At first, there may have been some disappointment. There shouldn't have been surprise because everyone heard what the Bucs said about sitting out free agency. There shouldn't have been shock because everyone could see how little they have been spending. But, yeah, a touch of disappointment was understandable.
In the days since, perhaps, there was a hint of anger. Maybe a bit of betrayal. Even a dose of outrage.
Lately, I have begun to feel sympathy for Mark Dominik and Raheem Morris.
After all, they have to depend on this roster to keep their jobs.
Every day, it gets quieter around One Buc Place, and every day, their tasks get tougher. There have been no blockbuster trades. There have been no prized free agents. There have been no extended contracts for their own players.
At this point, we don't even know if the Bucs are bothering to answer calls from agents. They were the third-worst team in the NFL last season, and they have spent this offseason moving in the wrong direction. How is that possible?
Around them, other teams are trying to get better. The Ravens, who have a young quarterback of their own to grow, have added Anquan Boldin. The Bears, who have their own pressures to endure, have signed Julius Peppers. The Lions have added Nate Burleson, and the Dolphins signed Karlos Dansby, and the Jaguars signed Aaron Kampman, and the Bengals signed Antonio Bryant and so on. Before the Bucs got around to signing linebacker Jon Alston on Friday, 28 other teams had signed 81 other free agents (47 from other teams and 34 from their own).
Here's a question: Were all of those teams wrong while the Bucs were right?
Here's another: On a team that finished 3-13, are we to believe there was no one else out there — no one — who could help?
Any day now, Bucs fans may begin to get Hugh Culverhouse flashbacks. He didn't spend money, either. He said "young" when he meant "cheap," too. He said "next year" when he meant "the year after, or the year after that," too. And he followed some miserable seasons with unsettling bursts of quiet. (Not that Culverhouse had the current version of free agency, but if you remember how hard he could squeeze a nickel, there is little doubt he could have managed to ignore it, too.)
If you remember, Culverhouse also talked about building through the draft. For crying out loud, who doesn't want to build through the draft? Did you ever hear an owner talk about building through, say, the waiver wire? Of course not. Owners talk about building through the draft the way politicians talk about family values and keeping taxes low. It's a reasonable-sounding position that doesn't have to be defended for years.
Hey, I'm not knocking the draft. It really is the place to build the core of what your team will be, oh, in about four years. But as far as immediate help, there is only so much the draft can do. Think of it like this: The Bucs were tickled with their draft last year, and they got all of 10 starts from their picks. Nine of those were by quarterback Josh Freeman. Which meant the rest of the draft was good for one start.
So how much better will next year's Bucs be? And how much is enough? What if the Bucs win five games? Seven? Will that keep the pressure off Dominik and Morris? Should it?
This is why I feel for Dominik and Morris. They're outnumbered and underfunded. Look, these are good guys. Smart guys. Dedicated guys. And they have to know this team has to get better if they are to keep their jobs, and they have to know they're going to need some help before it gets better.
For instance, who is going to catch the ball around here? I understand why the Bucs let Bryant go. A man can get a headache a lot cheaper than paying Bryant what he wanted. But, um, isn't the offseason supposed to be more about finding answers than adding questions?
For almost a year now, we've been told that Freeman is the future of the franchise. If that's true, doesn't he have to have someone on the other end of his touchdown passes? Except for Kellen Winslow, do you see a real threat around here?
No, the correct answer is not Reggie Brown. Oh, Brown is an interesting little reclamation project, and he came at a low price. But remember, the Eagles would have cut Brown last year if his salary cap number wasn't so high. And there was a reason they drafted DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin the past two years.
To say it flatly, you shouldn't think of Brown as a replacement for Bryant. You should think of him as a replacement for, say, Brian Clark. The same with other names who have said they'll visit the Bucs. They're contenders for the bottom of the roster, not the top.
When it comes to free agency, no one around here can say we weren't forewarned. For weeks, Dominik had said the Bucs wouldn't be a major player. Or a minor player, he should have added. Or a player at all. In fact, the Bucs are a spectator here, and from the looks of it, not a very interested one.
Here's something else to consider. So far, 18 teams have re-signed at least one player from their team of last year. The Bucs have not.
Let me repeat. When it comes to free agency, teams should proceed with caution. There are always more bad signings than good ones. And no, a bad team isn't going to become a great team simply because it throws a few checks around. That said, a lot of teams — including the Bucs — have filled a position or two in free agency in the past.
So why wouldn't a team, especially a bad team, especially a bad team with no receivers, especially a bad team with no receivers in a town with growing disinterest, be interested in enlisting a little help?
None of us knows how this batch of free agents is going to do. Will Peppers keep his hunger now that he has big money in the bank? Will Boldin show enough explosiveness to be worth the price in Baltimore? Who knows?
The point isn't whether the Bucs should have been interested in this player or that one. The point is that the Bucs have a lot of improvement to do.
So far, they haven't gained a step.