TAMPA, FL - MAY 4: Safety Mark Barron #24 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers runs upfield during a rookie practice at the Buccaneers practice facility May 4, 2012 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been very aggressive this offseason. They've added at least six new starters through free agency and the draft, as the Bucs signed WR Vincent Jackson, CB Eric Wright and G Carl Nicks. They also drafted S Mark Barron, RB Doug Martin and LB Lavonte David. Each one of those players should start from day one. With that many new quality players, you might expect early improvement and massive results in 2012. But reality says that won't actually happen.
The Bucs are the early offseason winners. They've been aggressive, they've filled holes, and they've added quality players. So why wouldn't they expect early results? Because offseason winners never make a big impact. Remember last year's offseason winners, the Philadelphia Eagles? They were aggressive, had a powerful offense, filled multiple holes on defense as a playoff team. And then they went 8-8. Remember every offseason before that? The Washington Redskins 'won' about every offseason, and then failed to produce during the season.
No, the teams that actually win in December and January aren't the teams that win in March and April.
Let's flash back to last August. The lockout had ended, preseason was under way, and everyone bashing the New York Giants for letting their best players walk. WR Steve Smith, coming off a pretty serious injury, wasn't re-signed as he went to the Philadelphia Eagles. TE Kevin Boss went to the Raiders, leaving the Giants with no one at that position. DT Barry Cofield signed with the Redskins, and the Giants saw some defensive line depth disappear.
Flash forward to February, and the Giants are lifting the Super Bowl trophy. Offseason winners Philadelphia Eagles couldn't even make it to the playoffs. This is a scenario we've seen play out time and again over the past years. The teams that are always the least active during the offseason tend to make big splashes in January. The Pittsburgh Steelers, the Baltimore Ravens, the New York Giants, the New England Patriots, the Green Bay Packers. Those teams don't overhaul their rosters or sign numerous marquee free agents. They just steadily build through the draft, add a few low-key free agents at times, and then make it to the playoffs year after year, and at times winning the Super Bowl.
There are various different reasons why this happens, year after year. There are a lot of risks involved with signing free agents, due to phenomena such as the Winner's Curse, the need to build a team rather than a collection of talented players, and uncertainty involved with past performance projecting to future performance for NFL players. Meanwhile, drafted players provide a cheap source of labor, and missing on a draft pick does not involve much risk - especially not now that there's an actual working rookie salary cap in place. Not to mention that newly drafted players are younger and likely to play for a longer time than veteran free agents.
I can't recall the last time a team went out and got three premier free agent starters and then made a splash during the regular season. Will the Bucs be the first team to do so in quite some time, or will they simply become another 'offseason winner'?