Photos of NFL.com'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)
NFL's TOP 5 DB FREE AGENTS](/news/article-1/NFLs-Top-5-Free-Agent-Defensive-Backs/166ac60b-705e-42dc-a903-6ac7d945eb99)
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, Buccaneers.com is taking a look at the team's free agency history, position by position. Today: Defensive Backs.
(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.)
1993: S Barney Bussey, S Jerry Gray and CB Martin Mayhew
Finding players for the secondary was one of the Bucs' favorite pastimes during the early years of free agency. This first group was something of a mixed bag.
The best hit in that trio was Martin Mayhew, an undersized but intelligent and instinctive cornerback who happened to have good career timing. It might not have seemed that way when he spent his rookie year on IR after being drafted in the 10th round by Buffalo, but when the Bills let him go the Washington Redskins swooped in and added him to a very good secondary that also included Darrell Green. After four seasons of learning from Green – and picking off 13 passes – Mayhew had his contract expire just as the very first year of unrestricted free agency arrived. He used that option to jump to Tampa, where he would start for four more seasons and be one of the better players in the Bucs' secondary. Mayhew, of course, is now the general manager of the Detroit Lions.
Bussey used free agency to follow his former Cincinnati coach, Sam Wyche, to the Buccaneers. A solidly-built and physical safety who had been a spot starter for the Bengals, Bussey found a new role in Tampa, as Defensive Coordinator Floyd Peters tried starting him at linebacker in order to improve the team's pass coverage. He ended up playing three seasons with the team and logging 27 starts, though there were few impact plays to show for it.
Gray was a four-time Pro Bowler for the Rams who had looked good in one season with the Houston Oilers in '92, picking off six passes while starting all 16 games. Tampa Bay would be his last stop (as a player that is), and he made just five starts with no interceptions. Gray went into coaching a few years later and spent three years as the defensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans.
1994: CBs Charles Dimry, Mike McGruder and Tony Stargell
All in all, this was a successful attempt to add depth to the defensive backfield. The best addition proved to be Dimry, who had been in and out of the starting lineup over six years in Atlanta and Denver. In Tampa, he took over a starting spot right away and held it for 39 of the Bucs' 48 games over the next three seasons.
Stargell and "Scooter" McGruder were both useful, as well, as each saw extensive action in extra-DB packages and made occasional starts. Both moved on after the '95 season.
1995: Ss John Booty and Kenny Gant
This time it was the safety position that got the depth chart, and once again it worked out reasonably well. Gant could actually be considered one of the better free agent signings the team has made because he was signed to dominate on special teams and he did just that. Gant had done the same thing in Dallas for five years and had picked up the nickname "Shark," which followed him to Tampa. He quickly became a fan favorite and he finished his career with three seasons in the Bay area.
Booty played in just seven games in his lone season as a Buccaneer but he did make two starts and pick off a pass. As with Gant, Booty would find Tampa to be his final NFL stop.
1996: CBs Tyrone Legette and Jay Taylor
A "Jay Taylor" has played for the Buccaneers, but not this one. Former XFL kicker Jay Taylor handled the Bucs' field goal duties for five games in 2004 after the release of Martin Gramatica. The Jay Taylor who played defensive back signed with the Bucs after five unremarkable seasons in Phoenix and Kansas City but was cut at the end of August.
Legette, on the other hand, was a lot like McGruder and Stargell. He also stayed around for two years as a reserve, seeing work in extra-DB packages and picking up one start and one interception. He finished his career with San Francisco in 1998.
2004: CBs Mario Edwards and Tommy Knight
The Bucs went a long time without signing a cornerback or safety as a UFA, and they didn't have much luck when they returned to the well.
As has been well-established this week, the Bucs efforts during the 2004 market, while expansive, were largely ineffective. Their two tries at cornerback included Tommy Knight, a former first-round pick by Arizona in 1997 who had been considered something of a miss. Edwards, on the other hand was a former sixth-rounder who had quickly risen to starter status in Dallas.
Edwards did manage to make the team, playing in 15 games with three starts to cap his NFL career. Knight was released in late July and never played again in the league.
2008: CB/S Eugene Wilson
Wilson won two Super Bowls with the Patriots but the Bucs got him with a bargain deal during the '08 offseason after he had played in just 15 games over the previous two seasons. Though primarily a safety in New England, the Bucs thought he could play cornerback, as well, and envisioned him as a player that could play the nickel back position and provide depth at safety.
Good plan, but it never came to fruition because the Buccaneers cut Wilson at the end of the preseason and he ended up playing his final three NFL seasons in Houston.
2010: S Sean Jones
With former second-round pick Sabby Piscitelli clearly not working out, the Buccaneers turned to get a proven starter in Jones, who had spent one year in Philly after four strong seasons in Cleveland. The note trumpeted upon his arrival was that Jones had racked up 16 interceptions over the previous four seasons, putting him among the league leaders in that span for safeties.
Jones did indeed give the Bucs a starting safety – he opened all 32 games over the next two years – but he picked off just one pass during that time and generally was not much of an impact player. The next year the Bucs drafted Mark Barron in the first round and converted veteran corner Ronde Barber to safety to overhaul that position.
2011: CB Ashton Youboty
This was another attempt to get a once promising career back on track, but Youboty was cut at the end of August. He did sign on with Jacksonville but ended up on injured reserve and has not played in the league since.
2012: CB Eric Wright
The Bucs gave Wright a big contract to be one of their new starting cornerbacks in 2012, and he did indeed open the first 10 games of that season. However, he was then suspended for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances and that would be the last he would play for Tampa Bay. The Bucs traded Wright the following summer to San Francisco, and when the trade was voided due to a failed physical he was simply released.
2013: S Dashon Goldson
Goldson came to the Buccaneers after consecutive Pro Bowl seasons in San Francisco, but his first two years in his new home have surely been less than satisfying. A series of fines and a one-game suspension due to hits that were deemed illegal kept him from getting the most out of the 2013 campaign. Last year, the Bucs struggled to a two-win season, Goldson missed two games due to injury and the team made an effort to look at young safety Bradley McDougald. A smart and hard-working player, Goldson could still find satisfaction in Tampa.
2014: CB Michael Jenkins, CB Alterraun Verner and S Major Wright
It's too early to write the story on this trio. Jenkins suffered a season-ending injury in Game One last fall but he recently signed another one-year deal with the Bucs so he'll have another chance to make it work with his hometown team. Verner was one of the more coveted defenders on the market last year and he was just fine in his first season with the Bucs, steadily improving as he and his teammates became more comfortable in Lovie Smith's defense. Wright started seven games before running into injury issues in December but he is one of the most players on the team most familiar with Smith's defensive schemes.
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