Monday, May 28, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Free-agent splurge shows how far back Bucs were

It was just hours into the NFL's free agency period and the Bucs were tossing out contracts like beads at Gasparilla.

They struck deals with a pass rusher and a defensive lineman and a cornerback. They agreed to terms with a pass-catching tight end. They re-signed an offensive lineman.

There was a rumor that coach Lovie Smith ordered 50 pizzas to be delivered to One Buc Place. From the sound of things, he was also ordering a veteran quarterback, an offensive lineman, a linebacker and a kick returner.

Hold the anchovies and give me a Devin Hester on the side.

There was a moment there Tuesday when I swore the Bucs were about to sign Dick Butkus and Refrigerator Perry.

This signing frenzy made two things abundantly clear.

One, Lovie and new GM Jason Licht realize that 4-12 is as putrid as the rest of us think it is.

And, two, man oh man did the old regime run this franchise into the ground.

Do you know why you spend truckloads of money making pitches for every free agent walking down the street?

Because you have no players.

And do you know why you have no players?

Because you spent the past several years bungling the draft, signing the wrong free agents and pulling the trigger on what could end up being the worst trade in franchise history. And considering some of the trades the Bucs have made (see: Samoan, The Throwin'), that's saying something.

It's easy to blast away at ownership and the previous regime of GM Mark Dominik and, to some extent, coach Greg Schiano. It's easy because it's so painfully obvious that these guys did such a lousy job.

This all goes back to when the Glazers started paying more attention to the other kind of football across the ocean and took advantage of the uncapped years in the NFL. This was 2009. With no salary floor, the Glazers decided to go with a shoestring budget and put the unproven Dominik and Raheem Morris in charge. They were going to build through the draft, as if they were the first geniuses to think of that.

And that would have been just fine if they'd actually drafted well.

Instead, too many drafts failed to bring in enough good players. They might have had more success picking names out of a hat.

Then, as the losses piled up and that waiting list for season tickets vanished as fans grew grumpy, the Glazers panicked and handed Dominik the checkbook. Next thing you know, the Bucs were overpaying for players at positions you shouldn't be overpaying, like wide receiver (Vincent Jackson) and safety (Dashon Goldson).

If you're going to overspend, you do it at quarterback and at left tackle and for a pass rusher.

Instead of sticking with one plan, the Bucs flip-flopped from building through the draft like the Steelers to spending crazy money like the Cowboys.

And, typically, teams try to compensate for bad drafts with carefree spending in free agency and trades like the one made for Darrelle Revis.

The 2009 draft has completely vanished, including the franchise quarterback. That's why the Bucs are going all-in today for career backup Josh McCown.

They swung and missed on wide receiver Arrelious Benn, which is why they had to write a $55 million check to Jackson.

Either trying to save their jobs or completely miscalculating how close they were to being good, Dominik and Schiano overspent for Revis, which is why the Bucs likely will be forced to cut him today just to have money to fill other needs.

This should tell you all you need to know: During Dominik's five seasons as GM, the Bucs drafted nine defensive linemen (not counting Erik Lorig, who turned into a fullback). Yet the Bucs' first two free-agent deals Tuesday were for defensive linemen. They are going to pay pass rusher Michael Johnson $43 million because first-round pick Adrian Clayborn and second-round pick Da'Quan Bowers haven't panned out.

You know, the more you dissect this thing, it seems almost laughable now that anyone believed the Bucs were close to being a contender last season.

You can only imagine the horror that Smith must have felt when he started breaking down game film after taking the head coaching job. You can only imagine the cold sweats that Licht must have felt when he realized how much money the Bucs had tied up in players such as Revis and Goldson and Donald Penn and Davin Joseph.

So now Smith and Licht are cleaning up. Tuesday was a good start. Smith and Licht are trying to fix this mess the way you're supposed to fix it. That's by shoring up the spots closest to the football — offensive line, defensive line, quarterback.

There's still so much to be done.

The Bucs need more offensive linemen. They need a slot receiver. They might even need a No. 2 receiver. They could use a linebacker. If they cut ties with Revis, as expected, they may need a cornerback even after adding Alterraun Verner. They still need a returner. They need depth everywhere.

Who knows if these moves will work out. Remember how excited everyone was two years ago when the Bucs made a big free-agent splash by signing Jackson, Carl Nicks and Eric Wright, and just look how that turned out. Since then, they are 11-21. Maybe we should wait a second before declaring the Bucs as offseason winners. After all, you can't clean up an industrial-sized mess like this in a few hours.

Hey, at least the uniforms are cool.

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