As the Buccaneers prepare for free agency, new head coach Lovie Smith is well equipped to help the team attract some firepower to help Tampa Bay build a playoff contender. PewterReport.com identifies five ways Smith can lure free agents to One Buccaneer Place starting on March 11.
1. Rebuilding? Smith’s Been Here, Done ThatNew Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith was on Tony Dungy’s initial staff in Tampa Bay in 1996 and helped the team turn the corner from being perennial losers to perennial playoff contenders from 1997-2001. That first-hand experience will help guide the next turnaround in Tampa Bay.
Are the Bucs in a rebuilding mode? In some ways, yes, due to the fact that the team will likely be starting a second-year quarterback and have some inexperience at some positions. But Tampa Bay has enough pieces in place to make a playoff push in 2014, and that will be intriguing to free agents he’s trying to sell on the idea of suiting up in pewter and red. He has also assembled a great coaching staff with some big names, including offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, linebackers coach Hardy Nickerson, defensive line coach Joe Cullen and tight ends coach Jon Embree among others.
Smith can sell the notion that the 2014 Buccaneers are where Tampa Bay was in 1996 during the first year of the Dungy regime because he was there. In fact, the current team is probably in even better shape because the Glazers are now championship owners with a Super Bowl trophy from the 2002 in the lobby of their world-class facility. Add in the fact that the team has been able to lure several high-profile players, such as wide receiver Vincent Jackson, guard Carl Nicks and free safety Dashon Goldson in free agency and Tampa Bay should be in the running for any free agent it wishes to pursue with Smith at the helm of the organization now.
2. Play Defense With Other All Pros, Pro BowlersIf the Bucs attempt to court Minnesota Jared Allen in free agency, or perhaps Chicago’s Julius Peppers if he’s released in salary cap-related move in the coming weeks, that defensive end will want to know who he’s playing with. That was the situation with former Bucs legend Simeon Rice when he was being courted by Dungy, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli. They used playing next to Pro Bowl defensive tackle Warren Sapp and in front of linebacker Derrick Brooks to help lure Rice to Tampa Bay.
Playing next to two-time Pro Bowler and All Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and in front of All Pro linebacker Lavonte David should be desirable to the likes of Allen, Peppers or perhaps Chicago defensive tackle Henry Melton, a former Pro Bowler, whose career got off track last year.
In the secondary, Darrelle Revis just came off his fifth Pro Bowl berth and is considered to be one of the greatest and most respected cornerbacks in the NFL. Goldson is a two-time Pro Bowler and strong safety Mark Barron is regarded as one of the up-and-coming talents in the NFL. Why wouldn’t a player like Chicago’s veteran cornerback Charles Tillman want to come to play with such a talented supporting cast?
3. Become A Pro Bowler Under SmithThere are three things that motivate NFL players: winning championships, developing into a Pro Bowl player and money – and not necessarily in that order. Smith believes that players want to get better and if that happens they’ll make more money and put themselves into position to win championships.
In Chicago, Smith had 15 players make the Pro Bowl or the All-Pro team under his watch from 2004-12, including linebacker Lance Briggs (seven Pro Bowls, one All Pro), linebacker Brian Urlacher (four Pro Bowls, two All Pros), center Olin Kruetz (three Pro Bowls, one All Pro), defensive tackle Tommie Harris (three Pro Bowls), return specialist Devin Hester (three Pro Bowls, three All Pros), Peppers (three Pro Bowls, one All Pro), Tillman (two Pro Bowls, one All Pro), cornerback Tim Jennings (two Pro Bowls), linebacker Brendan Ayanbadejo (two Pro Bowls), wide receiver Brandon Marshall (one Pro Bowl, one All Pro), guard Ruben Brown (one Pro Bowl), wide receiver Johnny Knox (one Pro Bowl), cornerback Nathan Vasher (one Pro Bowl), defensive back Corey Graham (one Pro Bowl) and Melton (one Pro Bowl). That’s an attractive part of Smith’s sales pitch when it comes to convincing free agents to come play for Tampa Bay.
“This is what I’ve found from men: They will do whatever you ask them to do if you look them in the eye and they feel like you know what you’re talking about and you have a plan,” Smith said. “I never had a hard time. I’ve dealt with very few players I haven’t been able to motivate and get them to do what we ask them to do. They’ll listen. Way back when, when I was a younger coach, I thought it would be so much harder coaching NFL players than junior high or high school players. It’s the complete opposite. I think the easiest player there is to coach is an NFL player. Most of them are making a lot of money; they like their life and they want you to help them continue to make that. As far as how we’re going to motivate them, the same way. No one will play harder than we will. We’re going to be a physical football team and, for me, if somebody isn’t, I go to them and we’re going to get them to do it. It’s kind of as simple as that.”
4. Smith Could Usher In The Clout DiscountWith an 81-63 record as head coach of the Bears with three playoff appearances, including a trip to the Super Bowl in 2006, Smith is one the most respected coaches in the NFL. Earning high marks from players and fellow coaches he’s served with and under, including Dungy, Smith has the track record, charisma, integrity and commanding presence that free agents will find appealing. That alone will help lure some free agents, including some former Chicago players like Tillman and Hester, to Tampa Bay.
Former head coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik were able to attract some high-profile names to Tampa Bay to play for a coach who was unproven at the NFL level, but had to pay top dollar to seal those deals. With Smith’s clout, the Bucs may be able to snare some free agents without having to break the bank.
Rice was a Pro Bowler and a two-time All Pro in Arizona and took less money as free agent in Tampa Bay to play for Dungy, Kiffin, Marinelli and play with Bucs greats like Sapp, Brooks, strong safety John Lynch and cornerback Ronde Barber in 2001. While the Bucs seem two or three years from being a Super Bowl contender at the earliest, Smith may be able to sway top notch free agents from going to far lesser teams for more money because of the type of man and coach he is.
5. The Great State of Florida Sales PitchThe fact that free agency takes place in March when temperatures are typically in the 70s and 80s in Tampa only helps Smith and the Buccaneers’ cause. While several northern states can experience freezing temps and snow in March, Florida’s weather is downright balmy and tropical and ideal to play in. Not to mention that the grass field at Raymond James Stadium is often ranked as the league’s best playing surface.
Throw in fishing, boating, beaches and theme parks aplenty, and there are plenty of recreational activities for free agents and their families to do while living in the Tampa Bay area with entertainment-rich Orlando just an hour and a half away and that’s another key selling point.
With the departure of Schiano, Dominik and head trainer Todd Toriscelli, the Bucs have put the MRSA debacle of the 2013 season in the rearview mirror. One Buccaneer Place has gotten a clean bill of health, so playing in a place that had an outbreak of MRSA last season is now yesterday’s news.
But perhaps the best news is that Florida does not have state income tax, so that players get to keep more of the money that’s in their contracts. Having that extra five or 10 percent by playing in Florida instead of New York or California (10.3 percent for every dollar over a $1 million per year earnings) could mean the money – we’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars for contracts worth millions – to buy their parents a house or send their own kids to college. Showing free agent targets the economics of signing with Tampa Bay will be a huge part of Smith’s sales pitch in March.
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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