In 2005, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the perfect opportunity to turn around their franchise. With the fifth overall pick, they could have selected Aaron Rodgers, a Super Bowl champion and arguably the best quarterback in the NFL. The man who's made Packers fans forget about Brett Favre. In a special on the 2005 NFL draft airing yesterday on NFL Network, Rodgers once again told the story of how the Bucs almost took him.
"Jon Gruden had actually called me on Thursday two days before the draft and he was actually the head coach of Tampa at the time, and he said 'If you're sitting there at five I'll take you,' and I said 'Man I'd love to play for you.'"
Alas, it was not to be. Instead, the Bucs picked running back Cadillac Williams -- a solid running back, but not a difference maker, and someone who saw his career shortened by two patellar tendon tears.
The fact that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers passed on Rodgers has haunted them for a decade, now. It contributed in no small part to the consistent failure Tampa Bay has experienced ever since, rotating through quarterbacks like Chris Simms, Brian Griese, Bruce Gradkowski, Tim Rattay, Jeff Garcia, Luke McCown, Byron Leftwich, Josh Johnson, Josh Freeman, Mike Glennon and Josh McCown.
If everything goes to plan, that changes today. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will almost certainly pick Jameis Winston with the number one overall pick. No passing up a potential franchise-changing quarterback for a running back. No false promises. No more quarterback version of Russian roulette.
Jason Licht and Lovie Smith are more than aware of this. Licht called this draft the "biggest draft in the history of the organization.
"We have a real chance to put us over the top and get us there. At least, get us to a level that we think we're going to be at this year, which is competing for championships. It's a great draft. It's a great draft to have the number one pick, too."
Not only is it a chance to finally find a franchise quarterback for the Bucs. It's also an opportunity for an immediate turn-around.
"We just feel like we aren't as far away as a lot of people think," Licht told Rick Stroud and Tom Jones of 620 WDAE. "And if we can do this, if we can hit this right, if we can really nail this draft, we can make a huge improvement next year and compete for this division. All we have to do is get on the damn board competing for the championship."
Similarly, Lovie Smith talked about creating a championship mentality two weeks ago, and implied that they were competing for the Super Bowl, this year.
"Every opportunity, you have a chance to get better," Smith said. "Every opportunity and every day, you have the chance to come in here and work to improve something, you're getting a championship mentality by that. That's just doing everything you possibly can to get better each day with everything that we do and it's the mindset that we have right now. We're all starting from the same spot. And again, why not us?"
That's not necessarily backed up by history, though. The 2012 Colts went 11-5 after selecting Andrew Luck with the first overall pick. But the 2011 Panthers, the 2010 Rams, the 2009 Lions, the 2007 Raiders and the 2005 49ers all put up losing seasons with rookie number one quarterbacks. Others have fared better, though: the 2008 Falcons and Ravens both made it to the playoffs with rookie quarterbacks, as did the 2009 Jets and the 2004 Steelers. A rookie quarterback can be a blessing or a curse, and you never know what you're going to get.
Obviously, the Buccaneers are hoping for a blessing. And Jameis Winston's experience in a pro-style offense will certainly help him transition quickly. He may throw too many interceptions, but so did Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning as rookies. It didn't stop them from turning around their respective franchises. Immediate impact and long-term turnarounds are different, of course, and several of the teams who didn't do well with rookie quarterbacks have since gone on to success -- with the same quarterbacks they drafted then.
But this day will define the franchise for the next half-decade, at least. This is the day the Buccaneers get to turn it all around -- or burn it all down in flames, once again. Can't wait!