Signing free agents is always a boom-or-bust type of proposition. Riskier than penny stocks traded wildly by the shady Jordan Belfort in the movie “Wolf of Wall Street,” the Buccaneers have been burned more than they have struck gold and often wished for a money-back guarantee.
Guard Carl Nicks, five years, $47.5 million.
Defensive end Michael Johnson, five years, $43 million.
Cornerback Eric Wright, five years, $37.5 million.
Left tackle Anthony Collins, five years, $30 million.
Heck, even wide receiver Alvin Harper back in the day, four years, $10.66 million.
It is free agency season, but it should be called “buyer beware” season. The Buccaneers – along with all NFL teams – can begin contacting agents on Saturday, March 7 on the eve of the official kickoff of free agency that begins at 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 10. Will the Buccaneers open up the checkbook like they have over the last three seasons, or look for more value players like defensive tackle Clinton McDonald after overpaying for a higher profile player like Johnson?
The Buccaneers have had some degree of free agent success. No one will argue that wide receiver Vincent Jackson hasn’t met expectations. Nor can anyone say, one of the Bucs’ original free agents, middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson, wasn’t worth every penny of his contract that lured him from the Pittsburgh Steelers. But unfortunately for every Jackson or Nickerson, there have been two or three Harpers, Wrights or Charlie Garners. Or Todd Steussies. Or Derrick Deeses. Or Derek Wards. You get the idea.
Winning the “free agency Super Bowl” in March has yet to equate to winning the real thing later in the year – just ask the Washington Redskins. In fact, adding spot and role players has been proven to be more effective in winning the Super Bowl rather than getting the marquee names the day free agency opens. Tampa Bay proved that in 2002 with the addition of tight end Ken Dilger, running back Michael Pittman, offensive linemen Roman Oben and Kerry Jenkins, defensive end Greg Spires and wide receivers Keenan McCardell and Joe Jurevicius. While people still debate if Jon Gruden won Super Bowl XXXVII with Tony Dungy’s players, but the fact is, the Bucs may have never gotten over the hump without the huge influx of additional talent, particularly on offense.
Think back to the 2002 NFC Championship Game when a former Giants role player receiver caught a short crossing pattern from Brad Johnson and took it 71 yards, giving the Bucs offense a shot in the arm, eventually leading to the second-biggest win in franchise history after beating the Eagles. Did many Bucs fans sit up and take notice when Jurevicius was signed as a free agent eight months earlier?
And to see a proven free agent success story, look no further than what Bill Belichick has done with the New England Patriots. Primarily building through the draft, Belichick isn’t afraid to cut ties with players on the decline, and pick up role players to fill in, almost renting players at times. Former Bucs cornerback Darrell Revis was a perfect example of that last year. After being cut by the Bucs last March, Revis signed a one-year, $12 million deal, with a club option for a second year. The Patriots would like to sign Revis to a long-term deal, but if it doesn’t happen, the one-year Buccaneer helped bring another Lombardi Trophy to Foxborough.
So instead of expecting a big Mike Iupati, Ndamukong Suh, Randall Cobb and DevinMcCourty news conference next Wednesday, it will more likely be the Dan Connolly, Stephen Paea and Clint Boling type players brought in instead. Not necessarily sexy or NFL Network update worthy, but the smarter way to supplement your roster.
Fans and media members eat up the big-name signings. It is exciting to see a team you follow become relevant in March on ESPN SportsCenter, showing highlights of press conferences of well-known players holding up shiny new red and pewter jerseys. But history has proven time and time again, buying a high-priced football team in March doesn’t typically lead to being crowned Super Bowl champs the following February.