|The Bucs will need to improve their pass defense if they hope to find success in 2013. (US Presswire)|
A flurry of free agent moves and a trade-up in the draft helped Tampa Bay address its offense this past offseason. After a 7-9 finish, the Bucs will need to make similar moves to shore up their pass defense if they hope to be a more serious contender for an NFC playoff berth in 2013.
The responsibility for the team's last-place finish in pass defense (297.4 yards per game allowed) doesn't fall completely on the secondary itself, but there is no doubt much work needs to be done on the back end of the defense. But the team's pass rush didn't help matters either, and those areas of play will need to be addressed this offseason.
Free agents who must be signed:
- DE Michael Bennett -- On a team that struggled to rush the passer, Bennett was at times the lone force in that regard. He led the Bucs with nine sacks and should be a player the team focuses much of its attention on this offseason. The rest of the Bucs only had 18 sacks combined.
- NT Roy Miller -- A run-stopper who is coming off perhaps his best professional season, Miller's play was a key reason Tampa Bay went from the NFL's worst rush defense in 2011 to the league's best rush defense in 2012. The Buccaneers should make him one of their top priorities.
- S Ronde Barber -- The most well-known of the franchise's free agents, Barber is mulling retirement after 16 seasons in the NFL. He played at a high level this season after switching from cornerback to safety, and with the secondary already a weakness, the Bucs hope he comes back for another year.
Positions needing improvement:
- CB -- Easily the biggest weakness on the team and the most significant reason Tampa Bay finished 29th in the NFL in total defense despite the league's No. 1 rush defense. Late in the season, the team frequently counted on an undrafted rookie (Leonard Johnson) and a player who was on the practice squad in the early stages of the season (LeQuan Lewis). This area must be addressed in either free agency, the draft or both.
- QB -- This is not to say that the Bucs should part ways with Josh Freeman or bring in someone else in free agency. But the team's late-season swoon coincided closely with erratic play from Freeman, and next season may be his last chance to prove to coach Greg Schiano that he should be the long-term starter. If Tampa Bay is to make the playoffs next year, Freeman simply must be more accurate.
- S -- Barber won't be around forever -- indeed, he may not even be back in 2013. While the team's top draft choice from 2012, Mark Barron, is talented, he didn't exactly have the sort of impact on the team's defense many expected. If the Bucs hope to win immediately (as their free agent signings last offseason would seem to indicate) they need Barber back. But for their long-term prospects, they need to identify a potential replacement now.
For more from Tampa Bay Bucs blogger Patrick Southern, follow @CBSBucs on Twitter.