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Tampa Bay Buccaneers new front-office shot callers sticking to their guns

Taking Josh Freeman, above, is the latest move as Bucs coach Raheem Morris and GM Mark Dominik continue their shakeup.

JIM BARCUS | Kansas City Star

Taking Josh Freeman, above, is the latest move as Bucs coach Raheem Morris and GM Mark Dominik continue their shakeup.

TAMPA — One hundred days on the job, and already Raheem Morris and Mark Dominik have exceeded expectations.

They have perturbed. They have angered. They have not yet lost a game and have somehow generated the same type of derision that Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen spent years cultivating.

As honeymoons go, this one could have used more cuddling. If it was their intention to be unpopular, the Buccaneers rookie coach and general manager could not have written a more thorough game plan.

They began by cutting ties with four former team MVPs in the same month. They continued by taking a pass on the biggest names in free agency and attempting to trade for a loudmouth quarterback. And, finally, they capped it off by taking a huge risk in the first round of the draft this weekend.

So, if you must, hate away.

I'll just make this one point:

You're wrong.

Look, I don't know if any of these moves are going to work out. And, if you're honest with yourself, you don't know, either. But I can say, with a strong sense of certainty, that this kind of overhaul at One Buc Place was necessary.

Morris and Dominik just happened to be at the casting call when the Glazers needed someone to play the role of bad guys.

"Raheem and I really wanted to put our mark on the team in the right way. And to put this team in a direction that we're very comfortable with and excited about. I think we've done that," Dominik said. "I know it's been somewhat unpopular for the fans. There have been some great players that we've let go and some (other) decisions we've had to make. But, in the end, I'm excited where we are today."

For too long, this franchise has been stuck in third-and-long. The Bucs kept trying to tweak a roster that had grown beyond repair, which is why every season felt like it could be a toss-up between 9-7 and 7-9.

Today, that is no longer the case. I don't know if the Bucs are operating on a five-minute plan or a five-year plan, but I do know this will be the most unpredictable season in memory.

The offense should be better, but it's hard to tell when you have no idea who the quarterback will be. And this defense should be worse, but I'm not sure if there wasn't some addition by subtraction going on this offseason.

What Morris and Dominik have done is move forward without fear of stepping in a hole. That is not to be taken lightly. The easy thing for a new coach and a new GM is to make safe, predictable decisions.

Instead, they have bulked up the offense and staked their reputations to a 21-year-old quarterback. They have blown up one of the league's most successful defenses and put their faith in a bunch of 20-something linebackers and linemen.

"I don't know if you can ever appease the fans," Morris said. "Shoot, Donovan McNabb got booed."

The Bucs have been teases for far too long. Strong enough to convince themselves they are contenders but weak enough to never really pull it off. Consequently, they have been stuck in a no-man's-land of mediocrity.

Tampa Bay has not won a postseason game since Super Bowl XXXVII, which puts the team in the company of wallflowers. Detroit, Oakland, Houston, Cleveland. Those are the kind of franchises that have gone six seasons or more without a playoff victory.

So it was about time somebody made a bold decision or two.

You can disagree but still be intrigued. Take Josh Freeman, for example.

He is the biggest draft gamble the Bucs have made in years. And it's not because they already had quarterbacks on the roster or had greater needs on the defensive line. Those issues are inconsequential. If a franchise quarterback is available, you don't worry about the rest of your roster.

The issue is whether Freeman is truly a franchise quarterback.

I worry about guys whose enormous physical skills have not always translated to similar on-field success. And I worry about the number of teams that did not see Freeman as a can't-miss prospect.

And, yet, you have to appreciate the moxie required to make that pick. Take a defensive tackle, and everyone nods their heads because the need is obvious. Trade down for extra picks, and a lot of people agree there is logic to that line of thinking.

But trade up for a quarterback with a penchant for interceptions?

"I feel confident that the decisions I've made and the ones I've worked with coach Morris on have been educated decisions. It's not just trying to swing the bat, and swing the bat and swing the bat," Dominik said. "I feel very comfortable with what we've done and where we're headed as a franchise."

They are both so young. So bright. So personable.

And, today, so unpopular.

We'll see if it lasts.

John Romano can be reached at (727) 893-8811.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers new front-office shot callers sticking to their guns 04/26/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 28, 2009 1:00pm]
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