releasing him in early September. Gilberry caught on with Cincinnati and has had three productive seasons since. The Bucs also let Okoye go at the end of the preseason and he went back to his 2001 team, the Chicago Bears.

2013: DT Derek Landri
Another attempt at adding depth to Schiano's interior line, Landri has spent the previous two seasons in Philadelphia, starting seven games in 2012. He had put together a promising season for the Panthers in 2010, starting all 16 games and notching three sacks, but he rarely played in Tampa and was gone after nine games and one sack.

2014: DE Michael Johnson and DT Clinton McDonald

Johnson and McDonald stepped immediately into starting jobs on opposite sides of All-Pro DT Gerald McCoy. The Bucs hoped those three plus former first-round pick DE Adrian Clayborn would give them their most potent defensive line in years, but early injuries to Johnson, Clayborn and McCoy upset the plan. Johnson hurt his ankle just minutes into the season and was not at full strength for much of the season. While his four-sack season was less than the Bucs had hoped for, Johnson still has time to make that original plan work. McDonald, who moved up to a starting role after a very productive run as a rotational player in Seattle, proved to be a very steady presence for the Bucs, both on and off the field.



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