If there is a single word that can describe the current state of the Tampa Bay Bucs, a simple syllable to be transformed into a battle cry for the Reloading Season ahead, it would sound something like this:
After all, help is a four-letter word, and don't the Bucs make a lot of those come to mind?
In case those who run the Bucs are wondering, no one has forgotten what a mess they are. They are coming off a 3-13 season, and looking back, no one seems quite sure how they managed to win three. At various levels, these Bucs seem aimless, cheap and, worst of all, indifferent, the triple crown of lonely ticket salesmen.
In a related story, NFL free agency begins Friday.
From the sound of it, the Bucs don't seem to be interested.
This is baffling. The refrigerator is empty, the grocery stores are about to open and still, the Bucs say they aren't shopping. For weeks now, general manager Mark Dominik has said the Bucs "won't be major players'' in free agency.
All together now:
Yeah, yeah. Most of us know all about the pitfalls of free agency, that more bad contracts are given out than good ones, about how most teams build the core of their team through the draft, about how most free agents were unwanted by their previous teams because of age, ability or salary.
On the other hand, 3-13.
It's easy to wonder: Is this really about a limited talent pool or a limited amount of money? Every day, the perception of the Bucs as a cheap organization grows into a credibility program. It's like watching a thirsty man stand in front of a vending machine as he tries to talk himself into putting the coins into the slot.
Look, no one is saying the Bucs should throw blank checks at every agent with too much hair gel. But given their roster limitations, shouldn't the Bucs have some interest in some players? When a team has more questions than Alex Trebek, shouldn't it try to answer a few of them before the draft? Shouldn't it try to find another Hardy Nickerson or another Simeon Rice?
No, I'm not interested in LaDainian Tomlinson at his age. But yes, I'd have a conversation with, say, Karlos Dansby. I think Julius Peppers is going to want too big a deal for a 30-year-old pass rusher, but I'd have my doctors look at Aaron Kampman's knee. I don't think Darren Sharper is a fit, but if Dunta Robinson breaks free, I'd check him out. And so on.
And as long as rosters are shifting, I would initiate a little trade talk about a wide receiver or three.
For crying out loud, who is going to catch the ball around here? Right now, Sammie Stroughter is the best wide receiver on the team, and tackle Jeremy Trueblood may be second. If the Bucs' future really is coiled around the right arm of Josh Freeman, he's going to need more to work with.
So, yeah, if the Broncos really want to get rid of the headaches they get from Brandon Marshall, I'd take some aspirin and answer the phone. Same with the Cardinals and Anquan Boldin. Same with the Chargers and Vincent Jackson. I'd spend a third-round draft pick, maybe even the lesser second. (As for Terrell Owens, I wouldn't even allow my young quarterback to text him, let alone go into a huddle with him.)
It's fine for a bad team to proclaim that it wants to build through the draft. On the other hand, shouldn't that have occurred to someone over the past decade, when the Bucs were drafting the Dexter Jackson Backup Dancers?
Here's something else to consider. Even if the draft goes wonderfully for the Bucs, even if players fall right into their laps, those players are going to be rookies next year. The amount they will be able to help in their first season is limited.
Yes, there are possibilities. I still think it's possible that some team — St. Louis or a team willing to trade up — will fall in love with a quarterback such as Sam Bradford. That would mean one of the coveted defensive tackles — Ndamukong Suh or Gerald McCoy — would be there for the Bucs.
But what if it doesn't happen? No, I don't buy Eric Berry as an alternative. He's a good player, but safety isn't a premium position. No, I don't buy Jason Pierre-Paul. Nice player, but he never struck me as a top-five impact guy. In fact, he's a lot like Gaines Adams when Adams came out of college.
So where does that leave the Bucs? How about with Dez Bryant, a wide receiver? How about with Russell Okung, a left tackle to protect Freeman's backside for a decade? How about with Rolando McClain, a nasty linebacker from Alabama? The Bucs might be able to trade back to get one or two of those guys, but even if they can't, taking the guy you want is preferable to hearing Mel Kiper applaud.
Here's the bottom line: The Bucs need to be better next year. For Raheem Morris' sake. For Dominik's sake. For sanity's sake.
Right now, they are a bad football team.
Right now, they cannot afford to let any opportunity to get better pass.