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No cavalry for bad Bucs

The clues were ignored last season. The risks were not taken seriously enough in the offseason. And now, this morning, the Buccaneers still refuse to admit the obvious.

This is a bad football team.

And it will remain that way indefinitely. Or, at least until someone in a position of power acknowledges a new direction is needed.

You can talk about injuries, and heaven knows Jon Gruden has, but this team was already shallow and creaky. You can talk about being a play away, but the reality is the Bucs don't win the close ones anymore.

You can make a plea for glory hiding around the next corner, but all that will get you is a little farther from home.

They say the first step toward recovery is acknowledging you have a problem. So would someone, please, ask Gruden to remove the rose-tinted glasses?

Goodness knows, optimism can be a gift. It keeps you eager and helps you reach further. But there's a fine line between optimism and delusion, and Gruden seems to have stepped on the wrong side.

Joe Jurevicius is not going to make this a potent offense. Keenan McCardell will not ride in and take the Bucs to the playoffs. Michael Pittman's suspension will not have transformed him from adequate into amazing.

So stop pretending otherwise. It's not necessary to wave a white flag whenever the bus pulls up to the stadium, but a long-term plan would be preferable to a pocketful of wishes.

It's not like Gruden has no other choice. The anvil is not dangling above him. He doesn't need to convince us of something that's not true.

The reality is many of the problems on this roster are not his doing. He didn't arrange for John Lynch or Warren Sapp to get older. He didn't spend the draft choices it took to acquire himself or Keyshawn Johnson. And he didn't create a salary cap that eventually chokes every successful team.

These things happen. It's not unprecedented in the NFL. Players get old and salary caps get stretched out of whack. The Cowboys have gone through it. The 49ers, too. The key is limiting the time of recovery.

And this is where Gruden and Bruce Allen must be held accountable:

They failed to recognize the problem for what it was and, consequently, they've potentially made it worse.

They had dreams beyond their means. This team was old and aimless by the end of last season. And the moves made in the offseason made it worse.

Instead of recognizing the need to rebuild, Gruden and Allen tried to spruce things up with very expensive used parts. Instead of patiently searching for the next generation of stars, they rushed out to get a handful of temporary workers.

A $20-million contract and a $3.7-million signing bonus for a 32-year-old running back coming off knee surgery. A $20-million contract and $4-million signing bonus for a 33-year-old tackle who had just been released. A $15-million contract and $2.47-million signing bonus for a 34-year-old tackle who also had been released.

In each case, the Bucs made the decision to sign older players to replace younger incumbents.

In each case, it looks like a terrible blunder.

They have wasted salary-cap space for next season. They have wasted the owner's money. And they have wasted roster spots on players who, likely, will never have a positive impact on the franchise.

Today, you are seeing the reality of Rich McKay's departure. On his way out the door, McKay said he had grown tired of being the person who always said no. No to Emmitt Smith. No to Ricky Watters. No to Andre Rison.

No to every worn wheel that Gruden figured had tread remaining.

Now, it is not as if McKay never made a mistake as general manager. It's not as if he was the world's greatest evaluator of talent. But McKay's patience was the balance to Gruden's impetuousness.

Instead, with Gruden and Allen together, the Bucs have two of ESPN Classic's biggest fans. They love veterans. They adore players with a history.

Which is fine, up to a point. And the Bucs passed that point a while back.

Who, on this roster, has better days ahead than behind? Not the twin millionaire tackles Todd Steussie and Derrick Deese. Not $20-million running back Charlie Garner, who may never play again. Not receivers Tim Brown, Joey Galloway and Bill Schroeder, who almost certainly won't be around in 2005.

The Bucs are playing a bad game of Jeopardy. Instead of looking for a a couple of answers, they keep coming up with more and more questions.

That has to stop. If not today, then tomorrow. If not tomorrow, then soon.

Charles Lee and Michael Clayton need more playing time than Brown and Schroeder. Kenyatta Walker has a brighter future than Steussie or Deese.

And, yes, Chris Simms should eventually get time to prove whether he is worthy of having an offense constructed around him.

This does not have to be a surrender. Gruden need not announce he is already looking toward 2005 and beyond. But it would give the season purpose if he made it clear he was entertaining new solutions.

We've already seen what this lineup can do.

And, frankly, it's already gotten old.