Tampa Bay Buccaneers' payroll might suffer from neglect

TAMPA

Time was, they were among the best owners in the league.

They may have been secretive and they may have been quirky, but the Glazers spent money whenever it was needed and generally stayed out of the way of their football experts. No matter what else was happening, you always had the sense the Glazers were willing to do whatever necessary to be Super Bowl contenders.

Today, I'm not entirely sure that is true.

Is there hard evidence? No, it's probably more circumstantial. Is there a smoking gun? No, it's barely even warm. Still, it is hard to shake the sense the Glazers are not as committed to winning as they once appeared to be.

And it has been that way since the family bought Manchester United. Speaking of which, did you notice Man U just won the Club World Cup title?

Perhaps that's a cheap shot. Maybe there is no correlation between the success of the world's most acclaimed soccer franchise and the late-season decline of a measly old NFL team.

But here's something to consider:

According to a payroll database compiled by USA Today, the Bucs were in the top half of the NFL in salaries every season from 2000 to 2004. They have since been in the bottom half in payroll every season from 2005 to 2008. And what happened between those 2004 and '05 seasons? The Glazers spent $1.47-billion to buy Manchester United.

To be fair, the Bucs had some salary cap issues around that time and were, inevitably, going to have to watch their spending. And the USA Today figures should not be considered sacred because there are a ton of ways to manipulate salary figures in the NFL.

But, even anecdotally, it seems a fair assessment to say the Glazers do not spend money on personnel the way they did when the Bucs were still their shiny new toy.

Back then, the Glazers were willing to sign Keyshawn Johnson to an eight-year, $56-million contract with a $13-million signing bonus in the spring of 2000. A year later, they signed Brad Johnson to a five-year, $28-million contract with a $6.5-million signing bonus and, two weeks later, signed Simeon Rice to a five-year, $34-million deal.

And when that spending spree did not produce a Super Bowl title, the Bucs ate more than $1-million on Tony Dungy's contract, paid Al Davis $8-million for Jon Gruden and signed Gruden to a five-year, $17.5-million contract. Later that summer, they signed Keenan McCardell to a four-year, $10-million deal with a $2-million signing bonus and Michael Pittman to a five-year, $8.75-million contract with a $1.75-million bonus.

Can you honestly say we've seen anything remotely close to that in recent years?

Other than signing center Jeff Faine in February, the Bucs have rarely ventured into the deep end of the free agent pool. Now they have had success with some cheaper investments such as Antonio Bryant, Jeff Garcia, Phillip Buchanon and Greg White in recent seasons, but that is due more to front office acumen than a splurge by ownership.

And you might be able to argue that ownership is being more prudent these days to avoid the salary cap problems that followed the 2002 Super Bowl season, but the discrepancy is far too wide to not wonder if this is more than just a change in organizational philosophy.

The team has been way below the salary cap for a couple of years, and yet the Glazers act as if their money is better off buried in coffee cans behind One Buc Place. They have alternately suggested the cap space was being kept open for a big-name trade or to sign their younger players to long-term deals, but we've seen little evidence of that.

I'm not suggesting profits from Tampa Bay are being funneled into the pockets of a midfielder in England, but the Glazers took on a ridiculously large debt when they bought Manchester United. It's not much of a stretch to wonder if they aren't cutting corners these days more than they were before 2005.

What should be alarming to the Glazers is the number of empty seats at Raymond James Stadium in recent seasons. Unlike the Rays or the Lightning, the Bucs have enjoyed tremendous fan support in the past decade. Because revenues have been strong, there has never been any reason for the Bucs to go cheap the way other bay area franchises have.

But as the team's lack of postseason production has grown, fan interest has seemingly dipped. And the Glazers could face the prospect of spending less in payroll but still seeing their profits fall.

A request to speak to one of the Glazers was declined Monday, with the explanation that the family would prefer to wait until after the season before making any comments.

That was not exactly a shock. The Glazers have preferred working from behind the scenes almost from the time Malcolm bought the franchise 13 years ago. Instead of public statements, the family has let the product on the field do most of the talking.

It's just that, lately, that talk has been awfully cheap.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers' payroll might suffer from neglect 12/22/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 29, 2008 3:08pm]

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