Editor's note: I'm very happy to announce the addition of Leo Howell to the site. You may know him from running the Pewter Plank over the past year. Starting May 1 he'll be writing some regular features for the site, but here's a first sneak peek of his talents.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and wide receiver Mike Williams finally parted ways, ending a relationship that began in 2010, and hit the rocks in late 2013. But by trading away the "troubled" receiver, did the Buccaneers really accomplish anything positive at all?
Scott Reynolds of Pewter Report was the first to mention that the front office at One Buc Place were unhappy with Mike Williams, citing his social media behavior and involvement in a rap group, along with reports of fines which were later denied by Williams' agent.
But the Buccaneers didn't improve their team or answer any questions about the future of the franchise by making this move. Here's why Jason Licht and Lovie Smith's decision to move on from Williams creates more uncertainty than it does hope for the future of the franchise.
The Buccaneers Are A Less Talented Team Than They Were on Thursday
Through three seasons in the NFL, with no talent around him for most of his first two years on the roster, Mike Williams racked up 23 touchdown catches in 48 games with over 2700 yards as a receiver. That touchdown total places him among the top-40 all time, ahead of names like Steve Largent, Marvin Harrison, Chris Chambers and Calvin Johnson.
Williams was injured in 2013, and played with a collapsing Josh Freeman and a deer-in-the-headlights Mike Glennon, leading to a disappointing season that ended in a trip to injured reserve and too much time on his hands to party, rap, and draw the ire of his organization. But there's no denying that he's an incredibly talented player.
The former Syracuse wideout has a wide catch radius due to his size and athleticism. A quarterback doesn't have to make a perfect throw to get the ball to Williams, they just have to get it to his area. That's something that allowed Josh McCown, the Bucs new signal caller, to flourish in 2013 with the Chicago Bears, and it's something he now has less of in Tampa Bay.
So while there may be completely legitimate reasons to jettison Williams that the public will never know, the truth is that trading him for a sixth round pick means the Bucs will have to win the lottery with that selection in the NFL Draft to come close to matching the talent level of Williams.
The Buccaneers Are Setting a Dangerous Precedent
There could be something we don't know. There could be more details that have yet to emerge. But as it stands, Mike Williams was traded for pennies on the dollar because he was a rapper who damaged a door and got stabbed.
That's a dangerous precedent to set.
One of the downfalls of the Greg Schiano era in Tampa Bay was the former Rutgers coach's passion for "Buccaneer men" who fit a certain mold and behaved a certain way. And while it's certainly not unreasonable to move on from players like Kellen Winslow and Aqib Talib, it's also not a good habit to bail on talented players on a regular basis.
This offseason alone, the Buccaneers have let go of two talented football players for non-football reasons. Darrelle Revis was released because of money and team-building philosophy reasons, while Williams was traded for off-the-field reasons that include no violent crimes, no drug busts, and nothing but signs of an immature young man with too much time on his hands.
Will this be the new standard in Tampa Bay? Will players who make the headlines for any reason other than football be on their way out as quickly as they arrived? If so, where does that leave Akeem Spence, who was arrested for speeding and drug possession earlier this offseason?
It's a slippery slope to get rid of a talented player because he was immature off the field, because while it does set an example for other players as to how they should behave, it also means the Bucs' front office has drawn a line as to what is acceptable behavior and what is not.
The Buccaneers Have Created Another Need On An Already Poor Offense
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the worst offense in the NFL in 2013, and now have less talent on that side of the ball than they did in April of last year.
Mike Williams represented a very good WR2 who provided the Buccaneers with two big-play receivers who could attack the football and make big plays in the red zone due to their size. But now that Williams is gone, the Buccaneers must rely on Vincent Jackson and any number of new additions to bolster their passing game, which isn't encouraging given the other needs on the roster.
The Bucs still need a right guard, multiple wide receivers, and depth all over in addition to picking a quarterback in this year's draft to hopefully replace Josh McCown sooner rather than later. By getting rid of Williams, they've created a need they cannot fill via free agency, and are forced to use a draft pick to solve.
Is this a deep wide receiver draft? Absolutely.
But just because the ocean is full of fish, it doesn't mean I should throw away the food in my fridge to go catch one.
Adding a player like Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, or any of the other talented players in this draft would have made perfect sense with Williams and Jackson still in the fold in Tampa. Teams use a third receiver often enough to justify making that investment and making sure everything was in place before bailing on a starter.
Now the Bucs have telegraphed their intentions, much like they did last year at the cornerback position, and don't have the flexibility to pick the best player on their board in every round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could come out of this ordeal ahead of where they were in 2013 by drafting well, adding a surprisingly good veteran free agent, or simply by buying into Jeff Tedford's system and hoping for a Chip Kelly-like impact of a talented offensive mind from the college ranks.
But there's no way to say that the Buccaneers are better off with a sixth-round pick from the Buffalo Bills than they were with Mike Williams on the roster. There are too many questions, and not enough answers.