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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs Sign Edwards

Turning some attention to its defense, Tampa Bay has signed fifth-year cornerback Mario Edwards, a starter for three seasons in a very effective Dallas secondary


With the Cowboys, Edwards started for three seasons in a highly-rated secondary

Help is on the way, Monte Kiffin.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were extremely aggressive on the free agent market during the month of March, adding roughly 20 veteran players to the roster for 2004. A majority of those signings, however, were aimed at improving the league's 10th-ranked offense; it appeared as if Kiffin's defense would be upgraded primarily through the draft.

On Friday, however, the Buccaneers announced the signing of free agent cornerback Mario Edwards. Terms of the contract were not disclosed, as is team policy.

Edwards (6-0, 199) played four seasons for the Dallas Cowboys, starting all but two games over the past three seasons. The Cowboys' pass defense ranked third, 19th and first, respectively, in the NFL in those three seasons (2001-03), an in each of those campaigns Edwards was on the field for more than 90 percent of the team's defensive plays.

The addition of Edwards gives the Bucs impressive depth at cornerback. Incumbent starters Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly comprise one of the top cornerback duos in the NFL, reserves include Tim Wansley, Torrie Cox and Tom Knight and starting safety Dwight Smith is a converted corner. Wansley started six games in 2003, Cox was having a strong preseason before a knee injury as a rookie last year and Knight is a former first-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals.

"Mario is a proven NFL starter and an excellent addition to our football team," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "He is a talented player who will add depth and experience to our secondary."

That the Bucs would be interested in shoring up the corner position is understandable, even beyond the team's stated desire to increase competition at every spot. After Kelly sustained a season-ending chest injury early in 2003, the team's usually stingy pass defense struggled at times, though it still finished the season third in the NFL. A subsequent injury to Wansley forced the Bucs to move Smith back to cornerback near the end of the season and give significant playing time to undrafted rookie Ronyell Whitaker and special teams ace Corey Ivy.

With Edwards and Knight, the Bucs now have four very experienced starters.

"I am excited to join the Buccaneers, and look forward to working closely with Monte Kiffin and (Defensive Backs Coach) Mike Tomlin," said Edwards. "Tampa Bay has established itself as one of the league's elite defensive units, and I can't wait to be a part of it."

While revamping the offensive line, restocking the backfield and picking up depth at quarterback, wide receiver and tight end, the Bucs have also directed a handful of their signings at the defense. In addition to Edwards, the team has also added Knight, defensive tackle Darrell Russell and linebackers Keith Burns and Jeff Gooch.

Edwards' NFL totals over four seasons include 58 games, 47 starts, 178 tackles, four interceptions (two returned for touchdowns), 28 passes defensed and two fumble recoveries. Last season, he started all 16 games and one playoff contest at right cornerback for the Cowboys, finishing the regular season with 45 tackles, one interception (returned for a touchdown) and eight passes defensed.

The 28-year-old Edwards originally entered the league as a sixth round pick (180th overall) by the Cowboys in 2000. He started two national championship games while playing at Florida State University, and also set an ACC record with four interceptions in one game. He hails from Pascagoula, Mississippi.

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