When the Bucs players released a statement Tuesday night through the NFLPA saying that they would all skip the voluntary workouts known as OTAs – organized team activities – this offseason, it didn’t come as a surprise. The Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks did the same thing earlier in the day.
All NFL teams met virtually last year due to the coronavirus shutting down sports in the spring and summer. Tampa Bay wound up winning Super Bowl LV without the first OTA or mini-camp practice or even a preseason game.
“NFL players across our league are a group of professionals who care about our jobs, our community and our families. We made a commitment to the organization, to Bucs and each other that we would come back to try and bring another world championship to Tampa Bay.
“We know that our union worked to negotiate safety protocols. But in light of the ongoing pandemic, we are choosing to take a stand with other players across the league and exercise our right to not participate in the voluntary offseason program. We had a fully virtual offseason last year and we held each other accountable to do he work it took to win and we plan to do that again.”
Over the last couple of years the Bucs’ final game of the season was usually around January 1. This year with the team’s deep playoff run that culminated in the franchise’s second Super Bowl championship, Tampa Bay played four extra games over five extra weeks of football.
If there is a team that deserves an extra month off to rest and recover, it’s the Bucs.
Bucs QB Tom Brady and Bruce Arians – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
There were plenty of reasons why Tampa Bay finished 7-9 in 2003 and didn’t even make the playoffs. Fatigue was one of them, according to Sapp.
Older players like quarterback Tom Brady and outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul are coming off knee procedures this offseason and wouldn’t be available to participate on the field anyway. Without Blaine Gabbert or Ryan Griffin signed, the Bucs don’t even have another quarterback on the roster right now. That would make running the offense in practice a real challenge.
Even the younger Buccaneers who played 12 straight weeks of football before the bye week, followed by another eight weeks of intense games down the stretch could use the months of April and May off to fully rest and recover. Rookie starters like right tackle Tristan Wirfs and safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. didn’t get to play in any preseason games last year, but still wound up playing 20 games over a 22-week span. In college, the most games either player played in were 13 in any season.
The Bucs only had a few players miss games due to testing positive for COVID-19 or being in close contact. That’s because the players made a commitment to each other and the organization to do nothing but practicing at the team facility and then driving straight home each night.
No days at the beach.
Can’t going out to eat at bars and restaurants.
No vacations during the bye week.
The Bucs voluntarily isolated themselves from early August through early February. That’s over six months of commitment to football and the mental and physical wear and tear that comes with it.
While most teams got the month of January to start vacationing, the Bucs got a late start. They were busy winning the Super Bowl. No team deserves to skip the offseason more than Tampa Bay.
Now there has to be a sense of disappointment at One Buccaneer Place. Head coach Bruce Arians and his staff would rather meet with the players face-to-face. And get hundreds of reps on the field on tape.
G.M. Jason Licht would love to see where the Bucs are from a physical standpoint before the draft. Is anyone losing a step? Is anyone noticeably bigger and stronger? Does Ke’Shawn Vaughn look better? Is O.J. Howard fully healed?
Bucs TE O.J. Howard – Photo by: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
There is always the concern that overconfidence could creep in amongst the players without the coaches’ supervision and accountability.
“The worst three words in the NFL are ‘We got it” or ‘I got it,’” Sapp said. “You ain’t got shit because it keeps changing. The challenges keep changing and the games get more intense. When you’re the hunted, when you’re the world champion – oh, my God!
“You don’t know what it’s like to be hunted until you are hunted. Trust me, the worst team in the league gives you their best. It was something we weren’t ready for in 2003. We were not ready for it in any way shape or form.”
The Bucs have to trust that veteran leaders like Brady, Pierre-Paul, Lavonte David, Mike Evans, Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen and even Devin White, who is entering his third year, will maintain the accountability from afar this offseason. They were able to do that last year in part because Brady spent part of the summer organizing players-only workouts at Berkeley Prep. I would suspect that would continue again this summer once Brady is fully healed and ready to throw again.
Now skipping OTAs for lesser teams like Cincinnati or teams with a new coaching staff like Jacksonville or Atlanta would be downright stupid. Those teams could use the competitive advantage that might come with working on the field with coaches this spring. Opting out of the offseason instead of showing up to learn a new offensive or defensive scheme would virtually guarantee that teams like the Jaguars and the Falcons would be picking in the Top 5 again in next year’s draft.
As for the Super Bowl champion Bucs, who had to submit to daily COVID testing for over six months, they deserve to have a longer offseason. They deserve to skip the rigors of daily COVID testing, which would resume the minute they step foot into One Buc Place.
All they’ll need to do is show up for Zoom calls with the coaches like they did last year and show up to camp in shape. And prepare to be hunted.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th 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 spent six years 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@example.com