The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 3-11 and in the midst of their third losing season in four years. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden has led his team to two NFC South division championships and a Super Bowl title, but his overall regular season record as head coach in Tampa Bay has dipped below .500. It currently stands at 38-40.
Needless to say, Gruden’s critics are out in full force, and they have every right to criticize Tampa Bay’s head coach and Bucs general manager Bruce Allen. That comes with the territory, especially when you’re performing as poorly as the Bucs are this season.
However, there’s a difference between criticizing in a fair and responsible manner, and being irresponsible by throwing out false accusations and misinformation, or conveniently leaving out facts that wouldn’t help support an opinion or agenda.
This has been a major issue, particularly in some Tampa Bay area newspapers articles and on some sports talk radio segments, where Gruden and Allen have been accused of just about everything except being on the Grassy Knoll when John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
In fact, this has been such an issue that Pewter Report has decided to use this Pewter Insider article to separate fact from fiction and enlighten Bucs fans with fact-based reporting, which it prides itself on.
It’s completely fair to say Gruden has done a lousy job of coaching this season. He’s far from perfect and certainly has his flaws, as does his team. Tampa Bay’s dismal record is disappointing to say the least. It’s also fair to debate whether Gruden and perhaps Allen should be fired or not.
However, Gruden and Allen are being falsely accused of several different things, and this column, which is free for all Bucs fans to read, serves as a myth buster while shedding light on what has really happened to – and what is really happening with – the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This information is based on facts we have collected from conversations with multiple sources at One Buccaneer Place.
Here are 15 accusations you’ll read or hear quite often in the local newspapers and on Internet message boards, and on sports talk radio, respectively. Pewter Report takes on each accusation and gives Bucs fans the facts, which have been noticeably absent from many of the accusations you’ll find below.
GRUDEN WON THE SUPER BOWL WITH DUNGY’S TEAM This myth, which was referenced as recently as last Saturday’s editorial in the Tampa Tribune that called for Gruden’s firing, is easy to debunk. Former Bucs head coach Tony Dungy did some great things in Tampa Bay, and he played an integral role in turning one of the league’s worst franchises into one of the best. However, Dungy didn’t win the Super Bowl with his own team, which is why he was fired.
It’s completely fair to say Gruden inherited a playoff-caliber team. The Bucs had, after all, made the playoffs in four of Dungy’s six seasons in Tampa Bay. However, Gruden didn’t win with Dungy’s team. He completely retooled the offensive side of the ball, having former Bucs general manager Rich McKay sign eight players in 2002, including tackle Roman Oben, guard Kerry Jenkins, quarterback Rob Johnson, wide receivers Keenan McCardell and Joe Jurevicius, tight ends Ken Dilger and Rickey Dudley, and running back Michael Pittman. Each of those players started at least one game for the Bucs during their Super Bowl run.
An analysis of the Super Bowl roster (including injured reserve) shows a total of 28 players brought in under the Gruden-McKay regime: OT Lomas Brown,_FB Darian Barnes,_LS Ryan Benjamin,_DT DeVone Claybrooks,_TE Casey Crawford,_LB Jack Golden, _OT Dan Goodspeed,_OT Cornell Green,_DT Buck Gurley,_FS Jermaine Phillips,_DE Greg Spires, P Tom Tupa,_CB Tim Wansley,_TE Daniel Wilcox, WR Charles Lee,_LB Ryan Nece,_LS Mike Solwold,_DE Corey Smith,_RB Travis Stephens_WR and Marquise Walker. That’s over half the roster.
Dungy’s playoff teams in Tampa Bay scored a total of 59 points in six playoff contests, which averaged out to 9.8 points per contest. The Bucs also failed to score a touchdown in their final three playoff losses, including two in Philadelphia, which was the same place Gruden and the Bucs won 27-10 to advance to the Super Bowl.
Yes, the Monte Kiffin-led defense carried the torch during Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl season, but the Bucs scored a total of 106 points in three post-season games, and Gruden’s offense did play a significant part in that.
ALLEN-GRUDEN CREATED SALARY CAP MESS How McKay’s name has rarely, if ever, been mentioned by any other media outlet besides Pewter Report when it comes to discussing the salary cap hell Tampa Bay has been dealing with over the last several years is beyond us. Why haven’t major newspapers even dared to investigate exactly why the Buccaneers were in salary cap trouble from 2003-06?
The fact of the matter is Allen contributed to the salary cap mess in Tampa Bay, but McKay created it. Yes, McKay has been long gone, but his contracts have stuck with the Bucs. Much of the cap mess was created when the Bucs attempted to repeat as Super Bowl champs. You couldn’t really fault them for that as the team managed to bring back all but two starters (safety Dexter Jackson and linebacker Al Singleton) that season, but it was McKay that signed players like kicker Martin Gramatica, quarterback Brad Johnson, wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, defensive tackle Anthony McFarland and defensive end Simeon Rice to long-term, lucrative contracts that ate up a significant portion of Tampa Bay’s cap space and handcuffed the team in free agency for several seasons.
But blaming the Super Bowl on Tampa Bay’s cap woes isn’t completely fair, either. The Bucs were destined for cap trouble before they even hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in San Diego.
In fact, former New York Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum flew to Tampa to get a good look at Tampa Bay’s books in January 2002 per the request of Bill Parcells, who was contemplating taking the job as head coach with the Bucs.
As it would turn out, Tannenbaum, who was slated to be the team’s general manager if Parcells took the head coaching job, looked at the player contracts that McKay did and advised Parcells not to take the job because the team’s Super Bowl window was closing fast before the team would be thrust into salary cap hell.
Allen contributed by handing out long-term, lucrative deals to tackles Derrick Deese and Todd Steussie, and running back Charlie Garner. Those moves were done to try to get a 7-9 team back into playoffs, but backfired big time. However, the dead cap money generated by all three of those players accounted for only 4 percent of Tampa Bay’s salary cap the next year.
Were those bad signings? Yes. Did they kill Tampa Bay’s salary cap? Absolutely not. Allen walked into cap hell in January 2004, and he threw a few logs on the fire two months later. But it was McKay, not Allen, that created the cap challenges the Bucs have endured over the past several seasons, and not mentioning McKay’s name in any of these types of discussions is just plain ignorant or part of an agenda, neither of which should be acceptable.
GRUDEN RAN OFF KEYSHAWN JOHNSON Gruden and Keyshawn Johnson didn’t get along from Day 1. That has been documented in more ways than one. Gruden didn’t like the fact that Johnson skipped out on several organized team activities while he installed his offense in Tampa Bay in 2002, and Johnson didn’t like the fact that Gruden landed in Tampa Bay instead of Bill Parcells.
With the exception of the Monday Night Football game against St. Louis, where Johnson got in Gruden’s face over an argument they were having on the sideline, the two men managed to get along long enough for the Bucs to get to and win the Super Bowl. The fact that Gruden and Johnson disliked each other so much made McKay’s decision to extend Johnson’s contract during the 2003 offseason curious at best.
The Gruden-Johnson feud got even worse when Johnson walked into Gruden’s office after a loss to San Francisco and told him he would not play for him again after the 2003 season. Johnson, who felt Gruden was two-faced, said he would only play for his teammates. Well, that wasn’t necessarily the case as Johnson started showing up late for meetings, wearing flip-flops out onto the practice field for walk-throughs and creating a distraction in the locker room. Johnson was deemed a cancer by some, and Gruden decided to rid his team of the disease in November of 2003 when the Bucs made Johnson inactive for the rest of the season.
That move was costly as the Bucs missed the playoffs that season. It was even more expensive in the 2004 offseason, when Allen traded Johnson to Dallas in exchange for Joey Galloway, a move that created a cap charge of $7 million because of the fact that Johnson had just signed an extension that included a signing bonus during the offseason.
Gruden could have worked a lot harder to make Johnson a happy camper, but Johnson was a malcontent that needed to go.
RICH MCKAY WAS PUSHED OUT BY GRUDEN Gruden and McKay didn’t share the same philosophy and just didn’t get along. Some believe Gruden pushed McKay out, but McKay’s days in Tampa Bay appeared to be over after the Glazers overruled his recommendation to hire then-Baltimore defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis to replace Dungy after ownership was inexplicably clear that they wanted an offensive-minded head coach to succeed Dungy.
That search, of course, ended with the trade for Gruden, who actually helped convince McKay to stay in Tampa Bay and sign a multi-year contract with the team. Admittedly, Gruden doesn’t know a lot about the salary cap and didn’t want to be the Bucs’ general manager, too. McKay felt Gruden was too demanding when it came to personnel decisions, and Gruden believed McKay didn’t do a good job of allocating money to the offensive side of the football and spent too much time worrying about the NFL Competition Committee and not the Buccaneers.
Gruden wasn’t happy to learn that McKay had made Rice the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL when he landed in Hawaii for the NFL Owner’s Meetings in 2003. Not consulting him on that contract extension rubbed Gruden the wrong way, and the fact that McKay took vacation days during Tampa Bay’s OTAs didn’t sit well with Gruden, either, especially when the offseason lasts six months and each team is given less than three dozen OTAs per year.
Of course, Gruden didn’t help matters when he reportedly bad-mouthed McKay in front of a group of media members in Arizona a few months later. Whatever Gruden’s criticisms, it was clearly done in poor taste.
It was also clear that McKay was looking for ways to get out of Tampa Bay in the summer of 2003 when he allegedly went golfing with Atlanta owner Arthur Blank during Bucs’ training camp. Although McKay was under contract with the Buccaneers, he wanted to quit his gig in Tampa Bay and asked the Glazers to let him out of his deal in order to pursue a general manager position with the Atlanta Falcons. The Glazers had more invested in Gruden (four premium draft picks and $8 million) than McKay, whom they nearly fired in 2002. So ownership decided to let McKay out of his contract and didn’t require any form of compensation from Atlanta, an NFC South rival.
A difference in philosophies pushed McKay out of Tampa Bay, and both Gruden and McKay contributed to the arranged marriage that ended in divorce. But McKay was clearly looking for ways to get out instead of looking for ways to make the relationship with Gruden work.
ALLEN IS GRUDEN’S PUPPET With McKay out, the Glazers took Gruden up on his recommendation to interview Allen, whom he worked with in Oakland. Allen served as a senior assistant to Raiders owner Al Davis. Gruden interviewed with Oakland in 1997 and ‘98, but it wasn’t until ’98 that Allen hired him.
They both had success, with Gruden compiling a 38-26 regular season record and taking the Raiders to the playoffs in two of the four seasons he was there. Allen did a good job of managing Oakland’s difficult salary cap situation during his tenure there.
So, the decision to hire Allen as Tampa Bay’s general manager made sense. However, many believe Gruden is the one actually calling the shots while Allen serves as a puppet of sorts. This simply isn’t the case. When Gruden says he doesn’t know much about how the salary cap works, he isn’t kidding. Allen, on the other hand, is considered a cap guru, which is one of the things that attracted the Glazers to him since they were aware of Tampa Bay’s upcoming cap challenges.
To his credit, Allen has taken the Bucs from three straight offseasons of major cap overages to $25-plus million under the cap in 2007. Allen and Gruden get along. They are known to hang out with each other and their wives outside of football, but they’re rarely overheard talking about anything but football. While they share a similar philosophy and passion for football, Gruden doesn’t get everything he wants. Allen has the final say over personnel decisions, but could easily be accused of giving into Gruden’s wishes too often.
BUCS NEED A PERSONNEL GUY Some have questioned Allen and Gruden’s ability to evaluate talent because of questionable signings and draft picks. Deese, Garner and Steussie didn’t pan out, and third-round draft picks, linebacker Marquis Cooper and tackle Chris Colmer, didn’t were busts. The jury is still out on safety Will Allen and wide receiver Michael Clayton, among others.
But it’s not completely fair to judge Allen and Gruden on the free agent signings they’ve had seeing as they’ve been shopping at discount stores as opposed to high-end shopping malls due to salary cap restraints. Most of their draft picks are too young to deem busts or Pro Bowl-caliber players.
Plus, some of the signings/trades have panned out, including wide receiver Joey Galloway, punter Josh Bidwell, defensive tackle Chris Hovan, nickel cornerback Juran Bolden and kicker Matt Bryant. The fact that Allen could steal a second-round pick from the Colts for the underachieving McFarland can’t be understated, either.
There is a fallacy out there that Gruden ran off the team’s personnel men. Jerry Angelo left Tampa Bay for Chicago in 2001 for a promotion to become the Bears’ general manager. McKay quit to go to Atlanta in 2003 and Tim Ruskell, the personnel man who replaced Angelo, was denied the opportunity to become the team’s general manager in favor of the more familiar Allen. Ruskell’s replacement, Ruston Webster, was originally hired by McKay and stayed on with Gruden and Allen for two years before leaving for a promotion in Seattle under Ruskell.
In fact, Tampa Bay’s last several drafts were head up by Webster, who was the director of player personnel and considered an up-and-coming talent scout that will eventually land a job as a general manager. For some reason, the local newspapers neglect to mention the fact that the Buccaneers indeed have had a personnel man at the helm throughout Gruden’s tenure in Tampa Bay.
The Bucs still have director of pro personnel Mark Dominik and director of college scouting Dennis Hickey on their staff. Both men were hired by McKay and groomed under Angelo, Ruskell and Webster, and are considered capable and competent when it comes to signing free agents and drafting players, respectively. So do the Bucs really need another personnel person/talent evaluator on their staff?
GRUDEN-ALLEN DIDN’T WANT LYNCH, SAPP If the salary cap wasn’t an issue, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would have had safety John Lynch and defensive tackle Warren Sapp back with the Bucs. Bet on it.
But that’s not how the NFL works. Teams are forced to part ways with legendary players quite often. Look at the 49ers with Steve Young and Jerry Rice or the Tennessee Titans with Steve McNair.
The Bucs opted not to re-sign Sapp because he was past his prime and the Bucs were coming off a 7-9 season with him on their roster. But the biggest obstacle in re-signing Sapp was the fact that McKay had given younger DT Anthony McFarland a long-term deal that included a $9 million signing bonus. No team can devote that amount of money and the amount of money Sapp was looking for (a deal that rivaled or bettered McFarland’s) at the same position.
In hindsight, that turned out to be a bad investment on McKay’s part as an aging Sapp might still be a better player than McFarland, who was traded to Indianapolis due to his ineffectiveness this season.
Lynch’s situation was a bit more complicated. He wasn’t an unrestricted free agent like Sapp was. Lynch was actually under contract when he was released by the Bucs. Tampa Bay couldn’t afford to keep Lynch on its roster with his contract the way it was and freed up $4.5 million in much-needed cap room by releasing him.
In fact, his contract was structured in a manner that would have prompted any general manager to revisit it. It just so happened that Allen was forced to deal with it since McKay had already left for Atlanta.
Complicating matters was the fact that Lynch, who was coming off a serious neck injury that required surgery, did not pass his physical with the Buccaneers. The Bucs apparently didn’t like the MRI or X-ray from Lynch’s surgically-repaired neck. Allen asked Lynch to restructure his contract, and Lynch was open to the idea as long as he was guaranteed a staring job the following season.
But the Bucs wanted to open the competition up to include Jermaine Phillips. Lynch wasn’t open to that idea, which ultimately led to his departure.
While Allen caught a lot of grief for releasing Lynch, the fact that he failed his physical with the team and had an uncertain future in the NFL because of the neck injury was underreported. But it shouldn’t come as surprise seeing as Herm Edwards, who made Lynch the Godfather of his son, and Dungy, who helped make Lynch a Pro Bowler, all passed on him in free agency despite the Jets, Falcons and Colts having needs at the safety position. That is a bit curious, isn’t it?
Denver rolled the dice and signed Lynch, and it has since paid off. The Bucs just weren’t willing to take the risk, but don’t think for a minute that they wouldn’t like to have him back in Tampa Bay. In hindsight, Gruden and Allen made a big mistake as Lynch’s neck has held up. If not for the injury and the team’s cap woes, Lynch likely wouldn’t have left.
THE BUCS DIDN’T WANT MCCARDELL Tampa Bay didn’t want to get rid of Pro Bowl WR Keenan McCardell at all. Allen was the new G.M. in town, and with the Bucs coming off of a 7-9 season and poised to either release or trade Keyshawn Johnson, McCardell, who was coming off a 1,000-yard season, and his representatives decided to try and strike while the opportunity seemed to present itself. McCardell demanded a contract extension and claimed Jon Gruden promised he’d take care of him. If Gruden did, shame on him because he didn’t have any idea of how much salary cap trouble the Bucs were in and that they couldn’t afford to re-do a multi-year deal that was only two years old.
But Allen balked at that notion, citing the fact that McCardell had two years remaining on his current contract. While the Bucs desperately needed his services, caving in to McCardell’s demands would have been catastrophic to Tampa Bay’s salary cap situation, which was already bad enough.
Giving McCardell a new contract would have prompted several other Bucs players, namely defensive backs Ronde Barber, Brian Kelly and Dwight Smith, to line up outside of Allen’s office for pay increases. By not paying McCardell, Allen set a precedent in Tampa Bay – he does not negotiate with holdouts.
And don’t think that didn’t enter Barber’s mind when he contemplated holding out before he eventually received a contract extension in what was scheduled to be the final year of his contract this summer.
GRUDEN MAKES TOO MANY EXCUSES Tampa Bay’s head coach certainly hasn’t been shy when it comes to explaining why his team is struggling this season. The Bucs have lost several starters, including quarterback Chris Simms, right tackle Kenyatta Walker, guard Dan Buenning, cornerback Brian Kelly, and defensive end Simeon Rice.
Those injuries certainly haven’t helped, but the Bucs were 0-2 and failed to score an offensive touchdown while all but one starter (Buenning) was healthy enough to play.
Gruden has also been quoted as saying the Bucs lost McFarland, but that’s a poor excuse as the Bucs traded McFarland to the Colts in exchange for Indy’s second-round draft pick in 2007. That means they didn’t want him anymore.
Gruden has been quick to point out Tampa Bay’s regular season schedule, which has been unkind, but no games in the NFL are easy. Sure, the league could have given the Bucs a better schedule, preferably one that didn’t include three games in 11 days. Has the schedule been tough? You bet. But it’s no excuse for how poorly the Bucs have played at times this season.
Tampa Bay was playing a rookie quarterback before Gradkowski got benched, and two rookie offensive linemen, as Gruden has said on more than one occasion, but he’s still responsible for the players on his roster, and if they’re playing, but not playing well, it’s ultimately on the head coach.
These are all legitimate reasons that help explain why Tampa Bay has struggled so much this season, but they are coming across as excuses from Gruden, who can at times sound like a broken record. However, Gruden also sounds like a broken record when he says “I take full responsibility…” when discussing the team’s losses during each press conference.
BUCS SHOULD HAVE RE-SIGNED THOMAS JONES Tampa Bay traded for running back Thomas Jones in 2003 just to let him go in free agency during the ’04 offseason. The Bucs were interested in re-signing Jones, but he signed a long-term deal that included a $3.5 million signing bonus with Chicago less than one hour after free agency had started.
With Michael Pittman and Mike Alstott still on their roster, the Bucs weren’t convinced they needed to throw that much money at Jones, who averaged 4.6 yards per carry during his short stint with Tampa Bay.
Jones also told the Bucs he wanted to be the main guy after splitting carries with Pittman in Arizona and Tampa Bay. He received that opportunity in Chicago, and Tampa Bay didn’t really have the chance to match Chicago’s offer in free agency, which led to them signing Charlie Garner instead.
Although Garner was a bust, that decision didn’t necessarily appear to be a bad one in 2004 when Jones rushed for 948 yards (4.0 avg.) and seven touchdowns in 14 games. Pittman rushed for 926 yards (4.2 avg.) and seven touchdowns in 13 games that season. Jones also caught 56 passes for 427 yards with zero touchdowns, while Pittman hauled in 41 passes for 391 yards and scored three touchdowns.
Their productivity was similar, but the biggest issue was Pittman’s inability to hold onto the ball. He fumbled six times that season, incredibly losing all of them. Jones fumbled twice and lost just one loose ball in 2004.
Jones has put together back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons in Chicago, but the Bears also invested the fourth overall pick in the 2005 draft in running back Cedric Benson, which wasn’t exactly a glowing endorsement for Jones.
While Tampa Bay’s ground game has struggled this season, Cadillac Williams, the team’s 2005 first-round pick, earned Rookie of the Year honors by rushing for 1,178 yards (4.1 avg.) and six touchdowns. Williams isn’t an elite back yet and needs to improve his hands as a ball carrier and as a receiver, but there are few backs that could find success running into the wall Williams has seen more often than not this season.
GRUDEN ABANDONS THE RUN TOO OFTEN There is some merit to this myth. Gruden had a potent ground attack in Oakland, and he wasn’t afraid to give the ball to Cadillac Williams last season (290 carries in 14 games). I really can’t fault Gruden for not running the ball that much this season.
His offensive line isn’t opening up the holes for Williams and Co., and defenses have been daring Gradkowski to throw the football by stacking the line of scrimmage.
That said, I still have a problem with Gradkowski throwing the ball 48 times in a game that featured 30-40 mile-per-hour winds. The plays have been there in the passing game, but Gradkowski wasn’t able to capitalize enough on them, and when he did deliver the football his receivers dropped too many passes. This wouldn’t be that big of an issue if the Bucs were able to make the plays that were there in the passing game.
GRUDEN DOESN’T GIVE ALSTOTT THE BALL ENOUGH Everyone would like to see the “A-Train” get the ball more, including Pewter Report, but he’s not a feature back, and Gruden’s offense isn’t designed around him.
In fact, Gruden isn’t the only playcaller that has struggled to get Alstott the football via the running game. In 1999, Alstott carried the ball 242 times for a 3.9-yard average under offensive coordinator Mike Shula, who was fired after that season.
Alstott has had just one other season where he carried the ball more than 200 times, and that came in ’98 when he ran the ball 215 times, again, averaging 3.9 yards per carry.
That means former Bucs offensive coordinators Les Steckel and Clyde Christensen also struggled to find ways to get Alstott the football.
In Gruden’s first year in Tampa Bay, Alstott pounded the rock 146 times. But his highest amount since then was just 67 in 2004. However, Alstott also missed a significant amount of playing time due to injuries in 2003 and ’04. And in 2005, Alstott carried the ball just 34 times, but he was used as the team’s short yardage and goal line back, scoring six touchdowns.
This season, Alstott has carried the ball 32 times for 111 yards and has scored three touchdowns. To put his number of carries in perspective, running back Michael Pittman has carried the ball just 22 times this season. The “A-Train” has soft hands, and he’s caught 21 passes for 88 yards this season. However, Alstott isn’t making much happen when he’s thrown the football. He’s averaged 7.5 yards per reception throughout his career, but that average has dipped to just 4.0 yards per reception this season.
Yes, Tampa Bay’s running game is grounded, and Alstott should get the opportunity to make plays with the ball in his hands more in games. However, at this point in Alstott’s career, the Bucs feel they are better off giving the majority of the carries and touches to Cadillac Williams – right or wrong – as he is the future at the running back position.
Yes, the fans’ clamoring for Alstott likely chafes Gruden, but it should be noted that Gruden turned to Alstott to score the first touchdown in the NFC Championship Game at Philadelphia, the first TD in Super Bowl XXXVII and to score the game-winning two-point conversion in a critical game against Washington last year. If Gruden totally had it in for Alstott and was trying to kill his career, why would he continue to call on Alstott in key situations?
It should also be noted that Alstott scored more touchdowns than Williams did last year (seven total TDs to six) and is outscoring him this year, three TDs to one. And the A-Train is clearly the best blocking fullback on the team and was a huge reason why Williams won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors last year.
GRUDEN IS TOO STUBBORN This might be one of Gruden’s biggest flaws. His version of the West Coast offense is the only one in the NFL that hasn’t evolved, meaning it doesn’t use the shotgun formation. Seattle head coach Mike Holmgren and Philadelphia heach coach Andy Reid, both of whom were also students of Hall of Famer Bill Walsh, currently use the shotgun formation in their respective West Coast systems, yet Gruden refuses to implement it.
You would like to see the shotgun. Heck, Pewter Report would like to see Gruden use the shotgun next year.
To his credit, Gruden seems to be opening up to the idea of using the shotgun formation, especially when two of his quarterbacks – Gradkowski and Simms – thrived in it in college. But we’ll have to actually see if Gruden implements it in 2007.
Gruden has also been stubborn when it comes to playing injured players. It’s one thing to want to make sure a player exhausts all options before not playing in a game due to injury, but it’s another to hold a grudge against a player or players because they can’t play due to injury.
It also seems like there’s a double standard under Gruden, who has shown little patience for some players’ mistakes while being quite patient with others’ errors. For example, Cadillac Williams has had some fumbling issues this season, yet he’s still involved in game plans, whereas when Michael Pittman had fumbling problems in 2004, the Bucs stopped giving him the ball as much and selected Williams with their first-round pick in 2005. Pittman was in Gruden’s doghouse, which seems like it’s near impossible to get out of once you’re in it.
ALLEN DROPPED THE BALL AT QB POSITION Tampa Bay found itself in a tough predicament this offseason with Brian Griese coming off surgery to repair torn ligaments in his knee and Chris Simms coming off a season in which he helped to lead the Bucs to the playoffs.
However, with Griese scheduled to have a $7 million salary cap value and receive a $2.6 million roster bonus, that decision was a little easier to make for Allen, who attempted to restructure Griese’s contract before having to release him in a cap maneuver.
Such a move also allowed the Bucs to take a hard look at Simms, who was scheduled to become a restricted free agent in 2006 and an unrestricted free agent in ’07. The Bucs felt comfortable heading into the ’07 season with Simms as the starter and Luke McCown, Bruce Gradkowski and Tim Rattay competing for the backup jobs. However, Tampa Bay received a bad break when McCown injured his knee in June. That ailment, which required surgery, sidelined him until October and left the Bucs thin at the quarterback position.
The Bucs attempted to address their need for a veteran quarterback, and Jay Fiedler was signed, but his throwing shoulder wasn’t physically ready, which led to his departure.
That position got even thinner after Simms suffered his ruptured spleen in Week 3 against Carolina, an injury that required emergency surgery and ended his season prematurely. With Simms out and McCown still sidelined, Gruden opted to go with Gradkowski as the starter.
His inexperience, combined with Tampa Bay’s lackluster running game and two rookie offensive linemen in the starting lineup, hindered the team’s offense, which has failed to score a touchdown in six regular season games.
Naturally, people are wondering what the Bucs’ season would have been like had Griese been in Tampa Bay instead of Chicago. However, the Bucs couldn’t afford to retain Griese, especially with him coming off of major knee surgery and Simms earning the right to be the starting signal caller in Tampa Bay for an entire season.
Giving Simms that opportunity meant having to release Griese. And even if Griese had been retained, there’s no guarantee the Bucs’ season would have been significantly better. He had, after all, struggled before going down with the knee injury last year, and he’s currently sitting behind Bears QB Rex Grossman, who has struggled mightily at times this year, yet hasn’t been pulled in favor of Griese.
Keeping Griese would have meant committing to him for the long term and that would have alienated Simms, who may have bolted in restricted free agency.
BUCS IGNORED THE DEFENSE The St. Petersburg Times was one of the first media outlets to point out the fact that the Buccaneers have only used one pick on a defensive player – linebacker Barrett Ruud in 2005 – within the top 50 players in the draft since 2000.
Of course, this stat was supposed to suggest that both Gruden and Allen have been negligent for not drafting impact players on that side of the ball, which has in turn contributed to the downfall of the once mighty Tampa Bay defense, which has gone from No. 1 overall last season to ranked 23rd overall right now.
However, what that column failed to point out, and Pewter Report’s Scott Reynolds astutely noted in his SR’s Fab Five column several weeks ago, was the fact that on draft days since 2000, the Bucs have only had five opportunities to draft a player in the Top 50. That’s right – five opportunities in the last six drafts.
McKay traded away two first-rounders for Keyshawn Johnson in 2000. He then picked Kenyatta Walker in the first round and used the team’s second-round pick, which was in the top 50, to move up in the round to get him in 2001. The Glazers traded away the Bucs’ first- and second-round picks in 2002 and its first-rounder in 2003 in exchange for Gruden.
The great news for the Bucs was that the trades made by McKay and the Glazers worked. Tampa Bay won a Super Bowl with Johnson, Walker and Gruden playing significant roles, but the team had to mortgage its future to win a championship.
The Bucs’ first pick in the 2003 draft was actually on defense – defensive end Dewayne White with the 64th pick overall – but that is out of the Top 50 realm as stated in the Times’ column.
In 2004, the Bucs did grab Michael Clayton with their first-round pick, but had to give its second-round pick to Oakland to finish off the Gruden trade.
In 2005, Cadillac Williams was the first-round pick and Ruud was Tampa Bay’s second-round selection. Of course, guard Davin Joseph, a first-rounder, was the team’s lone top 50 pick in 2006.
And had North Carolina State defensive end Manny Lawson and Fresno State cornerback Richard Marshall been available in rounds one and two this year, Tampa Bay would have given serious thought to taking one or both of them instead of Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood, respectively. Lawson, who was deemed to be an eventual replacement for Simeon Rice by the Bucs, was drafted by San Francisco one spot ahead of Tampa Bay in round one. Marshall was drafted one spot ahead of Tampa Bay in round two by Carolina.
The Bucs haven’t been guilty of neglecting the defense in the top 50 picks over the last seven years. They’ve only had five top 50 picks, including the selection used to take Ruud. McKay and the Glazers actually traded away a total of seven top 50 picks from 2000-04.
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