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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Cornerback Moves Create Competition at Key Spot

After trading Carlton Davis to Detroit, the Buccaneers replenished their depth at cornerback with free agents Bryce Hall and Tavierre Thomas, who will be competing for key roles in training camp


For the past five seasons, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' cornerback snaps have gone almost exclusively to players the team drafted or signed as a rookie free agent. Other than a smattering here or there of Ross Cockrell or Dee Delaney, it's been an extremely homegrown group: Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean, Sean Murphy-Bunting, M.J. Stewart, Zyon McCollum, Christian Izien and Vernon Hargreaves.

However, the Buccaneers are diversifying their cornerback strategy as they head into 2024. Two of the five players they have signed from other teams so far in free agency play that position. First the Bucs nabbed outside corner Bryce Hall from the Jets on the third day of the open market; three days later they pulled slot specialist Tavierre Thomas in from Houston.

Dean and McCollum are probably the front-runners for the two outside jobs in 2024 – they started 13 and nine games there, respectively, last season – and second-year man Izien is the incumbent in the slot. However, the Bucs still needed depth at corner, and they love competition, particularly at a position where injuries have taken their toll in recent seasons. On Tuesday during the NFL Annual Meeting in Orlando, Head Coach Todd Bowles discussed what the additions of Hall and Thomas do for the Buccaneers.

"Bryce Hall is a very good football player," said Bowles. "He's an outside corner, highly intelligent, very long. He's very long, just like Zyon and Dean are. Plays great man to man, has a good feel for zone. He's had some injury issues in the past but if we can keep him healthy, I think he'll be a good addition for us. Just watching his film over the past couple years. years, I knew he was a good football player.

And to have him out there and come in the fold like that is a really good fit for us.

"Tavierre plays nickel as well as special teams. He's a fierce tackler, he's a tough competitor, and he can play some safety for us as well. He's a really good utility piece to use and he's a chess piece going forward to see how much he can learn that we can really use to help us during the season."

Formerly a fifth-round pick by the Jets in 2020, Hall started 26 games over four seasons with New York. That included all 17 contests in 2021, when he recorded 79 tackles and 16 passes defensed. He has nearly 2,000 snaps of defensive experience in the regular season. Thomas has played three seasons each for the Browns and Texans and has made 22 starts in the regular season. Playing the slot position often means a good amount of work without officially being listed as a starter, and Thomas has logged more than 1,600 defensive snaps.

"There's always competition going in [to camp]," said Bowles. "The fact that those guys have played some games in this league is very helpful. The competition is going to be there with Zyon and Dean as well as those two guys. They've got to get caught up in the system, obviously, but when we'll look to see how they fit in and how we can use them as time goes on."

The Bucs are also fond of defensive backs with positional flexibility, like McCollum, Izien and safety Antoine Winfield Jr. General Manager Jason Licht thinks Hall and Thomas fall into that category as well.

"If anything, [they are] great depth, if not competing for starting jobs," said Licht. "Tavierre is a really tough, instinctive player, can run, extremely aggressive. We like him in the nickel spot; he can also play a little outside and is really good on [special] teams. Bryce is going to compete for time outside, playing in the nickel, playing on third down. They're competing for jobs. I thought those were two really good depth pieces that we were able to get."

Those two signings can be seen as part of an overall strategy that began with the tough decision to trade Davis to Detroit (along with 2024 and 2025 sixth-round picks) for a third-round pick. That gave the Bucs a fourth pick in the top 100, an asset that made the move very worthwhile, even if it meant the loss of one of those aforementioned homegrown assets. Davis started 75 games over six seasons in Tampa and had nine interceptions and 73 passes defensed. He also missed at least two games due to injury in each of those seasons, including 16 over the past three.

"Carlton's been a great corner since I've been here," said Bowles, who arrived in Tampa one year after Davis was drafted. "Obviously he had some injury issues in the past that kept him off the field sometimes a year. He's had some up-and-down games, but overall he's a good worker and he's a great young man. He puts in the time. I think Detroit got a very good football player. When you can get a third-round pick for a corner – I mean we have quarterbacks going for sixth-round picks – so if you can get a third-round pick for a corner that really helps your team at a time when you probably have to cut some money, business-wise, I think it's a good deal for both of us. And I wish Carlton the best and he knows that he can call me at any time."

The pick the Bucs received is number 92 overall, and given the team's strong track record in the third round of the draft in recent years, Licht knows that's a very valuable asset.

"It's always tough to let a player go, via trade or release or whatever," he said. "We just felt like it was an opportunity for us to get a pick, a really good pick and to add some youth with that pick, whether we use it or use it as ammo to get up or whatever it is. We wish Carlton the best. He's a good player when he's out there on the field. But now it creates an opportunity for somebody else."

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