TAMPA — The Bucs have had five head coaches in the past 10 years, a remarkable record of either impatience or incompetence for an organization that by all outward appearances seems dedicated to winning.
So the decision to give Dirk Koetter a third season despite a 13-18 record and no playoff appearances is not the norm for the Glazer family.
But in the NFL, with the draft and free agency, the system will work for those teams that stay the course and can identify talent.
Exhibit one is today’s opponent, the Saints.
After three consecutive 7-9 seasons, coach Sean Payton and Drew Brees were stuck in the gumbo muck of mediocrity. But if any team has shown that the distance from worst to first isn’t that far to travel, it’s the Saints.
"I think oftentimes, our case in point, you’re a good draft class away from a season turning really in a completely different direction," Payton said. "And I think the importance of the procurement of your players, be it through the draft and also through free agency, can’t be undervalued."
The Saints win the NFC South today with a victory over the Bucs. Both Payton and Brees point to the contributions they have gotten from an outstanding rookie class that includes two Pro Bowl players — RB Alvin Kamara and CB Marshon Lattimore.
Lattimore and RT Ryan Ramczyk fell to the Saints at Nos. 11 and 32 overall, respectively, because they were coming off injuries. Utah S Marcus Williams slid to No. 42. Then the Saints did something smart and traded back into the third round to get Kamara at No. 67.
"It’s unusual. You’re always hopeful and optimistic after a draft that you hit on players, and then when you look at Lattimore and some of the plays he’s been able to make and then, of course, Alvin Kamara — look, it was important for us as a team to be right on so many of those picks," Payton said.
Kamara has helped provide balance for the offense. He has produced 1,426 yards rushing (684 yards, seven touchdowns) and receiving (75 catches, 742 yards, five TDs). That, combined with Mark Ingram’s 1,089 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns, has taken a lot of pressure off Brees.
In fact, Kamara made such an immediate impact that the team traded RB Adrian Peterson to the Cardinals after five games.
"What we realized through training camp and early in the season was, ‘Wow, Alvin Kamara, this guy, we’re holding him back if he’s not on the field,’?" Brees said. "We’re stunting his growth if we can’t get him more reps.’’
The Bucs also netted several starters and big contributors in TE O.J. Howard, S Justin Evans, WR Chris Godwin and LB Kendell Beckwith. Evans was picked 17 spots ahead of Kamara, who certainly could’ve helped the Bucs’ ground game.
The point is, with patience and the right players, the Bucs could turn things around in 2018. Just ask the Saints.
Free agent fallout
The ugly incident in the Bucs locker room after their 22-19 loss at Carolina last week involving DT Chris Baker was a long time brewing. Baker had a critical encroachment penalty on fourth and 3 at the Tampa Bay 5 with his team clinging to a four-point lead. To make matters worse, Baker had just been warned by DT Gerald McCoy and others to watch the hard count.
The penalty made an easy fourth-and-1 conversion for RB Jonathan Stewart. QB Cam Newton scored the go-ahead touchdown a play later.
Apparently, Baker was all smiles in the locker room and showed no remorse for his penalty, and several players loudly and profanely called him out for it. Several coaches wish players had imparted that kind of accountability on Baker in training camp when his laziness was merely a punch line at the rookie talent show. Nobody was laughing last Sunday.
Baker earned $6 million this season for his 31 tackles and half-sack. He has no more guaranteed money after this year, so it’s unlikely he will be back next season.
The cautionary tale is not many great players make it to free agency. It’s a buyer-beware system, and in this case, Baker didn’t help the locker room.
The same can be said for the acquisition of S T.J. Ward for one year, $4 million. The eight-year veteran believed he was coming to be a starter, not a rotational player behind Evans and Chris Conte. That’s on the Bucs.
In the case of WR DeSean Jackson, his 50 catches for 668 yards and three TDs had more to do with Jameis Winston’s inaccuracy on the deep ball as anything else. He has $23.5 million guaranteed in his first two years of his deal, so he will likely be back in 2018.
Stat of the week
Over the past four weeks, Winston leads the league in passer rating (114.5) and yards per attempt (9.25) while ranking third in completion percentage (72.0), fourth in passing yards (1,221) and tied for fourth in passing touchdowns (eight).