Posts : 15
I read a lot on here and never really have the time to throw in my two cents, so I typed this up this morning. Opinions?
The Downfall of the Buccaneers: A fanâ€™s perspective.
My name is Rick, I am just like any other Bucs fan, and I cheer for my favorite team weekly and am just as disappointed in their lack of success in recent years, especially this season. I will give a background as to where my perspective is coming from. I am a Financial Analyst by trade; my educational background is a Masterâ€™s Degree in Finance from the University of Florida. To say that I have no idea how to interpret numbers would be inaccurate based on the path I have chosen and succeeded at to this point in my life. I understand the importance of making sound financial decisions, which is something the Buccaneers are guilty of failing miserably at. My opinion will be financially oriented, examining a financial perspective on the salary cap troubles that Bruce Allen and Jon Gruden inherited and looking at potential alternatives. I am not a Bucs insider, so obviously my information will not be completely accurate, but the points I will make should be valid and hold meaning based on the concepts I am trying to present.
The Salary Cap Era: My Take
After the dominance in the 1990â€™s by the Dallas Cowboys, it now seems as if those days are for the most part behind us. The salary cap has brought the NFL parity and has placed decision making of NFL general management at the forefront in a teamâ€™s success. Even more than in years past, any team can beat any team in a given day because the teams are much closer to each other in terms of talent than in years past. As Bucs fans and under Tony Dungy and Rich McKay, we enjoyed an amazing run fueled by an extremely successful draft in 1995 which created the nucleus of our team and mainly or dominant defense for years to come. We were lucky enough to have an amazingly talented defense which helped our team succeed for almost a decade. John Lynch, Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber, Brian Kelly, and Simeon Rice were difference makers in their prime and gave us what many might call the most dominant defense ever in the season we won the Super Bowl. It, however, is unrealistic to expect your team on top every year in the salary cap era and a downfall was long overdue after our Super Bowl win.
It is my opinion that in the salary cap era, the model for success can be exemplified in three of the most successful franchises in the NFL, the Philadelphia Eagles, New England Patriots, and Pittsburgh Steelers. These three franchises have won in different ways, but the management style was always the same when examined. These franchises enjoyed success by building young talent through the draft, making tough decisions that were many times unpopular to the fans, and not overpaying players. The salary cap calls for fiscal responsibility, and while none of these teams have always been perfect, they have not made crucial financial mistakes that so many NFL teams have made throughout the years.
Among all of the great decisions that management had made, I think it is necessary to document a few extremely poor ones that were undoubtedly detrimental to our future as a team. They are as follows:
1. The back loading and restructuring of several contracts to keep the Buccaneers team largely intact over the years- When the Tampa Bay Bucs signed Simeon Rice in March of 2001, the contract was unconventional, so unconventional that the contract was delayed due to its language. It was a 5 year deal for $34 million, but it was one unlike many normal type contracts because it had a first year salary of $1 million with no signing bonus. Ignoring how the remaining $33 million would be accounted for in the next 4 years, it was obvious that no matter what way you looked at it, the Bucs did not have the cap room to sign Simeon Rice, so they created a ridiculously back loaded deal that would obviously never be able to play out as it was structured without a restructure down the road. The exact numbers do not matter, the contract was back loaded and would be an issue down the road, and it has been. This situation was further worsened in 2003, when the Bucs took the liberty to restructure the deal of Simeon Rice which as could have been foreseen in 2001, created a cap hit that was basically unbearable for the Buccaneers. The result, a 5 year, $41 million dollar extension that just like his original deal was largely back loaded, except this time had $20 million in bonuses which once paid, would make Rice extremely difficult to trade or release for most of the duration of the contract. It essentially would have hurt us to trade or release him, rather than free up any cap room at all.
Now, in the later years of the exclusive contracts of players like Derrick Brooks, John Lynch, Keyshawn Johnson, Brad Johnson, Shelden Quarles, we have seen the implications of the â€śkeep the team together at any costâ€ť philosophy of the Buccaneers for many years. In the salary cap era, it is crucial to make difficult decisions and not overpay players who you cannot afford, and we failed in doing this. The rebuilding that should have begun BEFORE the Super Bowl win has become that much more painful to watch because we waited too long.
2. The loss of the franchise tag for the duration of the Chidi Ahonatu contract- One of the decisions that I feel is not spoken of enough by Buccaneer fans is the lost of the franchise tag for SIX years regarding blatant mismanagement of it with regards to Chidi Ahonatu. While we undoubtedly could never have afforded to use the tag to keep players around who we could not agree with long term, we could have used it to get some value for them (as I believe we will this season with Chris Simms) when their contracts are up. Imagine getting a 3rd or 4th round pick for the Super Bowl MVP, Dexter Jackson when he left for more money. Imagine getting a 1st or 2nd round pick for Warren Sapp when we decided to pay Booger instead of him a year after winning the Super Bowl. Any way you look at it, the tag could have been used to get something in return for free agents who we could not afford to sign long term. The same could have been said about Dwight Smith a season ago.
3. The poor success of first round draft picks in the later years of the Rich McKay regime- This is an obvious one. Anthony McFarland and Kenyatta Walker. Those are the names of all of the first round picks for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003 combined. That is SIX SEASONS. It is extremely important to nail first round picks year after year. You seem teams like the Steelers, Eagles, and Patriots do it all the time. Not only did we completely drop the ball in maneuvering to get players like Booger and Yatta by trading even more picks, we missed the boat by drafting them in the first place. Teams need to add first round talent to help build for the future and we failed at this miserably. Our mismanagement of the draft in the years prior to the Super Bowl was like an anchor on our team for years to come. While teams like the Eagles were adding Donovan McNabb, the Patriots were adding Richard Seymour, and the Steelers were adding Alan Faneca, we were doing nothing with our picks for the future, with the exception of course of adding the coach who would lead us to the Super Bowl roughly 11 months after joining our franchise.
4. The win a Super Bowl at any cost attitude which has hurt or future- I believe that our win a Super Bowl at any cost mentality was like an anchor to our future. We traded away draft picks, put off cap hell until later years, overpaid for free agents to help us win now, and did not make difficult decisions that were best for our future as a team. As a result, we got our Super Bowl win followed by years of growing pains while we pay for our decisions.
The Potential Solutions
Due to several reasons addressed above, our solutions for this matter were extremely limited. I will outline a few that I think and why they were or werenâ€™t feasible.
1. Break up the team after winning the Super Bowl- This solution, in retrospect, would probably have been the best one for the future of our franchise. But, how could we have ever justified doing it at the time? When we won the Super Bowl, we were still in our prime as a team. What many Bucs fans forget in their constant bashing of Jon Gruden is how we completely dominated the Eagles on Monday Night Football the first game of the next season. We were primed and favored to win the Super Bowl once again, but were victimized by injuries to several of our key players including Brian Kelly, Sheldon Quarles, Mike Alstott, John Lynch, and Joe Jurevicious. Who would have ever thought that Charles Lee would be our only hope at WR a year after winning the Super Bowl? Nobody knows if a little bit more luck on the injury front might have helped us win another Super Bowl. We sure looked like it until Brian Kelly went down against the Colts and we watched Tim Wansley chase Marvin Harrison around the field hopelessly and proceeded to watch Dwight Smith rotate between corner and safety for the rest of the year. Our offensive line which was beginning to look dominant in 2002, now also looked mediocre at best and trying to run the ball was about as useless as we had ever seen in Tampa.
2. Break up the team after the horrible season following our Super Bowl win- We actually started to do this. Bruce Allen, in taking over as GM, was forced off the bat to make two hugely unpopular decisions in releasing John Lynch and letting Warren Sapp go. The John Lynch decision was a tough one and undoubtedly handled the wrong way. If we treated him with the lack of class that it is rumored we did, that was a bad thing to do. In terms of personnel, it was a great move. John Lynch was old; he was coming off a career threatening neck injury, and was getting paid way too much money. Sure, it would have been great to keep Lynch around to retire as a Buc, but the salary cap, along with Lynchâ€™s contractual demands (Denver paid him 3 years, $9m which is still a lot for an old safety), kept that from happening. Warren Sapp was a whole different story. His production dropped and there is no doubt in my mind that the Raiders are kicking themselves for signing him to 7 years, $37 million. We could not afford that, as Rich McKay had used that money to sign Booger. Booger had been signed to take over Sappâ€™s position by McKay and paying a nose tackle in our defense anywhere near what Sapp wanted based on his career numbers would have been absurd. However, even with the loss of these two players, our team was still pretty good and needed a few pieces to compete for the Super Bowl, which is where Bruce Allen went completely wrong.
True, we needed to address the offensive line, and I give Allen credit for attempting to do this, but I find it hard to believe that signing Deese, Steussie, and Stinchcomb was the right thing to do, and even harder to believe that we didnâ€™t overpay for them. Sure, they werenâ€™t THAT bad, and if they had not all been injured (or in Steussieâ€™s case, useless) we have no clue how those decisions would be looked upon now, but that isnâ€™t the case and those three signings did not help us get out of the cap mess that we were in. I have a slightly different opinion on the signing of Charlie Garner. Although I do believe that we should have just resigned Thomas Jones based on talent, it is obvious that Garner was the perfect fit for a Gruden offense. Jon Gruden needed to bring in guys who would succeed in his system, and Garner was one of those guys. His knee injury was extremely unfortunate, but there is no doubt in my mind that Garner would have been a player for us and would still be today.
In retrospect, the money we used on all of these players could probably have been better suited on a few more talented players, but we had holes to fill and I cannot fault or GM for doing so and trying to put a winner out on the field for the impatient fans of Tampa Bay.
3. Build our team up through the draft- This was very hard to do with our lack of picks, but it is something that we have started to do in recent years, and I feel confident that we have done a great job of drafting and have put together a young nucleus for our team in Clayton, Caddy, Alex Smith, Davin Joseph, Jeremy Trueblood, and Maurice Stovall, to name a few. We now need to do this for our defense as well.
4. Build our team up through free agency- This has never really been an option. We could barely afford to sign our own players, let alone bring in new players.
I will probably sound like a Bucs Homer wearing his Pewter Shades when I say that I think the future is bright in Tampa Bay. We do have holes to fill, we need a safety, defensive line help, offensive line help, and maybe a corner, and probably a QB, but we are positioned to add through the draft with an extra 2nd round pick next year and should have the flexibility to move around on draft day to get extra picks and draft the best players for our team at the best possible times. We could see another great draft which could potentially rival that of 1995 in terms of building up or team for the future. We are not too far away from taking the next step up as a football team and should begin to do that next season. In recent years, we have seen the burden of trading away draft picks, having no cap room to sign free agents, no flexibility to get rid of players who are too expensive to keep, and a roster that has not been replenished with youth the way it should have. We went from old to young on offense in one season and have seen the growing pains. I, however, am confident that brighter days are ahead for our beloved Bucs.