Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2013 brings high stakes for these seven Bucs

On one side of the table, the money is stacked so high that it blocks out the sun.

There is celebrity there, too. There is reputation. There is comfort and self-esteem and status. There is the future.

On the other side, there is a bus ticket.

There is failure there. There is starting over. There is a second team and a smaller chance and dwindling chances. There is uncertainty.

This side? Or that one?

And what are you playing for this year?

In the NFL, everyone has something on the line. Some win, some lose and some move along the road.

It is an unforgiving league, and every week can change a man's path.

In that way, this is a huge season for the Bucs, one that could alter the future of their key positions.

A look at seven members of the Bucs and what each of them are risking in the weeks to come.

Josh Freeman, quarterback

At stake: Everything.

Think of it like this: There are few players in the NFL who have as much at stake as Freeman this season.

Start with the money. Freeman is down to the last year of his contract and, thusly, the last chance to prove to his front office that he is, indeed, the team's quarterback of the future. If he can do so, he will earn a staggering new contract and, with it, a new set of seasons.

For Freeman, however, this is about more than the cash. His reputation is on the table, too. So is the color of his uniform, the leadership of the huddle and the way his teammates look at him. It is an all-in season for Freeman.

Play poorly enough, however, and all of this can be lost. Oh, there would be another team for Freeman, maybe another couple of teams. But a player's second team rarely gives a player as good a chance as his first one.

When you get down to it, that's what the NFL is. It is a constant comparison between how good someone is vs. how good he should be.

For Freeman, that has always been the place where the arguments begin. Freeman has been good at times. But have those times come often enough? Evidently, the Bucs wish to see a little more before they decide.

Mark Dominik, general manager

At stake: His job.

Even Dominik admits it's time to win games. When a general manager has gone 24-40 in four years, who is going to disagree?

So far, Dominik has been through two head coaches, three losing seasons and five drafts. As such, it is natural that the heat would arrive at his doorstep. Where else is it going to go?

Consider this: For a team that needed a lot of holes plugged when he took over, a lot of draft picks are gone already. Roy Miller. Brian Price. Arrelious Benn. Myron Lewis.

In free agency, Dominik has been a lot better, bringing in Carl Nicks and Vincent Jackson and Dashon Goldson. And he completed a trade for Darrelle Revis.

Dominik seems to have outgrown some of his bigger mistakes such as the hiring of Jeff Jagodzinski as offensive coordinator and the large contracts given to Michael Clayton and Quincy Black.

The question remains, however: Do the Bucs have enough talent, enough depth, to make an unexpected run in the NFC South?

For Dominik's future, they must.

Greg Schiano, coach

At stake: The feel-good status of 2012.

In his first season, Schiano accomplished some good things in the Bucs locker room. He changed the culture and cut out the foolishness, and he got the attention of a team that had become fractured.

Still, seven victories will keep an owner happy only for a little while.

Lose, and Schiano will have to listen to the college-coach chatter again and much of the momentum he built may be lost. If Freeman cannot keep the job, Schiano will turn to another quarterback for Year 3.

The good news? A lot of coaches have been better in their second seasons than their first. Washington's Joe Gibbs won the Super Bowl his second year after a .500 rookie season. The Giants' Bill Parcells went from three wins to nine. Jimmy Johnson went from one win to seven with the Cowboys.

No, no one is saying Schiano's job is on the line. But consider this: Raheem Morris won 10 games in his second season, and he still didn't get past the third.

Darrelle Revis, cornerback

At stake: His reputation as one of the best defensive players in the NFL.

So, do you like what you see from Revis so far?

That's the problem. So far, Revis hasn't played a down for the Bucs, which leaves us to wonder how much he has left and how close he can get to the player who took away half the field when he played for the Jets.

The truth? Revis is coming off a particularly dodgy injury that has been difficult for other cornerbacks to return from.

If Revis can make it back, the Bucs pass defense will automatically be better than it was. At this point, however, no one can be sure how long that will take.

Mike Sullivan, offensive coordinator

At stake: His position in the next-hot-guy rankings.

Last year, after his first as an offensive coordinator, Sullivan drew a little attention from teams who were looking for a new coach. If the Bucs are better, if Freeman takes a forward step, if Doug Martin is as good as he was, then Sullivan might get even more attention from other organizations.

If the Bucs take a step backward, however, then Sullivan could lose some impetus. That's the way it works with coordinators. For them to succeed, their teams have to look coordinated.

Carl Nicks, guard

At stake: His health.

This one has nothing to do with football. Nicks is on the list only because of the MRSA staph infection he developed, an infection that has ended other careers.

If Nicks can return to health, he remains one of the finest linemen in the NFL, a huge, brawling force. Who thought that something as small as an infected blister could put him in jeopardy?

To a degree, that also puts the Bucs offense in jeopardy. With him in front of Martin, the chances of finding a crease to run multiply.

Bill Sheridan, defensive coordinator

At stake: His job.

It was difficult to decide on how good a job Sheridan did a year ago. His team was first in the NFL against the run, last by far against the pass.

How can that be? How can a defense be so one-dimensional?

This year, with a rebuilt secondary, it should be easier to measure the Bucs. If Tampa Bay can develop a pass rush through brute force or through scheme, then Sheridan should be fine.

If not? Defensive head coaches have been known to be impatient with defensive coordinators.

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