TAMPA — For now, the Buccaneers are being conservative.
At this point, they are committed to building the right way.
(Not the expensive way.)
Today, the Bucs have a plan.
Maybe that sounds facetious, but it really is true. The Bucs have one of the youngest, most talented and least expensive rosters in the NFL. And that's a good thing.
They have a plan moving forward that is both competitively sound and fiscally responsible. And that, too, is a good thing.
The only problem right now is perception. The NFL's most outrageous free agency period is winding down, and the Bucs chose to play it close to the vest. And truth be told, that was probably the right thing to do. It was certainly the safe way to go.
But it also fed the perception that this franchise continues to operate with greater emphasis on the checkbook than on the standings.
Which means there is one foolproof way for the Bucs to change that image:
By being right.
They better be right about Mason Foster at linebacker. They better be right about E.J. Biggers at cornerback. They better be right about Kregg Lumpkin in the backfield, and James Lee or Jeremy Trueblood on the offensive line.
Because what the Bucs are saying is they're better off using younger, hungrier and more familiar players than by spending excessive money on bigger names from elsewhere.
For the most part, I agree with them.
And deep down you probably do, too.
We have played the free agent game before in Tampa Bay. We have seen Wilson Alvarez and Pat Burrell. We lived through Todd Steussie and Derrick Ward. We remember Radim Vrbata and just about every player Brian Lawton acquired.
As much as any other market, we should understand there are no shortcuts to the postseason. The path is painful and treacherous, and you cannot buy your way past it.
Think Albert Haynesworth. Think Neil O'Donnell. Think David Boston. Even more than the NBA or Major League Baseball, free agency in the NFL is a dangerous game. Football players must fit into particular systems, and the list of miscalculations is long.
Instead, look back at the conference champions the past two seasons, and you begin to see a sound blueprint for success.
The 2009 Colts were almost entirely homegrown. The Packers and Steelers of 2010 were also built mostly from within. The 2009 Saints were a little more diverse, but the core of that team was still built through the draft.
So, yes, I'll agree Tampa Bay is doing this the right way.
My one concern is whether the Bucs are being fanatical. They seem so convinced of their own plan that they may be ignoring legitimate ways to supplement their talent.
For as well as the Saints drafted before winning the Super Bowl, they also signed Drew Brees and Jabari Greer to free agent deals, and they traded for Jonathan Vilma and Jeremy Shockey. And among the Packers holding up the Lombardi Trophy last season were free agent acquisitions Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett.
Maybe the Bucs didn't have to chase the biggest names in free agency, but it's hard to imagine the team couldn't have been improved with a few strategic moves.
And, yes, the Bucs may have signed some deals that could conceivably be worth $100 million or more in the coming years, but they were so far behind every other team in spending that it still doesn't bring their overall payroll to the NFL's upper middle class level.
Does that mean general manager Mark Dominik screwed up this week?
Not at all. The guy has been right more than he has been wrong the past 18 months. He has found some of the best young bargains in the NFL, and so he deserves some faith.
Maybe it has nothing to do with profits. Maybe he truly believes his younger players have more upside. Maybe he understands the Bucs are still a year or two away from being legitimate Super Bowl contenders, and he's willing to wait before free agent shopping.
Okay, the plan is not flashy, and it is not a crowd-pleaser. But it does make sense. And, in some ways, it is exactly what Tampa Bay fans demanded.
The Jon Gruden era ended in disappointment because too many seasons were wasted with patchwork lineups. Dominik and Raheem Morris rose to power because the roster needed to be blown apart and rebuilt from the ground up.
Essentially, they are doing the job you asked them to do. They deserve the chance to see it through.
For now, Bucs fans should be intrigued.
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.