The Tampa Bay Buccaneers found help for the front end of their defense on the first day of free agency, reaching a deal with former Washington defensive tackle Chris Baker. On Day Three, the back end of the defense got an infusion of talent, too.
On Friday, the Buccaneers agreed to terms on a two-year contract with safety J.J. Wilcox, an unrestricted free agent who played his first four seasons with the Dallas Cowboys. Originally a third-round pick out of Georgia Southern in 2013, Wilcox has played in 58 games with 38 starts and recorded 196 tackles, five interceptions, 15 passes defensed, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
Pictures of newly-added Buccaneers S J.J. Wilcox from his career with the Cowboys.
After starting 29 games over the 2014-15 seasons and picking off four passes in that span, Wilcox operated in a three-man safety rotation along with Byron Jones and Barry Church for the Cowboys last fall. Though he only started four games, he still played in more than 52% of the team's defensive snaps and contributed 45 tackles, an interception and a career-high six passes defensed.
The Buccaneers also used three different safeties heavily in 2016. Bradley McDougald, who started all 16 games and rarely came off the field, is currently an unrestricted free agent. Chris Conte started 11 games and was also due to become a free agent on Thursday before signing a new two-year deal with the team. Keith Tandy, who took over for Conte as the starter for the last five weeks – first due to injury and then on merit – was one of the league's most productive safeties down the stretch. Tandy is going into just the second year of a new deal he signed in 2016.
Wilcox didn't start playing safety until his senior year at Georgia Southern after converting from running back. Nevertheless, he started five games as a rookie and won the full-time starting job for Dallas at strong safety based on his physical and aggressive style of play.
The Buccaneers have moved quickly to strengthen their depth chart in the early days of free agency. While Baker and Wilcox should provide immediate help to a defense on the rise, big play wide receiver DeSean Jackson brings an element that was lacking in Tampa Bay's offense. The Bucs reached a deal with the former Philadelphia and Washington wideout on Thursday, not long after the free agency period began.