In Bucs Throwback Thursday, I take a stroll down memory lane and offer up my own personal insight and anecdotes on days gone by in Tampa Bay football history. Let me know what you think of the Bucs Throwback Thursday column in the article comments.
Before offering up a new Bucs Throwback Thursday, I pay my respects to the late, great former sports editor of The Tampa Tribune, Tom McEwen, who often started his column “Breakfast Bonus” describing a large southern-style breakfast in detail before turning the column back to sports.
Over your breakfast of three cage-free scrambled eggs with Dover strawberry onions and Belle Glade green peppers sautéed in, along with two well-done venison sausage patties ground at Rick’s Custom Meats in Pinecrest, washed down with a small eight ounce Coca-Cola in a glass bottle, here is this week’s Throwback Thursday section.
The NFL agency period kicked off last month and the Buccaneers brought in the greatest quarterback – at least the one with the most accolades – as their new signal caller. Tom Brady was the prize of the glass and time will only tell where he ends up ranking in the history of Bucs’ free agent acquisitions.
Prior to the start of free agency I wrote about the all-time worst free agents in Bucs history. This week’s Throwback Thursday column is on the Top 5 players that Tampa Bay has signed since the NFL started free agency in the early 1990’s. Take a look at see if you agree or feel I left anyone off the list.
Top Five Best Free Agents In Bucs History
Table of Contents
5. WR Vincent Jackson
The Buccaneers made big free agency news in 2012 when the team signed wide receiver Vincent Jackson to a five-year, $55.55 million deal under then general manager Mark Dominik.
Bucs WR Vincent Jackson – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Jackson didn’t disappoint, and set a Bucs record for receiving yards (216) in a game and the longest reception in team history (95 yards) in a home loss to New Orleans. In his first season in Tampa Bay, Jackson was elected as a team captain and posted a career-highs in receptions (72) and yards (1,384) while making his third Pro Bowl.
The former Charger played five seasons with Tampa Bay and still ranks 10th in all-time receptions with 268, and is fourth all-time in yards with 4,326. In addition to his contributions on the field, Jackson was a mainstay in the Tampa Bay community volunteering with numerous charities.
4. OLB Shaq Barrett
When the Buccaneers signed Barrett last offseason, it didn’t register a very big blip nationally – or even locally – for that matter. A part-time pass rusher for the Broncos, Barrett came to Tampa Bay on a one-year, $4 million contract with hopes of boosting a woeful pass rush.
Barrett’s stat line in Denver was modest – just 14.5 sacks five seasons as a rotational player behind Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and Bradley Chubb.
A year later that blip turned into a bang, and Barrett was a Pro Bowl player and was second team All-Pro, leading the NFL in sacks with 19.5, which broke Warren Sapp’s Tampa Bay sack record of 16.5 in 2000.
Barrett caught the NFL’s attention in Week 2 when on a Thursday night game at Carolina, Barrett sacked Panthers’ QB Cam Newton three times to win the NFC Defensive Player of the Week. The season kept getting better, and in Week 17, Barrett notched three more sacks in a season-ending loss to the Falcons to claim the NFL sack title in 2019.
The Buccaneers placed the franchise tag on Barrett last month and still hope to work out a long-term contract for their star pass rusher.
3. QB Brad Johnson
Nicknamed “The Bull,” Johnson’s rise to NFL Super Bowl winner took a number of twists and turns.
Former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden and QB Brad Johnson – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Johnson was a star high school basketball and football player from North Carolina and was a top recruit for the Florida State Seminoles. But as a senior in Tallahassee, Johnson couldn’t beat out future Bucs’ quarterback Casey Weldon.
Johnson was drafted by the Vikings in the ninth round in 1992 (yes, the ninth round, as the NFL Draft was 12 rounds at the time) and made the team as the third-string QB. Johnson spent seven seasons with the Vikings but never started a full 16-game schedule.
Johnson was signed by the Washington Redskins in 1992 and played two season there before coming to the Buccaneers as a free agent. Johnson spent four years with the Buccaneers and helped lead Tampa Bay to its first and only Super Bowl title following the 2002 season. He made the Pro Bowl that year while throwing 22 touchdowns and six interceptions in the regular season, and is still fifth all-time in Bucs history with 10,940 passing yards.
2. DE Simeon Rice
To say Rice was a unique character would be an understatement. But somehow when Rice joined the Buccaneers as a free agent on a five-year, $30 million deal, he was right at home inside a Tampa Bay locker room that had Warren Sapp and Keyshawn Johnson in it despite walking to the beat of a different drummer, as some would say.
Bucs DE Simeon Rice – Photo courtesy of the Buccaneers
Of course when you are as talented as Rice was, and coming off a productive five-year stretch with the Cardinals, you find a way to make it work within that locker room full of egos.
Rice made an immediate impact, notching 11.5 sacks in his first season, then having back-to-back 15-sack season for Tampa Bay in 2002 and ’03. Rice teamed up with Sapp to give Tampa Bay one of the most feared defensive lines in all of the NFL, and the duo helped propel the Bucs to their only Super Bowl title in 2002.
Rice ended his Bucs career with 69.5 sacks, which is third all-time behind Hall of Famers Lee Roy Selmon (78.5 sacks) and Sapp (77).
1. LB Hardy Nickerson
Nickerson isn’t the most heralded linebacker in team history. But he may have been just as impactful as Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks was.
When Nickerson joined the Buccaneers in 1993 after six seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the team was in a downward spiral marred in more than a decade of futility. The Buccaneers hadn’t sniffed the playoffs since 1982 and when Nickerson arrived in Tampa Bay he was shocked at the culture difference between the Rooney family-led Steelers and the woeful Hugh Culverhouse-led Buccaneers. It was like going from the penthouse to the outhouse. But Nickerson was on a mission to change the culture inside the locker room and also on the field.
Former Bucs LBs Hardy Nickerson and Derrick Brooks – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Nickerson immediately established himself as the boss, and even took it upon himself to physically straighten out and weed out those players who weren’t putting in the work with a couple of scuffles. It didn’t happen overnight and it took some solid drafting and better coaching, but eventually the Buccaneers became respectable once again and an NFC contender.
Nickerson didn’t get a chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy as he wasn’t re-signed after the 1999 season, but he did help develop Brooks, Sapp, strong safety John Lynch and cornerback Ronde Barber into leaders on defense and big-time players in Tampa Bay. The Bucs eventually won the Super Bowl in 2002, but Nickerson’s leadership and influence could still be felt among the guys who played with him.
Tampa Bay’s turnaround in the mid-1990s didn’t just happen under Tony Dungy. It happened under Nickerson, who finished his seven seasons with the team with 1,028, which ranks third all-time in franchise history behind just Brooks (2,148) and Barber (1,428).
This week we highlight the 1995 Buccaneers that started the season five-dash-two but ended up seven-dash-nine under the late Sam Wyche. It was also Scott Reynolds’ first season covering the Buccaneers and a year when we met for the first time. Of course Hardy Nickerson was front and center as Tampa Bay’s leader and best player, just two years after setting the franchise record for tackles in a season with 214. The 1995 season was also the rookie year for both defensive tackle Warren Sapp and linebacker Derrick Brooks, who were drafted in the first round that year.
Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, the beach and family time.Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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