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Lovie Smith and Jason Licht deserve time and patience

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Good drafting and player development were keys in the Bucs’ turnaround and success in the 1990s, leading up to their Super Bowl XXXVII win. Looking back at the past two decades of personnel and roster decisions gives a better look at why the Bucs are rebuilding.

Al Messerschmidt

Editor's Note: Please welcome the newest contributor to Bucs Nation!

In the decade that Rich McKay served as GM, the team’s drafting was key to their reversal of fortunes. In his first draft as GM, McKay missed on the first three selections (Eric Curry, DeMetrius Dubose and Lamar Taylor), but hit big on a couple of mid- to late-round picks in John Lynch and Chidi Ahanotu. Although neither player may have looked like All-Pros within their first few years, they each played pivotal roles for the team. Over the next four years, although there were misses, the organization drafted the cornerstones of the franchise in two now Hall of Famers (Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp-1995) and two possibly future Hall of Famers in John Lynch (1993) and Ronde Barber (1997), along with players like Donnie Abraham and Mike Alstott (1996) and Warrick Dunn (1997).

The next four years of drafting brought in more role players, including Brian Kelly (1998), Super Bowl XXXVII MVP Dexter Jackson and Martin Gramatica (1999). Needless to say, this period of drafting was key in the success that followed. Not every pick was a hit. There were the players like Eric Curry and Marcus Jones—high draft picks who were more bust than boom—but the drafts (from 1993 to 1999) produced contributors for the Buccaneers’ roster, with many having key roles in the 2012 team’s 12-4 record and subsequent Super Bowl victory.

Decade of Destruction

Since McKay's departure, the team has gone through two general managers in Bruce Allen and Mark Dominik. In that time period, the Buccaneers’ drafting was as horrid as their play has been this year. The first draft with Bruce Allen as GM netted Michael Clayton who, in his rookie year, looked like a star in the making…but everyone knows how that turned out. The next year’s draft saw the Bucs pick Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, who ultimately had a disappointing career due to several serious injuries, and Barrett Ruud—the only two players who had any level of significant success in that year’s haul of players for the Buccaneers.

The following year brought in two starters along the offensive line in Davin Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood, along with a reserve wide receiver (Maurice Stovall) and a QB who racked up 11 starts in his rookie year (Bruce Gradkowski). The next two drafts saw the Bucs select exciting collegiate players like Gaines Adams and Aqib Talib, along with a couple of players (Dexter Jackson and Sabby Piscitelli) who, in their short tenures with the Buccaneers, were bad enough to make it onto JoeBucFan’s "Worst 20 Buccaneers Of The Past 10 Years." None of them are currently Buccaneers.

With the ousting of Jon Gruden, Bruce Allen was also dismissed, and in came Mark Dominik. For the five years that Dominik served as GM, Buccaneer fans were treated to possibly two of the worst head coaches in franchise history in Raheem Morris and Greg Schiano, who combined for a 28-52 record in that five-year period. As GM, Dominik became well-known for his team-friendly contracts, but also for handing out some undeserved contracts (i.e. Michael Clayton, Eric Wright) and, in large part, the draft was a colossal failure during his tenure. Not a single player from the Buccaneers’ 2009 draft class remains on the roster, and only Gerald McCoy remains from the 2010 class.

The following year brought in Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers, neither of whom has lived up to the team’s expectations. Their 19.5 sacks combined in four years has been equaled or bested by individual players in each of the past three seasons—Jared Allen (22) in 2011, JJ Watt (20.5) in 2012 and Robert Mathis (19.5) in 2013. Greg Schiano’s first draft looked great in the first year, with Mark Barron, Doug Martin and Lavonte David all looking like future stars. Fast forward two years later and David is the only one of the three likely to be on the roster in the 2015-16 season after Barron was traded to the Rams and Martin continues to disappoint. Then, of course, there was the one-year rental of Darrelle Revis that cost the Buccaneers a first-round draft pick in a draft that saw Kyle Long, Sheldon Richardson and Star Lotulelei go after the Bucs’ traded pick.

Lovie Smith’s return to the Buccaneers came with much anticipation. With the Buccaneers coming off a 5-year period of terrible head coaches and a 10-year period of horrendous player development, Smith inherited a team lacking substantial depth across the board. In his first year, Smith’s free agent signings could be described as disappointing, but that would be an understatement. The supposedly feared pass rusher has caused more fear in fans (because of his salary) than opposing linemen and QBs, and the play of his ex-Bengals teammate, Anthony Collins, has been equally as discouraging. The most consistent and best player on this offensive line happens to be the only member whose career began with the Buccaneers, while the other four have been regrettable acquisitions. While this season has been greatly disappointing, there’s virtually a zero percent chance that Smith won’t return as head coach next year.

With several virtually empty drafts that netted no impact players (on the current roster) sans McCoy and David, the team is low on talent. To make up for the dearth of talent, the Bucs have unsuccessfully attacked free agency, overpaying for B-level talent with expectations of them performing like A-level players—a trend that, in many fans’ eyes, has carried over into the Jason Licht-Lovie Smith regime; however, signings were almost necessary for the Bucs to have even the smallest chance of competing in 2014. Unfortunately, as stated earlier, those signing have not worked out this far.

Tough decisions going forward

Looking to the future, Smith must make some tough decisions regarding the coaching staff as well as the roster. Of the current coaches, it could be argued that interim offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo has been the least disappointing—that’s how inept the coaching has been for the Bucs. Leslie Frazier’s defensive unit has been on the wrong end of several records already, and the special teams unit has cost the team several games and has surrendered both a blocked field goal and blocked punt in the same game on two separate occasions. The offensive line has not grown and gelled the way one would hope, and the defensive line, sans McCoy, may be performing worse than any unit in the league.

Despite the misfortunes of this season, the fact is that any coach brought in to replace Schiano would have been facing tremendous odds. Licht and Smith were very vocal about their intentions of fielding a competitor this year, which hasn’t happened; however, failure to immediately fix the problems of past regimes should not be cause for them to be fired after just one year. It may be a long process to return the Bucs to relevancy, but it’s long overdue.