TAMPA — Mark Dominik wants to point out a couple of things.
The Bucs have spent substantially since the opening of the NFL's free agent signing period, committing nearly $114 million to five players. Nearly $40 million of that is guaranteed.
But because four of those players were the Bucs' own, there's a perception they have been largely inactive during free agency. To that, the team's general manager says this: That's exactly the way it should be.
"I think there are a lot of clubs that sat on the sidelines more than we did," Dominik said. "And our internal thoughts were always to retain our players. Therefore, by re-signing Davin Joseph, I didn't have to go sign some other guard who was more popular because he was from outside.
"The grass isn't greener. We want to keep our guys here."
Dominik reiterated there was no mandate the team spend significant money this offseason. The NFL's new collective bargaining agreement contains a salary floor that each team must reach, but that doesn't apply until 2013. The only requirement this season is teams stay under the salary cap of $120.375 million and pay players $3.8 billion collectively.
The Bucs entered this season with more salary cap space than any other team, creating expectations of a spending bonanza on some of the biggest names on the market.
But the Bucs' philosophy under Dominik and coach Raheem Morris has been to build through the draft, a method that ensures the team will be young. But Dominik said the goal isn't to merely field a young team, but to assemble one with young players capable of playing — and winning — now.
"Our goal is to keep that core but understand that we have to get the right players," Dominik said. "And the last couple of years, they have been. In 2011, it's going to be the same. Those guys are going to have to step up, but I have a lot of confidence that they're going to be able to do that."
Why not sign a free agent here or there to augment what in 2010 was the league's youngest roster? Because, in addition to building for the future, Dominik said, he'd also like to develop consistency in habits and methods. In New England, they refer to it as "The Patriot Way."
Think of it as Tampa's version, Dominik said.
"You want them to do it (our way)," Dominik said. "When you go to the equipment room and we give you six pairs of socks, (we don't want to hear), 'The Colts give you eight.' I don't want to hear it. This is how we do it. This is how we lift (weights). This is how we practice.
"You want the team to understand so when the next class walks in (they understand, too)."
This has been something of an issue with some of the Bucs' past free agent acquisitions, and Dominik suggested he fears the impact it can have on team chemistry.
No one who has listened carefully to Dominik from the beginning should be remotely surprised. In February 2009, he and Morris announced their decision to release stars Derrick Brooks and Warrick Dunn and three other key veterans. Dominik said he didn't hesitate then and he won't hesitate now even though the team is still saddled with its reputation for being tight-fisted with money.
"It was our plan from Day 1, and we haven't veered from it," he said. "We knew right off the bat it wasn't popular. We're not there yet. We haven't made the playoffs yet. But we stayed the course, and we're going to stay the course. I feel energy from the fans, that they're excited about this football team. They're excited about these young guys and can't wait to go out and see the games. I'm the same way."
The drafts of 2009 and 2010 produced key prospects who have contributed in the past two seasons, something Dominik said has created less of a need for free agents. That's true, he said, not only because the players are talented, but because acquiring free agents could stunt their growth. In Dominik's perfect world, free-agent signings aren't even necessary.
"Ideally," he said, "our hope is to never have to go outside our building."