TAMPA — This is a mistake.
Greg Schiano is making his first critical decision as head coach of the Bucs and he is blowing it.
Schiano said Sunday and reiterated Monday that the plan, for now and barring the unforeseen, is to bring back cornerback Aqib Talib when Talib's four-game league suspension for using a performance-enhancing drug ends.
This is the same coach who, in his introductory news conference, talked about accountability and trust and setting boundaries. Apparently, it was all just talk.
Never again do I want to hear about the "Buccaneer way'' or "Buccaneer men.'' It means nothing, unless the "Buccaneer way" includes employing a guy who gets in fights, cracks teammates in the face with a helmet, yells at officials, punches cab drivers and gets suspended, not to mention fails drug tests for smoking weed in college.
This is not about Talib anymore. This is about Schiano. This is about the Bucs organization, including the Glazers and GM Mark Dominik. This is about how Schiano and the Bucs have decided that winning isn't everything, but the only thing.
Here's what the decision to bring back Talib means:
Talib stays because Talib can play
There's no question that Talib can play football, and can play it very well. It's the only reason why the Bucs haven't already put his stuff in a box and set it out on the curb. And this is not about the Bucs offering another chance in order to save some troubled kid. If it were, Brian Price would still be here.
But Price, Tanard Jackson, Kellen Winslow Jr. and Dezmon Briscoe are all gone because Schiano no longer had any use for them as football players. It's easy to play hardball and send messages with guys who can't help you win. Heck, those four players are so inconsequential that they currently don't have NFL jobs.
Want to send a real message? Want to make a strong statement? Cut ties with a player who helps you win games. Do you think a third-stringer would be welcomed back if he had Talib's history?
Look, there are different rules for different players. The larger the talent, the longer the leash. I get that. It's nothing new and it happens in all sports. Teams are willing to put up with head cases and troublemakers when they produce then not so much when their skills erode.
But when is enough enough? This isn't the first time Talib has been a problem. It will not be the last. What, exactly, will it take to kick him off this team?
Maybe Schiano is acting as if Talib is working off a clean slate. Maybe Schiano believes Talib is maturing and doing what he is supposed to be doing. Maybe Schiano knows something about Talib that we don't.
But, ask yourself this: If I had told you last Saturday morning that a Bucs player would be suspended before the day was over, which player would you have guessed it would be? When you heard it was Talib, were you surprised?
This is the perfect opportunity to kick Talib off the team and no one would blame the Bucs, not even fans desperate for a winner. Yet, you wonder if Schiano is thinking more about how to slow down Drew Brees and Matt Ryan than doing the right thing.
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It sends a bad message to the team
If you're another player on the Bucs, even a star, how can you listen to Schiano talking about toes on the line and being on time and following the program when one guy seems to have his own set of rules? If Talib can get away with all that junk, why can't they?
It seems comical to be so controlling that you insist that the temperature in a meeting room be a certain degree and then let one of your players cause this type of havoc. Isn't a lack of control, including a lack of control over Talib, partly what got Raheem Morris fired?
It sends a bad message to the community
Even if you're a diehard Bucs fan, are you proud to have Talib on your team? Are you okay with Talib's behavior? Would you go out and buy your kid a No. 25 Bucs jersey?
Schiano actually brought up the community when asked about Talib on Monday, and I get the feeling he realizes many in the Tampa Bay area have a problem with Talib returning. Schiano stopped short of saying what went into the decision and then said he was done discussing the matter. He then closed with this message for the fans that just smacks of someone who thinks he's a little smarter than the rest of us:
"You've got to just trust us on this one.''
I'd like to think that Talib has finally learned his lesson and is about to walk the straight and narrow from here on out. I'd like to think that he realizes this is it, his very last chance.
But history suggests it isn't. And why should he think that he is now out of chances when he always seems to get one more? Why should he fear Schiano when Schiano is willing to overlook yet another indiscretion and distraction?
Here's the deal. The next time Talib messes up and gets suspended, lets the team down, puts his teammates in a bind and embarrasses the organization, it won't be his fault.
It will be Schiano's.