4 free agents from other teams that will have an impact for Bucs

TAMPA — The Bucs focused primarily on retaining their own players during free agency, but they also acquired some new faces that will compete for starting jobs in various places in 2024.

The team traded starting cornerback Carlton Davis and two sixth-round picks to the Lions for a third-rounder. A big reason why the Bucs felt comfortable dealing Davis was because of the play of Zyon McCollum, who backed up both cornerback positions.

But they also added two cornerbacks who will compete for playing time: the Jets’ Bryce Hall and the Texans’ Tavierre Thomas. Both are prototypical Bucs cornerbacks: tall, long and athletic players who can play man or zone.

The 6-foot-1, 202-pound Hall started all 17 games at left cornerback for the Jets in 2021, setting career highs with 79 tackles and 16 passes defensed, trying for sixth in the league. But he was limited to a combined 14 games over the past two seasons, including just two starts. And he has has only two career interceptions.

“Bryce Hall is a very good football player,” coach Todd Bowles said. “He’s an outside corner, highly intelligent, he’s very long, just like Zyon and (Jamel) Dean are. Plays great man-to-man, has a good feel for zone, he had some injury issues in the past, but if we can keep him healthy I’ll think he’ll be a good addition for us.”

Thomas, at 5-foot-10, 205 pounds, will compete for the starting nickel cornerback spot with Christian Izien and be an instant contributor on special teams.

“He’s a fierce tackler, he’s a tough competitor, and he can play some safety for us as well,” Bowles said. “He’s a really good utility piece to use, and he’s a chess piece going forward to see how much he learns that we can use to help us during the season.”

General manager Jason Licht likes the versatility and depth Hall and Thomas bring to the defensive backs room.

“If anything, great depth, if not competing for a starting job,” Licht said. “Tavierre is a really tough, instinctive player. Can run, extremely aggressive. I like him in the nickel spot. Can also play a little on the outside and really good on (special) teams. Bryce can compete for time outside, playing in nickel, playing on third down while competing for a job regardless. I felt those were two really good depth pieces that we were able to get.”

On the other side of the ball, the Bucs added two interior offensive linemen who could compete for starting jobs as well: former Giants guard/center Ben Bredeson and ex-Eagles guard Sua Opeta.

Bredeson, 6-5, 310 pounds, starred at Michigan and was a fourth-round pick of the Ravens in 2020. He’s started 25 of the 45 games he’s played.

The 6-foot-4, 301-pound Opeta was an undrafted free agent out of Weber State in 2019 and played in 38 games over his four seasons in Philadelphia, starting 10. He’s an incredibly strong player who is hard to move.

“We really like both guys that we have,” Bowles said. “Bredeson, who came from the Giants, has played all along the offensive line, but if you leave him in the same place he was a very good player. The one we got from Philly is a huge size guy who started some ballgames. Losing (Nick) Leverett and (Aaron) Stinnie, we get some guys who are fighting for starting spots. It doesn’t mean we won’t add any if we get some, but we really like the guys that we signed.”

While Robert Hainsey is penciled in at center, he is likely to get a challenge from Bredeson.

“They’re going to compete for starting jobs,” Licht said. “Ben could start at guard or center, Sua at guard. Both really smart players, both bigger guys, both have a lot of strength. Both are going to get opportunities here that they didn’t have, especially in Sua’s case. So, there’s opportunity with us.”

Who will replace Evans and Godwin?

The Bucs still have one of the league’s most productive receiving tandems in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.

But who’s next?

Godwin is in the final year of his contract and has battled through a severe knee injury to resume his career. New offensive coordinator Liam Coen plans to move him back inside as a slot receiver this season. Evans signed a two-year contract that could be worth as much as $52 million, but he will turn 31 in August.

The Bucs likely will look to add a dynamic player at that position in the draft. Coen prefers big receivers with a long catch radius.

“Every quarterback — you want to be able to throw the ball in this area, right?” he said, making a big circle with his hands. “We all want that, but that’s not always what’s open. ... Obviously, we talked about accuracy for a quarterback — it’s catch radius and being quarterback-friendly. It’s just being able to be open.”

Bowles not worried about hip-drop tackle ban

The NFL banned the dangerous hip drop-tackle at last week’s owners meeting. There’s been some complaints on social media from defensive players around the league, but it isn’t a concern for Bowles.

“We don’t teach it, we don’t preach it, and we don’t do it,” Bowles said. “So, it’s really not a big deal for us as far as getting ready for something that we don’t do. If it does happen, it’s definitely not going to be intentional. It just makes you more aware. We’ve been aware. We don’t tackle that way, and we don’t teach it that way. It’s not going to change things.”

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