Foundation, Foundation, Foundation!

Al Messerschmidt

How the Tampa Bay Buccaneers built their team.

There are several ways to build a successful franchise. The fastest way to build a successful franchise is finding an upper echelon talent at the quarterback position. It is the fastest way, but often the most difficult to achieve. As a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan, we have yet to have a sustained upper echelon captain on the offensive side of the ball.  Defensively, we have had some memorable defenses under Tony Dungy, and now we have a Tony Dungy disciple in Lovie Smith, both of whom have had their share of great defenses with not so upper echelon quarterbacks.

One of the prices of mediocrity is that there exists the eventuality that the roses may yet bloom upon the downtrodden. Years of mediocrity could be viewed as stepping stones, some good and some not so good. Let us take a stroll through the recent past with previous general manager, Mark Dominik.

A Franchise Quarterback and an Expensive Tight End

In 2009, Dominik and ‘youngry' new head coach Raheem Morris decided to build the foundation of the organization with the drafting of proposed franchise quarterback, Josh Freeman, in the first round. Of course there were ties between Freeman, Morris, and Kansas State University.To make sure the-would-be king would have some help, Dominik traded for tight end Kellen Winslow, Jr. The cost was a second-round 2009 draft pick, a fifth-round 2010 draft pick, and the biggest contract ever for a tight end in NFL history at the time, with a six-year contract worth $36 million. Retrospectively, we call that foreshadowing of the Darrelle Revis trade of 2013. There was this little known acquisition off the waiver wire with DT/DE Michael Bennett from Seattle's roster in October of that year. Another player Dominik picked up was place kicker Conner Barth. All Barth did next was tie an NFL record of kicking three field goals over 50 yards on the Dolphins, the same team that waived him. The record for 2009 was 3-13.

A Franchise DT and Loads of Help

The following year was a promising one.

2010 TB Bucs Draft

Round

Player

Pos

1

Gerald McCoy

DT

2

Brian Price

DT

2

Arrelious Benn

WR

3

Myron Lewis

CB

4

Mike Williams

WR

6

Brent Bowden

P

7

Cody Grimm

S

7

Dekoda Watson

LB

7

Erik Lorig

DE

All save one player from that draft saw the field for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the punter. McCoy took time to become a superstar player due to early injuries. This draft class of 2010 helped in bridging the talent gap to 2014's roster. As for the free agency period, it was a pretty dull and quiet one. Off the waiver wire, the Bucs were able to pick up RB LeGarrette Blount. Despite little fanfare, the youngry Bucs finished the season with a 10 - 6 record and barely missed the playoffs.

Pass Rushing and a Punter

Let us review the past drafts so far before we continue on. In 2009, we drafted a franchise quarterback and got him the highest paid TE at the time during free agency. For 2010, we got defensive tackles McCoy and Price along with wide receivers Benn and Williams.

2011 TB Bucs Draft

Round

Player

Pos

1

Adrian Clayborn

DE

2

Da'Quan Bowers

DE

3

Mason Foster

MLB

4

Luke Stocker

TE

The idea of grabbing bookends to surround McCoy, Price, and Bennett seemed like an obvious choice. We traded up for Luke Stocker in this draft because the organization felt this would be the heir after Kellen Winslow, Jr. Recall that Kellen received the highest contract for a TE at the time two offseasons ago. Well to add onto the consistency of GM Dominik overpaying for free agents, he signed punter Michael Koenen away from divisional rival Falcons to a six year contract worth $19.5 million, or $3.5 million average a year.

Unfortunately, the youngry era was too young to overcome its immaturity as the team gave up, losing 10 straight to end the season. The Bucs finished 4 - 12 for 2011.

The Big Three and the Huge Haul of Talent in the Draft

Youngry went out of the window to be replaced by toes-on-the-line Greg Schiano. Also, the Glazers wanted to spend money again. At this point, all of us should be scared because it seems as though GM Dominik loves to overpay for free agents. Recall, $36 million for six years to Kellen Winslow Jr. and $19.5 mil for six years to punter Koenen. Although, Winslow was traded away early in 2012.

2012 TB Bucs' Top FA Class

Player

Pos

Contract (in Millions)

Contract Length

Average

Vincent Jackson

WR

$55.56

5

$11.11

Carl Nicks

G

$47.50

5

$9.50

Eric Wright

CB

$37.5

5

$7.50

Total

$141.06

$28.21

Jackson and Nicks were prime players at their respective positions, but Eric Wright was the monkey wrench in this free agent class. Still, the consistency of overpayment continues.

2012 TB Bucs Draft

Round

Player

Pos

1

Mark Barron

S

1

Doug Martin

RB

2

Lavonte David

MLB

6

Keith Tandy

CB

Out of this class, three are starters and one is becoming a very good back up. One of the four is an All-Pro and another made the Pro Bowl in their rookie year. That Pro Bowl rookie is Doug Martin, who made Blount expendable. Mark Dominik has hit two superstars four drafts.

The 2012 season had a great mix of young and old as the team went 7 - 9 as well as send three players to the Pro Bowl, with David just missing out to make four players. Freeman and Mike Williams had career years along with those Pro Bowlers. Michael Bennett was turning into a great find.  Everything seemed so promising with the core and it felt as though a few more pieces were needed to push the Yucks into the Bucs of yore and playoffs galore.

Bright Lights and Depth

Chemistry matters in most cases.  During 2012, the Bucs traded away their top cornerback Aqib Talib as well as had problems with their second cornerback, Eric Wright.  Eventually, we would release Wright before the start of the season.  Adrian Clayborn was set to return and the thought that his talent would usurp Michael Bennett's 2012 performance, thus not re-signing Bennett.  Ronde Barber also had retired after the 2012 season.

The dire need in free agency was fulfilling the coveted cornerback position as well as safety.

2013 TB Bucs' Top FA Class

Player

Pos

Contract (in Millions)

Contract Length

Average

Darrelle Revis

CB

$96.00

6

$16.00

Dashon Goldson

S

$41.25

5

$8.25

Total

$137.25

$24.25

These past five years of review show that Dominik cannot for the life of him seek a value deal for prominent players. The only player in FA worthwhile has been WR Vincent Jackson.  Nicks would have been a good get as well if he were not so injury prone. Koenen... well...  shall we move onto the draft.

2013 TB Bucs Draft

Round

Player

Pos

2

Johnthan Banks

CB

3

Mike Glennon

QB

4

Akeem Spence

DT

4

William Ghoston

DE

5

Steven Means

DE

6

Mike James

RB

The first round pick was traded away for Revis, as well as the fourth round pick in the 2014 draft. With Revis and Wright originally set to man the cornerback position, grabbing Banks to groom into one of the top two positions after a year or two sounded sound. Glennon was a surprise pick to many Buc fans, but also projected towards the future. If anything, this 2013 draft was made with an eye to the future. Three of the six were rushed into prominent starting roles: Banks playing opposite of Revis, Glennon at the offensive helm, and James starting in place of an injured Doug Martin. The rest of the defensive guys were depth players for the team to groom.

So what went wrong with the 2013 season as it all plummeted into a 4 - 12 record? The foundation seemed as though it were creating great progress year after year. Now in retrospect, the big free agent acquisitions were simply that: big free agent acquisitions. Assessment upon the current talent had misled the organization on addressing the trenches appropriately. Losing Bennett proved to be fatal. The return of Davin Joseph to the offensive line was worse than fatal. Freeman impersonating Michael Jackson may have confused his role as a Buc, which conflated the situation into one huge cluster...  abomination.

Addressing Problems with Value and Precision

So what do we have left after the dismissals of Mark Dominik, Schiano and his coaching staff?  On offense, left behind were Pro Bowlers Vincent Jackson and Doug Martin, along with the plethora of smallish running backs three deep. At right tackle, Demar Dotson shined. The emergence of Tim Wright finished off a good group for the offense. Then there is Mike Glennon entering his second year in the NFL as the team's starting quarterback. On defense, we have three superstars at each level with Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David, and Darrelle Revis. We also have a nice supporting cast with Dashon Goldson, Mark Barron, Johnthan Banks, Mason Foster, Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers.

$16 million was tied up to Darrelle Revis. Fortunately, Dominik made sure the Bucs' organization could escape without eating any salary by unloading Revis anytime during the six year contract. So here is what the new regime under new coach Lovie Smith and new GM Jason Light did for free agency while letting go of CB Revis, LT Penn, RG Joseph, and center Zuttah:

2014 TB Bucs' Top FA Class

Player

Pos

Contract (in Millions)

Contract Length

Average

Offense

Josh McCown

QB

$10.00

2

$5.00

Anthony Collins

LT

$30.00

5

$6.00

Evan Dietrich-Smith

C

$14.25

4

$3.56

Brandon Myers

TE

$4.25

2

$2.13

Defense

Michael Johnson

DE

$43.75

5

$8.75

Alterraun Verner

CB

$25.75

4

$6.44

Clinton McDonald

DT

$12.00

4

$3.00

Major Wright

S

$0.80

1

$0.80

Total

$140.80

$35.67

The new regime addressed the trenches on offense and defense. LT and C acquired for the offense line. Acquiring one of the best pass rushers in DE Johnson, solidifying a paring option with McCoy in the middle with McDonald, and sliding DE Clayborn to share time with Bowers at LDE addressed the defensive line.

Even though the Bucs released Revis, they were able to steal the best cornerback in FA that best fits a Lovie Smith defense at $10 million less per year as well as reacquire the third round pick instead of the fourth round pick.  Then the new regime added a veteran quarterback to bolster that position with McCown.

Acquiring talent is not necessarily that difficult to do.  Now, acquiring talent at a valued price is a most difficult task.  Yet the 2014 FA class had similar expenditures of that of 2012 as well as 2013 free agent class, but brought in more players.  New GM Jason Licht has made me view Dominik in a completely different light due to the value signings of prominent players whereas Dominik had to overpay to convince the free agents to come hither.  Although Dominik did overspend, he never had an established coach like Lovie Smith either to entice players.

2014 TB Bucs Draft

Round

Player

Pos

1

Mike Evans

WR

2

Austin Serafin-Jenkins

TE

3

Charles Sims

RB

5

Kadeem Edwards

OG

5

Kevin Pamphile

OT

6

Robert Herron

WR

A defensive head coach like Lovie Smith drafting all offensive is quite a perplexing turn of events. Granted, we traded away our number two threat in receiving, Mike Williams, due to what I call conduct unbecoming of a Buccaneer, which started under the Schiano era. So how does a defensive head coach not draft any defensive players? One word, foundation.

The Bucs already had a large defensive core. Lovie added two very good players to the defensive line. The secondary remained largely intact despite losing island man Revis with the addition of ATV. It is in the past two drafts to we can give some credit for the team not needing to draft any defensive players, along with FA acquisitions. Keith Tandy, Steven Means, William Gholston, and Akeem Spence are young players being developed.  We also have pickups such as CB Leonard Johnson and S Kelcie McCray as well as CB Rashaan Melvin in the background, all have at least a year under the Bucs' organization.

Since this year's draft focused on offense, then the new regime has added onto the foundation to make it that much more stable.  Yes, we currently do not boast a franchise-I-will-carry-this-team-on-my-back-flame-thrower, but that can still be found at a later time since it has not presented itself yet. Recall, that is what previous GM Mark Dominik tried to do, get that franchise QB and build around that. In Dom's five year reign, all it revealed was a lot of inconsistencies. Lovie Smith comes in with a background we all know too well, a Dungy stingy defense that is not really known for its offense. Yet that type of game brings consistency.

As inconsistent as Dominik was, he was still able to leave the franchise with a very good foundation to build upon. So far, Licht and Lovie, affectionately known as LiLo, have done so with great foresight so that they may unleash the potential fury onto the NFL a team nicknamed for its destructive behavior, offensive and defensively, as Stitch.  It is a fitting name for this year's club as it is a patchwork of old regime with new regime with one underlying theme dear to Lovie...  "ohana".  Ohana means family.  And a family is only as good as its foundation.

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