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Open Letter to Mark Dominik: Forget a Lexus...Stick with a Cadillac

You curse it.  

You kick up some dirt in disgust. 

That dadgum Cadillac let you down again.  Broken rear axle.  $1000 in the shop.  Sigh...alright you fork it over and get it fixed.  Three months later you're driving down I-275 towards St. Pete when all of a sudden the lights on your dashboard all come on.  Your steering wheel locks up as your drive train freezes.  You can barely steer the car over to the shoulder.  "Not again!"  You get a tow to the nearest repair shop, who quotes you $1500 to replace your transmission, which you have no choice but pay. 

You've had it.  You're done with it.  You're going to look for something else.  Maybe a nice Lexus.  An Audi convertible.  A new Camaro.  Something different, but sporty.  Something you think you've always wanted.  You drive the Cadillac to different car dealerships over the next several months and look at some new rides.  However, each time you think about pulling then trigger, you look back nostalgically at that Cadillac.  You remember why you got it.  Sleek.  Classic.  Smooth ride.  Plenty of power.  You begin to second-guess yourself.  Should I take this Audi or should I stick with the Caddy?  You decide against the Audi and take the Caddy onto the interstate.  The leather is so comfortable.  Strong acceleration.  The power is there.  You grin as you realize that you're finally getting what you wanted when you got the Caddy.  Performance. 

Yes, performance.  That's what our own Cadillac Williams gave the Buccaneers down the stretch this season.  He outperformed fellow potential starting RB Derrick Ward, which, if anyone followed our offseason moves last year on this site, was no surprise to me, as Ward came in unproven and without much big-play ability or anything that made him an above-average NFL running back.  Thus, despite spending starter's money on Ward, the Bucs started phasing him out late in the season as they relied on Cadillac.  Despite rushing for a meh 3.9 ypc this season, that number fails to tell the true story.  When the Buccaneers let Cadillac get into a rhythm this year, he made his touches count.  In the 8 games this year where Caddy had 13+ carries, he carried for less than 4.8 ypc only 3 times...including last week when the Buccaneer offensive line was flat out whipped from start to finish and gave Caddy absolutely no room to work with.  Stats aside, what has impressed me the most about Cadillac is his willingness to take on contact and grind for the extra yard on those two repaired knees, which may not fully answer all questions about his health, but can go a long way towards giving both the Bucs and Caddy confidence that he can still be the man in Tampa Bay.

So.... the question remains: what will Mark Dominik and the Buccaneer Front Office do about Caddy?  I hope they're trying to hammer out a new deal right now, but there's little doubt that Caddy will be looking to cash in on a career deal right now, especially after showing he's apparently healthy and can still cut it in this league as a featured back. 

Thus, much of his ability to do so depends on which free agent category he falls into when free agency gets underway.  If there is no new Collective Bargaining Agreement in place by the start of free agency on March 4, 2010, then Caddy and several other Buccaneers will become restricted free agents rather than unrestricted free agents, leaving the Bucs to tender their players and hopefully ward off other teams from signing them to an offer sheet....or receive substantial draft pick compensation if they lose them.  I think Caddy has probably earned a 1st-round tender, or $2.1-$2.2-ish million range, though some might argue a 2nd-round tender would be appropriate. A 1st round tender would adequately protect the Buccaneers from another team swooping in and signing him to a big offer sheet.  At least I would hope it would.  I think a 1st-round tender is also warranted based on the ineffectiveness of Derrick Ward last season. 

For argument's sakes, as an alternative to bringing back Caddy, I'm not sure Mark Dominik will have too many viable options in free agency when you take a look at some free agent starting RB possibilities that may be available this offseason for a signficant price....

Ronnie Brown (RFA).

Pros: Prototypical featured back, 6-0, 230 lbs.  Between-the-tackles runner with outstanding vision and speed to get past LBs and safeties, as evident by his continued 60+ yard TD runs from season to season and a pretty good 4.4 ypc.  Brings the wildcat package to the table, which he runs as well as anyone in football.  Good blocker.  Selected to 2009 Pro Bowl as a reserve RB.

Cons: Despite his plus size, he's not proven to be a durable player.  He's not started all 16 games in a season since entering the league in 2005.  Only once has he made it through a season having played in all 16 games...2008. Only two years out from a serious knee ligament tear in 2007.  Has only hit the 1000 yard rushing mark once, with 1008 RuYds in 2006.

Projected RFA tender: 1st and 3rd round tender - $2.6-2.7 million.  He's the alpha and the omega to the Dolphin offense and one of the sexiest-name RB free agents that will be available in the next couple of offseasons.  No way the Dolphins tender him for less than the maximum...nor do they let him walk.

Darren Sproles (UFA). 

Pros: Good speed. Strong legs.  Can push and fall forward for the extra yard.  Great receiver out of the backfield, taking short passes and turning them into big plays.  Explosive kick returner.

Cons: Small, relatively untested in a full-time role, and still behind an aging and less effective LT.  Has only started 2 regular season games in 5 NFL seasons (both in 2009), but has rushed for only 3.7 ypc this season, in which he's logged the most carries of his career. 

Jerious Norwood (RFA).

Pros: Home run hitter.  Can take it to the house on any given play.  Active in the passing game, grabbing 1 pass for every 4 rushes.  Great ball security, losing only 2 fumbles in 4 NFL seasons.  Has the speed and experience to be a dependable kick returner.

Cons: Hasn't had enough regular work to evaluate as an every-down back.  YPC average has dropped steadily since his rookie season, going from 6.0 ypc to 3.3 this season.  Started all but one of the final 5 games of the season, but did little while Jason Snelling stole the show. 

Projected RFA tender: 2nd round tender - $1.545 million.  They might go with a low tender of $1.01 million.  If that's the case, if they lose him to an unmatched offer sheet, they'd get a compensatory pick at the level of which he was originally drafted...which would be a 3rd round pick.   

Pierre Thomas (RFA).

Pros: Big, physical downhill runner.  Great ball security, losing the football only once in 186 touches in 2009.  Is what Reggie Bush isn' to carry the ball repeatedly between the tackles for 5+ yards per pop.  One of the best north-and-south runners in the NFL...doesn't run backwards or give up many negative plays.

Cons: Doesn't have top speed. Not the best at making defenders miss.  Doesn't have the trust of his head coach at the goalline for some reason, with most carries going to Mike Bell. 

Projected RFA tender: 1st round tender - $2.1-2.2 million.  Closest thing the Saints have to a traditional, every-down back that can carry the load and punish a defense late, so there's no reason they don't protect him if they don't extend him before March 4. 

Chester Taylor (UFA):

Pros: Has shown to be able to do it all the this league.  In 2006, he showed his worth as a starting NFL running back with over 1500 yards from scrimmage, including a 95 yard TD run, the longest by a Viking in 56 years.  He's also served as an adept 3rd down back since being relegated to the role by Adrian Peterson, posing a serious receiving threat out of the backfield.  Adequate pass blocker. 

Cons: Has serious ball security concerns, fumbling 14 times since joining the Vikings in 2006, most of which were in limited duties as a backup and 3rd down back.  How many times would he lose the football as a starter?   


So...did I forget anyone significant, potential starting RB material that will be available this offseason?  With all of that in mind, is there really a viable option out there that the Bucs realistically could go out and get this offseason that would be better than Cadillac Williams?  If so, would it be worth parting with draft picks to get such a player, where this team has so many needs to address in the draft?  Are you ready to bring back Caddy and hitch the 2010 Buccaneer offense to his bumper?