Looking at the Bucs' free agents
Once the season ends, attention immediately turns to the draft (three months away) and free agency (two). And aside from everyone having a potential shopping list of free agents that they would like to see in a Buc uniform (message to all these people - there are 31 other teams who have the same idea), time to have a look at the players the Bucs might have to sign first.

Unrestricted free agents
Mike Alstott - it is a virtual certainty that the A-Train will officially announce his retirement in the next month.

Michael Bennett - acquired in the mid-season trade as a safety net for the injuries in the backfield. Showed some nice touches but failed to pick up the playbook to an extent where he warranted more playing time. Has shown enough to be offered a contract by someone in the NFL but it might not be the Bucs. But I am sure most Buc fans would welcome him back if he wanted to be in Tampa.

Sammy Davis - spent the year as the No.4 cornerback playing in the nickel when injuries forced Brian Kelly out of the line-up. Defensive backs of his level are two-a-penny in the NFL and again, would be OK to come back if he wanted to be in Tampa.

Mark Jones - had put up some decent kick and punt return numbers when he got hurt in Detroit. If Devin Hester's twin is not available, then re-signing Jones would be an acceptable substititute.

Matt Lehr - was nothing more than an offensive line back-up and blocker on special teams. No real urgency to break the bank to sign a player like this.

Ryan Sims - did OK in a limited role as part of the defensive rotation but if the coaching staff was high on him, then it didn't show during 2007. Same as Lehr and Davis.

Jerramy Stevens - his play in December proved to the NFL that he can still be productive and that he seems to have cleaned up his act. Again like Bennett, someone will offer him a deal and if it was the Bucs, then all the better.

Jeremiah Trotter - was signed to provide cover for Barrett Ruud in the event that No.51 was not up to starting. Defensive Player of the Month for September proved that. Trotter was a positive force on the sideline but he is too big and slow to play extensively in the Tampa-2 defense as was proven in the season finale against the Panthers. Not likely to be back.

Restricted free agents
Jovan Haye - started every game last season and was a real surprise. The Bucs will offer him a contract tender meaning any team that went after Haye would have to give the Bucs a chance to match the offer, or take a draft pick in compensation. If the coaching staff is as high on him as we all think, he will get an offer here in Tampa first.

Antoine Cash - missed the entire 2007 season through injury but was only a special teamer the year before.

Kalvin Pearson - one of the mainstays of the special teams but unlikely to ever become more than that. So if another team does make an offer that breaks the bank, then good luck to him. Otherwise, welcome back.

Under contract but believed to have options to become free agents
Anthony Becht - already has Drew Rosenhaus spouting rubbish about his abilities to other teams. Apparently he has claimed that the reason Becht only had five receptions in 2007 were that the Bucs had so many other excellent receivers. Oh yeah? Anyone else notice them last season?

Brian Kelly - he is not going to get the money he wants. He has now played 10 seasons and has had two major injuries. He knows the Tampa-2 system so expect him to wind up somewhere like Detroit who play the same scheme.

Michael Pittman - knows the Tampa system and knows his role. Then again, so do all the other NFL teams who need a decent receiving back.

John Wade - the veteran part of the Buc line and rated highly by his team-mates but not by the fans. This could be an interesting decision by the coaching staff

Extending existing deals
But before you all jump to conclusions about how much money the Bucs have to spend on free agents, please remember that the likes of Barrett Ruud, Cadillac Williams, Michael Clayton and Jeff Garcia are all approaching the end of their existing deals, and in the case of Ruud, signing them to a long-term extension is a priority over all others.

Paul Stewart, TBO.com, January 2008