The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have just capped off a distinctly mediocre 7-9 season and have sealed the 13th pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Once again the Bucs head into another offseason odyssey filled with uncertainty and question marks as we pass five years since the last playoff berth and ten years since the last playoff win for the franchise. We're at a crossroads now and fans are pining for that one magical factor that will mystically take this team to the pinnacle:
"If we just had someone other than Josh Freeman at quarrterback..."
"If our secondary was just a little better..."
"If we just had a better coach that could make better in-game adjustments..."
"If maybe our GM was able to turn 7th round draft picks into Pro-Bowlers like how Jesus supposedly turned water into wine..."
Many fans have felt now that it is time once again to blow up the team, hit the reboot button and hope we get it right this time around.
I am not one of those fans.
In 2008, the Bucs were probably in a similar corssroads. A late season collapse (that I will, in this part, fault on rumours that long time defensie co-ordinator Monte Kiffin was leaving the team.) had the Bucs once again fall out of the playoffs after starting the season 9-3. The Glazer family decided that it was time for a change and General Manager Bruce Allen and Head Coach Jon Gruden were handed pink slips after putting the team into another desolate crossroads after 5 years of doing nothing since winning Super Bowl XXXVII leaving the Bucs with an aging no high draft picks, no franchise superstar, nothing to hope for, nothing to be excited for, nothing to envision. Ownership thought that this vision would be provided by Mark Dominik and Raheem Morris, two (very) young up and comers within the organisation that seemed to have that vision. Dominik seemed intent on turning team around by getting the best players in each round of the draft and Morris seemed to have that moxy and killer instinct that all great coaches have. We severed ties with long time fan favourite Derrick Brooks and serviceable veterans Jeff Garcia, Warrick Dunn and Joey Galloway the following offseason. The Bucs also traded up 2 spots to take Kansas State University Quarterback Josh Freeman, who saw himself fly up draft boards as he impressed teams with his physical tools and work ethic, but with questions about his accuracy and football IQ, not to mention he was only 21 years old so of course the question of maturity would arise. The rebuilding process was now in full swing and the Bucs were seemingly ready to ride or die on their new, raw, young QB.
The following season would be a painful one, but it did at least provide a glimmer of hope down the stretch. It was obvious that this team was gutted for talent and were blown out numerous times, including a 28 point debacle in London at the hands of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. There was hope though, as Freeman showed some potential in two wins against the playoff bound Packers in week 9 and the eventual Super Bowl Champion Saints in week 16 (though in all fairness the Saints had already began resting up for the playoffs.) This was offset by him having the highest interception rate of any QB, including throwing 5 picks against the New York Jets, whilst watching fellow 2009 draft classman Mark Sanchez lead the Jets to the AFC Title Game. Hope was also added when the Bucs clinched the 3rd overall pick in the draft.
2010 would seem to be the turning point in the Bucs' fate. That offseason the Bucs took Gerald McCoy in the draft (1 pick after the Lions selected Ndamukong Suh, who was procclaimed as the better DT in that draft.) The Bucs would also take troubled wide receiver Mike Williams out of Syracuse in the 5th round. With a schedule that included games against the then putrid NFC West (who would send a division champion with a losing record to the playoffs that season.) and the NFC North (that featured the two jokes Bengals and Browns from Ohio) along with last place inter-conference opponents in the Redskins and Lions. The season started out shaky, as the Bucs racked up early wins against bad teams (the Browns and Panthers) but were also crushed by contenders such as the Steelers and Saints. This trend would continue all season, as the Bucs would find it relatively easy to beat bad teams, but came up short against contenders (losing by 6 to Baltimore late in the season and falling short to Atlanta twice.) Josh Freeman would also show amazing potential, leading the Bucs to many late come-back wins whilst posting a QB Rating of 95.7 and throwing only 6 interceptions. Many experts had the Bucs ready to make a late season push into the playoffs but got screwed late in the year after losing to Detroit in overtime to a dubious call (Kellen Winslow's feet were in, I tell you, the league even apologized the morning after but no-one makes a big deal because it's the Bucs.) The game still leaves a bad taste in my mouth at least, as had we have won, we could have nabbed the last wildcard slot and would have bumped the eventual Super Bowl Champion Packers out of the playoffs.
That offseason, the Bucs had hope. Experts hailed Josh Freeman's performances and hailed him, saying he was a step away from greatness. Raheem Morris' team had fire and moxy that kept them in games and led to the "Yungry" moniker (get, it, Young and Hungry. Yeah I still want to vomit thinking of it.) The Bucs now had Big Play ability in LeGarette Blount who could steamroll defenders en route to long touchdown scampers. The Mike Williams gamble had seemingly paid off. Aqib Talib had stayed of trouble. If Gerald McCoy could have stayed healthy they would have been great. If they had just gotten the ball to bounce their way... maybe, just maybe.
Then 2011 happened. A Lockout meant that there were no offseason training activities for the young bucs. They gambled on two Defensive Ends with health issues to provide spark in the pass rush. In the ensuing free agent frenzy, the Bucs lost out on landing a star cornerback like Nnamdhi Asomugha or Johnathan Joseph. After starting the season 4-2(despite getting blown to oblivion by the 49ers 48-3), the Bucs went on to lose 10 straight. Again London would not prove kind to the Bucs as the loss to the Bears kick started a tail spin, that would have the Bucs end the season 4-12 and with the 4th overall pick. All hope was seemingly gone. All the progress had seemingly been erased. Josh Freeman was now inconsistent and erratic and he was no longer the sure-fire answer at QB. Raheem Morris eventually paid the price for this and was fired. Mike Williams led the NFL in dropped passes. The only big plays LeGarette Blount seemed to spark was fumbles recovered by the opposing defence. Gerald McCoy was now a draft bust after finishing the 2nd straight season on IR. There was no improvement on the pass rush. Our secondary was putrid and no-one on the defence knew how to tackle.
2012 saw Greg Schiano come into the fold as the Bucs missed out on Chip Kelly and any up and coming assistants (despite there really being none worthy of a head coaching job at that point.) The Glazer family promised a change to the Wal-mart shopping stile in free agency and promised to splash the cash with the available cap room. Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks and Eric Wright were added as part of the Bucs "Big 3". With that 4th overall draft pick, Mark Dominik worked some magic and traded down, getting safety Mark Barron, a physical athletic monster from a winning football program. And later traded back into the 1st round to take Boise State RB Doug Martin, argued as the most complete RB in the draft and also from a winning football program. Linebacker Lavonte David was also added in the 2nd round. There was once again, starry eyed hope, that maybe the Bucs could turn it around.
This past season, however was marred with inconsistency, and the team would eventually succumb to its fatal flaw: the secondary. Though we went 7-9, I will say that we looked far better than our record said and barring the two debalces against St. Louis and New Orleans, we did not lose a game by more than one score. Over the course of this season I have seen people attribute the Bucs losses to Josh Freeman, and I have seen alot of blame heaped upon him. I don't really think this is the case. Freeman has put us in a position to win games more often than not (scoring seemingly winning touchdwons with a minute or two left on the clock for the defence left to close it out) and the secondary has just coughed it up. He overcame a poor first half to give us a 1 point lead with under a minute left against Washington before our secondary went belly up for them to get into the field goal range. We were leading most of the game against Atlanta, before Julio Jones exploited a matchup with Leonard Johnson and took at 88 yard pass to the house and then a drive later allowed Matt Ryan to throw all over them. Basically the exact same week happened the following week in Denver and the week after that the secondary allowed Nick Freaking Foles to lead a game winning drive with minutes left to win the game and knock us out of playoff contention. Once again, we are left in that dark and mysterious crossroads as the offseason begins. There are lots of questions, but seemingly no answers, and many fans are (as I said earlier) pining for another reboot.
"We should trade Freeman to Kansas City for the 1st overall pick"
Because Geno Smith is somehow better than Josh Freeman or we should take the 1st overall pick in a draft stacked with Linemen (arguably the only position on either side we DON'T need help with)
"Greg Schiano is not the right guy for this team"
Somehow I think people are trying to scapegoat him for the state of our secondary, but in reality it was circumstances beyond his control that chose his fate with the pass defence and talent on the pass defence
"Mark Dominik has not done a good job as general manager"
Excuse me? All of Dom's 1st and 2nd round picks have contributed massively to this team last season with the exception of Adrian Clayborn (put on IR in week 3) and Arrelious Benn. People also seem upset that Dominik is unable to get any real producers in round 3 onwards, but really and truly the draft after round 3 ends up being a big lottery, as some players will show that they improved on their glaring weaknesses after making the jump to the pros and making nearsighted hindsight statements like these are unfair, because back in April, who really could have foreseen Russell Wilson meteoric rise on the Seahawks other other such late round picks becoming good players.
The Colts and Redskins went one and done and the Bengals one again benefited from an easy schedule before become a makeshift bye week for the Texans. The Seahawks have an insanely talented team around Russell Wilson, and a solid QB was their only missing piece. Not to mention that there are lots of teams that go the playoffs one season, before disappearing the following season as their holes get exposed (the 09 Dolphins and last seasons' Lions are prime examples.) Not to mention that Josh Freeman had statistically better seasons than all of the aforementioned QB's despite having the second worst secondary of all time.
"We should clearly sign a veteran backup or draft a mid-round QB to compete with Freeman"
So basically in other words we should jeopardize this entire team in the hope that Mike Vick or Alex Smith becomes Jeff Garcia or E.J. Manuel or Tyler Wilson becomes Russell Wilson? Sounds like a good idea. Some things that are more likely that this to happen: God, Allah, Vishnu and Zeus coming down from the heavens to personally play for the Bucs; 2K Sports getting persmission to make NFL Games next year; Pigs Flying; Hell Freezing over, Me having a threesome with Halle Berry and Kerry Washington a day after winning the lottery. Give up folks, the odds of any of those players magically becoming the solution is incredibly low.
"Tom Brady consistently leads the Patriots to the secondary without any help from his secondary, waaaaah"
Tom Brady also has amazing talents like Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Not to mention that he is easily one of the top 5 greatest quarterbacks of all time, that generally makes you win games I would assume. I guarantee you that no other QB in the NFL would have the same success on the Patriots as Brady would
You want to know what the best solution at this point in time for the Buccaneers is: Some Patience and Support.
There is no magic bullet that will make this team win the Super Bowl next season or the season after that or the season after that. Building a contender takes time and patience. Alot of things went wrong for the Bucs and alot of circumstances beyond their control. This team was decimated by injuries (whether or not you want to admit it) and our secondary is god-awful, put pleasantly. We need to build and grow this offeason. Freeman will continue to improve, as he has done all his career. Greg Schiano will become a better coach. This team will improve once our all pro guards Davin Joseph and Carl Knicks return, not to mention when Adrian Clayborn is healthy. We need to consolidate and fill our holes, drafting good players in the draft and signing the right fits in free agency (my wishlist right now is Dee Milliner in the 1st round and Jarius Byrd in Free Agency.) Then and only then can we see where this team goes. Rome was not built in a day, you cannot expect to drastically gamble and change the team in some crazy new way, hoping that it will work, because more often that not it doesn't. We made a 3 win improvement over last season. Arguably if we can make another 3 or 4 win improvement next season, we will be in the playoffs, and this team has already shown it can stay with the NFL's best. We simply need to concentrate and consolidate.