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Glazers spending less, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers suffer

Today, the Glazers stand accused.

Accused of not investing enough in their football team. Accused of not keeping up with the competition. Accused, essentially, of not caring about Buccaneer victories and losses as much as you do.

According to a report by NFL.com reporter Jason La Canfora, the Bucs spent less in player salaries and bonuses than any team in the NFL in the past five seasons. And, just like that, what you have long suspected has now been confirmed.

For one reason or another, the Glazers are not spending money the way they once did. And, perhaps not coincidentally, the team is not winning as much, either.

Now, before we get too far, it is important to point out that a fat payroll does not necessarily guarantee more victories. The Cowboys spent more than any other franchise ($566.89 million) and had two postseason appearances and an 0-2 record in the playoffs to show for it.

The Bucs, meanwhile, spent about $117 million less (a total of $449 million) and had the exact same postseason results. I'm not a CPA, but I would probably say the Glazers got more for their money than Jerry Jones.

Still, there is something larger than figures in a ledger at play here. These numbers could say something about a team's financial condition. They could say something about ownership's commitment to winning. They could say something troublesome about the future.

The problem is we have bits and pieces of evidence, yet we never get explanations from the notoriously secretive Glazer family. And in the absence of candor, we are invited to jump to conclusions.

For instance, the time period covered includes the Glazers' $1.47 billion purchase of the Manchester United soccer team. In a previous column based on USA Today salary figures, I pointed out the Bucs were in the top half of the NFL in player salaries every season from 2000 to '04. And, ever since buying Man U, they have been in the bottom half.

These new salary figures, taken from the NFL Management Council, are even more disturbing. According to La Canfora, these are actual dollars spent, with no salary cap manipulation involved. In effect, the numbers say no team has been cheaper than the Bucs when it comes to acquiring and securing talent for half a decade.

In the face of those figures, how can you not wonder if the family's mountainous debt from the Manchester United purchase hasn't tempered their desire to spend whatever necessary to reach the Super Bowl?

Because, once upon a time, that is exactly how the Glazers conducted their business.

The Bucs were a very good team in 1999 — a touchdown away from the Super Bowl — but that wasn't enough for the Glazers. They spent millions to get Keyshawn Johnson. They spent millions more to get Brad Johnson and Simeon Rice. They gave Al Davis $8 million to pry Jon Gruden loose, then spent more money on Keenan McCardell and Michael Pittman.

All of that spending led to a Lombardi Trophy in the 2002 season, but it also put the team in salary cap trouble.

And that could, at least partially, explain why the Bucs have not spent as much in the seasons that followed. Former general manager Bruce Allen dramatically cut payroll costs for a couple of seasons to get Tampa Bay back comfortably under the salary cap.

So, yes, that is a legitimate explanation.

But it is not enough.

Other teams have had salary cap woes and still managed to spend more than Tampa Bay. And no team has had more room under the cap the past two off-seasons, yet the Bucs continue to operate as if they were a corner store with mom and pop counting pennies.

You can look across the bay and say the Rays have been in a similar situation with owner Stuart Sternberg. The difference is the Rays have never been a high-revenue team. They have struggled with attendance and sponsorships. The Bucs, until this summer, have not had the same types of issues. They had a state-of-the-art stadium built for them and have enjoyed a decade of sellouts.

So what is the excuse for spending less money than any other NFL team?

I can understand being conservative. I can understand shopping for value instead of flash. I can understand not wanting to put the team in a bind with too many big-money deals.

What I cannot understand is owning a cash cow of a franchise and still spending about $11 million less than the average NFL team. Not the richest team; the average team.

What I cannot understand is spending, on average, about $13.8 million less than the Saints in the NFC South in each of the past five seasons. And $13.4 million less than the Panthers. And $8.8 million less than the Falcons.

And, let's not forget, this is a team that has raised ticket prices more than a few times. The Bucs claim it is the cost of doing business and remaining competitive in the NFL, and yet they are not even trying to be competitive when it comes to player costs.

For the first time since the mid 1990s, the Bucs seem to be having trouble selling out their stadium.

Perhaps, in this case, the Glazers have gotten what they paid for.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

Glazers spending less, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers suffer 06/30/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 1, 2009 3:58pm]
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