Saturday, March 14, 2015

Where Are We Headed?


How do you feel about the Bucs activity so far in the new league year?  The pewter pirates entered the offseason with needs at QB, DE, MLB, NCB, SWR, RT, RG, and FS.  They then released failed experiments in LT Anthony Collins and DE Michael Johnson, and FS Dashon Goldson is soon to be a ex-Buc as well. 

I believe roughly 200 transactions have taken place in the NFL in the month of March.  Of those 200, only 3 of them involve the 2-14 Bucs bringing in new talent.  Making an evaluation of a team’s entire offseason prior to the draft is not fair, but if I’m to go by what I’ve seen so far in response to a putrid performance and what I would expect to be a strong attempt at a rebound, I’m unimpressed.  I’m disappointed.  I’m frustrated. 

Who did they miss out on? 

The Bucs hosted DE Derrick Morgan and G/C Stefen Wisniewski, and both left without contracts.  Morgan re-upped with Tennessee for an obscene $27 million over 4 years.  The Bucs were correct to balk at that kind of compensation for Morgan, and news on the Wisniewski front has been quiet since he left Tampa for Seattle.  I don’t expect him to see Tampa again unless it’s as member of the opposition.

In my opinion, the Bucs biggest miss on a player that they were rumored to be associated with is DE Jabaal Sheard.  I believe Sheard would have been the ideal solution at the base end position, providing three down consistency the team hasn’t seen for quite some time.  Sheard signed with the Patriots and should flourish in that defense with Belichick calling the shots.

DT Henry Melton was added on a one year deal and is a fine addition to the interior defensive line rotation.  The Bucs are now set in the middle with the foursome of Gerald McCoy, Clinton McDonald, Akeem Spence, and Melton.  They’re solid here.  Sadly, this is the only place they’re solid.  Chris Conte, another former Lovie Bear, was brought in to replace Goldson as the starter at FS.  As bad as Goldson as been, I’m not sure they’re getting any better with Conte.  My positive takeaway is that he’s a cheaper poor player. 

I’m not privy to Jason Licht and Lovie Smith’s step-by-step offseason plan, but if I’m being honest, I can’t help but mention that the only players being brought in have a connection to Lovie Smith or someone on a nearby branch of his preverbal coaching tree.  Why aren’t they bringing in new/unconnected players?  Does the plan involve a hard cap on guaranteed money?  If so, why?  Are they being realistic about their ’15 chances and looking forward to being bigger players in ’16?  Or worst of all, are Licht and Lovie out of their league? 

I’m inclined to think it’s primarily about a plan involving limited guaranteed money being handed out in ’15 due to a rational approach to the upcoming season.  Regardless of who they draft, the Bucs aren’t going to be a factor in February.  They’ll be lucky to be playoff relevant in week 10.  Are the Bucs managing this offseason with that in mind, hoping that they draft well and then have a reason to be bigger spenders a year from now?

I fully expect Jameis Winston to be the first collegiate player to shake Roger Goodell’s hand April 30, so that fills the QB checkbox on the offseason checklist.  If I’m to believe that Bruce Carter is going to play a 4-3 MLB regularly for the first time and do it well, then I can go ahead and, hesitantly, check that position off as well.  Even if I assume the Bucs sign Sterling Moore (shocker another ex-Cowboy / Marinelli guy) they still need a starting caliber nickel.  They’ve also yet to address slot receiver, defensive end, or any position on the offensive line. 

The offseason plan clearly does not entail attempting to address every position of need.  Given an optimistic look at what I mentioned above, the Bucs needs after the 1st pick in the draft will be DE, NCB, SWR, RT, RG, and FS.  Unless they basically win Powerball and hit on every pick, the Bucs will again enter the season with a roster littered with holes.  At what point, in what year is enough enough?  Do we need to wait until the end of the ’16 season to form an opinion of this regime?  Does the play of their #1 pick excuse or prop them up going forward?  Why does my team look so different from most of the other 31 in the league?

I don’t need to see the Bucs sign Ndamukong Suh, Devin McCourty, and Randall Cobb in one offseason.  I simply want to see some activity that suggests this franchise is building a foundation for the future; one that doesn’t rely on striking it rich with retreads from previously failed regimes. 

RT is still a need, and Joseph Barkdale is still looking for work.  He’s 6’4 and over 320 pounds.  He can’t be that hard to find.  What about Justin Blalock?  No, I don’t think the 31 year old guard is the answer to the offensive line woes, but is his price on a one or two year deal that prohibitive for a team desperate for bodies on the offensive line?  The Bucs little more than a glance at a fairly plentiful pass rusher market tells me they don’t have any interest on spending big on an end.  Both Morgan and Trent Cole left town without deals, and Sheard (in whom the Bucs were apparently interested) didn’t even make a trip south.  Don’t hold your breath on a Greg Hardy hail mary.  The Bucs are now fairly forced to spend their R2 pick on either a pass rusher or pass blocker. 

Great teams don’t rely on free agency to win them a title.  One example notwithstanding, not a single player picked up last March from this past year’s final four teams (NE, IND, GB, SEA) got them to where they were.  Darrelle Revis may be the exception, but then again I would expect (arguably) the game’s best cover man to make a significant difference to any competitive (non-Buc) team he joins.  Rather than relying on free agency to make them winners, each of these teams has established a pattern of consistency in both free agency and the draft.  You want to get to a point as an organization where you’re drafting nearly entirely for best available talent with each selection.  If you’re constantly drafting for need, then you’re obviously doing a poor job of capitalizing upon your other opportunities. 

If the Bucs don’t sign another veteran or deal for more picks, they have eight opportunities to successfully address at least six needs.  Given those six obvious needs listed above, the Bucs will have to hit at an extremely high rate of success for the team to be competitive this year.  We may be less than a week into the 2015 season, but even the most optimistic Bucs fan has to be questioning where the regime is headed, not just this year but more importantly for the foreseeable future.  So what is the plan?  Are the Bucs intentionally inactive this offseason?  Is the idea to identify their building blocks at the end of the ’15 season and spend big next year?  The regime’s results have been unimpressive, the lack of activity is disappointing, and a strong sense of frustration is permeating through a dwindling fan base.  

The late Al Davis is famous for the phrase, “commitment to excellence”.  Every organization should have that as their mission.  Too often and for too long I’ve felt that a commitment to excellence has been missing from this organization.  Tell me I’m being unfair.  Tell me I’m not seeing it.  What is the plan?  When should we expect results?  Who’s to blame if this team remains significant strides from relevance a year from now?  When does it become natural to expect this team to be competitive on an annual basis rather than watching them ramp up for a two year run at mediocrity?

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