TAMPA — The changes came quickly in the offseason, one shake-up after another. The arrival of a new coach and a new general manager. The departure of a franchise legend and a community hero. The flirtation with a franchise quarterback, and the drafting of a first-round quarterback.
The remaking of the Buccaneers was as swift and complete as it has ever been. And now, just a quarter of the way into a new season, a fair number of those decisions already are coming into question. Some of the mistakes are obvious. Others are just suspected.
So perhaps it is premature to assign final grades to many of Tampa Bay's moves, but it's not too soon to look back and wonder about the thought process involved. To debate whether they were calculated risks, or just wishful thinking.
If it could be done all over again, which choices would you make?
The choice: Arguably the single greatest purge of talent the franchise has ever known. The Bucs cut Derrick Brooks (11-time Pro Bowl linebacker), Warrick Dunn (third-leading rusher in team history), Joey Galloway (fourth-leading receiver in team history), Ike Hilliard (second on team in receptions in 2008) and Cato June (third in tackles in '08).
The fallout: The Bucs got younger at linebacker (Quincy Black, Geno Hayes), receiver (Sammie Stroughter) and running back (Derrick Ward). And the rest of the NFL yawned and looked away when Tampa Bay's veterans became available.
Would you do it again? Regrettably, yes. As spotty as the new guys have been, the Bucs needed to move ahead instead of looking back.
Quarterback Plan A
The choice: When Jay Cutler made it known he wanted out of Denver, the Bucs sniffed around to find out the Broncos' asking price.
The fallout: The Broncos traded Cutler and a fifth-round pick to Chicago for two first-round picks, a third-rounder and quarterback Kyle Orton. Cutler already is heading toward cultlike status in Chicago. Orton has led the Broncos to four consecutive victories. And the Bucs have Josh Johnson.
Would you do it again? Absolutely. It was worth looking into Cutler's availability, but you can't blame the Bucs for not getting the deal done. Besides the high cost in draft picks, Denver wanted a quarterback in return and Tampa Bay did not have anyone like Orton to offer.
Quarterback Plan B
The choice: The Bucs went through a biblical-like search for a quarterback. Each decision begat another, and scholars were left to interpret what it all meant.
The fallout: Tampa Bay cut ties with Jeff Garcia, signed Luke McCown to a new contract, signed free agent Byron Leftwich, drafted Josh Freeman, traded McCown, benched Leftwich, and ended up with Johnson.
Would you do it again? No, no, no, no. This collection of moves now looks miscalculated and haphazard. If you cut Garcia (career QB rating of 87.5 and four Pro Bowls) why sign Leftwich (career rating of 80.3 and no Pro Bowls)? If you were going to bring in a veteran free agent, why give McCown a $2.5 million signing bonus? If you wanted a younger team to build for the future, why start the season with Leftwich? And if you did it because you thought you could make the playoffs, whose defensive line were you planning on stealing?
The choice: Trade second- and fifth-round draft picks for Kellen Winslow and sign him to a six-year, $36 million deal with more than $20 million in guarantees. Re-sign Michael Clayton to a five-year, $24 million contract with $10 million guaranteed.
The fallout: The Bucs do not have a player among the top 65 in receiving yardage in the NFL. You could blame it on the quarterback and the inconsistent offense, but the receivers at least share in the blame.
Would you do it again? Tough calls. For a team that has not spent a lot of money in recent seasons, you want to applaud any effort to lock up talent. On the other hand, there was no need to rush on the Winslow contract. He was already signed through the end of 2010. For a guy with a history of injuries and questionable attitude, that was probably an unnecessary gamble.
Clayton is one of the best downfield blockers in the NFL, but that's a lot of cash for a guy who has averaged 38 receiving yards per game in his six-year career. They don't look like stellar deals today, but they may still work out in Tampa Bay's favor.
The choice: Release Matt Bryant, the most accurate kicker in team history who has a resume filled with winning field goals, and keep free agent Mike Nugent.
The fallout: Nugent misses four of his first six field goals and is released a month into the regular season.
Would you do it again? Yeeeaaahh, I'm going to go ahead and say no. The Bucs had a perfectly reliable kicker, but got greedy and tried to grab someone they thought had more potential. It was a mistake. A big mistake.
You could argue Bryant was hurt throughout the preseason but, at the very least, the Bucs jumped the gun by cutting him before it was necessary. They had more than a week before his salary became guaranteed, and they could have waited to see if his leg was sound.
John Romano can be reached at (727) 893-8811.