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As NFL teams find spark in free agency, Tampa Bay Buccaneers wait for match

And so, we wait.

For a quarterback. For a linebacker. For a wide receiver.

The clock ticks, and the world spins, and the telephone does not ring. Flowers bloom, tumble­weeds tumble, and clouds move across the sky. Still, we wait.

For a defensive lineman. For a running back. For a corner.

Around the league, teams are getting matched up with players as if they are on the eHarmony hotline. Washington has found love with Albert Haynesworth. Kansas City is pitching woo with Matt Cassel. The Saints are back together with Jonathan Vilma, the Jets have run away with Bart Scott, and the Broncos and Brian Dawkins have found each other. Here, we are standing by, unrequited.

For an answer. For a clue. For a whisper.

Truthfully, it is probably too early to be too disappointed in the reinvention of the Tampa Bay Bucs. Free agency is still in its first weekend, and the draft is still to come, and the Bucs roster is far, far from final. All of that is easy to see.

On the other hand, it is also easy to see the holes in the team's depth chart.

And, yes, it is easy to see frustration coming from Bucs fans, too.

It is a difficult time for those who follow the Bucs. Everyone is so new: the general manager, the head coach, the coordinators, the quarterback, the outside linebackers, and on and on. You could argue that the team hasn't had this many new key faces in key positions since its expansion year.

Given that, given the available cap money, given the available help on the horizon, given the familiar faces that have been released, it is little wonder that the frustration seems to be mounting.

"I understand,'' general manager Mark Dominik said Saturday. "I don't blame them. People want answers today. I would only tell fans that we are building this team, not only for one year or two years, but for beyond.''

Dominik wouldn't talk about his negotiations, but he remained upbeat.

"I'm not disappointed,'' he said. "We're only 48 hours into this thing.''

Perhaps, but the hardest thing in sports is patience. And the easiest thing to ask is, "with all that money available, shouldn't they have signed somebody?'' Yes, it's a fair question.

Of course, the Bucs did trade for Kellen Winslow, an intriguing tight end who came at a price. As of now, the Bucs are set at tight end, all right. Why, they might be the tight-endingest team in the NFL. Just asking, but do you suppose one of those tight ends could play a little linebacker in his spare time?

Okay, I'm kidding. Once you get past the hard swallowing that comes with giving up a No. 2 draft choice (and, reports say, a No. 5 next year), Winslow could be a nice addition. If you think of him as a weapon, not just as a tight end, the price doesn't seem as steep.

Put it this way, if there was a wide receiver out there with the ability to catch 80 passes in a season, wouldn't you have given a second-round draft choice for him? Especially when you remember the Bucs used last year's second-round draft choice for a receiver who didn't catch any passes. Once you get past all the G.I. Joe and Evel Knievel jokes, Winslow is a 25-year-old talent who might be a great fit.

Still, if you had listed the Bucs' needs, you would have listed a lot of positions before you ever got to tight end, wouldn't you?

Taken one by one, you can understand why the Bucs would have passed on every deal. A team can't be expected to break the bank or to gut the draft.

For instance, it's hard to suggest the Bucs should have chased the Redskins over the $100 million mark for Haynesworth. Hey, I was one of the guys who said they should go hard after Haynesworth, remember? But no, not give-him-a-blank-check hard.

Look, a team doesn't get credit for finishing second in free agency. Still, it was interesting to see the Bucs were at least willing to spend a lot of money for Haynesworth, wasn't it? That is, as long as the wallet stays open.

As far as Cassel, the price the Chiefs paid for him (the 34th overall pick) seems like a bargain. The problem is, the Bucs didn't have the 34th pick. Logic says the Bucs could have had Cassel for their No. 1 (the 19th pick overall) and perhaps gotten back change. But no, I wouldn't have made that deal unless I was certain Cassel was going to be a star for the next decade. And I'm not.

Vilma? Again, there is a line where a player makes sense and where he doesn't. As long as the Bucs have good linebackers, no one will care that one of them isn't Vilma.

So far, it has been a short, stormy stay on the job for Dominik. He has made some choices that have been bold, some that have been difficult, and some that have been debated. Have his choices been the right ones? We'll see once they start keeping score.

In the meantime, perhaps he should hire a bounty hunter. You know, a guy to bring someone back alive.

After all, we're waiting.

As NFL teams find spark in free agency, Tampa Bay Buccaneers wait for match 02/28/09 [Last modified: Sunday, March 1, 2009 7:37am]

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