|Greg Trott/Associated Press|
|Aqib Talib's pending legal issues could force the Bucs to change their priorities in April's NFL Draft.|
Let's get this straight off the top. Aqib Talib isn't just Tampa Bay's top cornerback or top defender. His teammates will tell you he's probably the Buccaneers' best player. But as soon as football resumes, there's a chance he could also be the best former player from last season's 10-win team.
Talib -- along with his mother -- is accused of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for allegedly firing shots at his sister's boyfriend during an argument last week in Texas. His future -- personally and professionally -- is in serious jeopardy. The charges carry jail time of two to 20 years, according to the St. Petersburg Times.
Once football resumes, regardless of his legal status, Talib could be suspended for quite some time depending on the NFL's investigation. Commissioner Roger Goodell has very little tolerance for any behavior when a firearm is involved. Plus, Talib got sacked for a game last year for allegedly punching a cab driver. The league's personal conduct policy was mainly set up for repeat offenders. Talib seems on track to qualify.
Tampa Bay could also simply release Talib, an option that you would figure has been broached in-house already.
As a football product, the rising Bucs have been put in a bad spot. They weren't expecting to have to address the left cornerback position for years because of Talib, the 20th overall pick in 2008. Now, filling the void becomes immediate. Complicating the situation is that veteran right cornerback Ronde Barber might play for another year -- two tops.
I know the Bucs have made finding a pass rusher a priority. That might not have changed. However, because of Talib and Barber they have no choice but to protect themselves at cornerback.
The Bucs again have the 20th pick in the draft and if a pass rusher like UCLA outside linebacker Akeem Ayers or one of the multiple standout defensive ends are still on the board, it would seem difficult for them to go cornerback in the first round.
However, in a division with Matt Ryan and Drew Brees, you can't leave your defense too exposed in the secondary, regardless of the pressure generated up front. Keep in mind the Bucs' top safety, Tanard Jackson, was suspended for one year for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy and won't be eligible to apply for reinstatement until the beginning of the season, whenever that might be.
It would seem that the Bucs have to seriously consider being in the free-agent game for Nnamdi Asomugha and Johnathan Joseph and, at some point, also get a cornerback in the draft. It might seem premature now, but again, we know that you don't have to be convicted of a crime to be suspended by Goodell.
As painstaking as this is, Tampa Bay, to some degree, is catching a break.
Believe it or not, that break is the lockout.
Since there is no free agency until the courts or a settlement on a collective bargaining agreement dictate as much, the Bucs have time to assess everything before deciding what to do -- at least in free agency. Had free agency gone off as planned, Asomugha, Joseph and other top-shelf corners probably would have been gone with Tampa Bay paying little attention because it felt so secure with Talib.
Considering the way things currently stand, that whole dynamic has changed -- and so could the look of the Bucs' secondary.
Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89.