ORLANDO — General manager Mark Dominik wants Bucs fans to accept that the team just wasn't into all the spending madness of free agency this year and buy something else instead:
The only thing the Glazer family can't afford is to have the Bucs swing and miss with 11 picks in the NFL draft.
That was where Dominik decided most of the club's energy and resources should be devoted this year. The Glazers — with one of the lowest payrolls in the NFL in an uncapped year and a reported $1 billion debt on Manchester United — have not imposed any financial restrictions.
"That's not been instructed and that's not the direction," Dominik said Tuesday from the NFL owners meetings. "Our ownership has shown a history of buying players. I mean, Simeon Rice was the highest-paid defensive player in the National Football League.
"It may seem the other way where it's just being cheap and they don't want to be involved and they're just trying to save the money. For me, when I got this opportunity and we sat down and I talked about what I envisioned for this football team, we wanted to build this football team with the youth and the draft as we did in years past. If you want to go make the splash in free agency and feel like it's going to get you over the hump, you do it."
The Bucs have made three significant moves in the offseason. They signed Eagles free agent safety Sean Jones to a two-year contract, traded a sixth-round pick in 2011 to Philadelphia for receiver Reggie Brown and signed reserve Raiders linebacker Jon Alston.
Dominik said the Bucs could be active during a second wave of free agency following the April draft. But with 11 selections, including three of the top 42, he expects to immediately improve a 3-13 team.
"With where we're selecting in these rounds and the number of selections we have, it gives us the chance to do a lot of things," he said.
"I expect, and so does Coach (Raheem) Morris and I'm sure the ownership does, too, this is a very critical draft this year."
Last year, the Bucs draft netted only one starter — franchise quarterback Josh Freeman, who took the helm for the last nine games, throwing 10 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. But defensive tackle Roy Miller played a significant amount and defensive end Kyle Moore contributed late in the season.
"You'd like to think of it in terms of who's going to start, but I don't think that makes it successful," he said. "I think what makes it successful is their body of work as they play.
"Let's see how many Pro Bowlers we get out of this group. Let's define it in a different way. How did they help the success level of the whole team? That's how I define a successful draft."
"The exciting thing that happened to this football team over the last 12 months is that it did go through a youth movement. As controversial at the time it certainly was, to go through that and be done with that movement of younger players, and now to add onto that core."