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Mailbag: Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Posted Feb 16, 2017

The topics in this week's mailbag range from a little mid-90s team history to the nuts and bolts of the waiver wire to the Bucs' possible approach to free agency.

Each week during the offseason, Senior Writer/Editor Scott Smith will dip into the inbox to answer questions from  Buccaneer fans. This week we start with a look back at the last touchdown scored in orange and white, as well as some other uniform issues. We then break down how the waiver wire works at different points in the season and finish with what will surely not be our last discussion of the Bucs' plans in free agency.

Fans can submit questions for upcoming mailbags via Twitter to @ScottSBucs (#BucsMailbag), through a message on the Buccaneers Official Facebook Page or via email at
tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com.  The One Buc Mailbag runs every Thursday and is not necessarily meant to reflect the opinions of the team's management or coaching staff.

1. Last Orange TD

Hello from Bogota Scott,

Scott, can you name the last player to score a touchdown in the old Bucco Bruce uniform (not including the throwback uniform games)? Secondly, do you think we'll see a return for at least one game of the old uniforms, as in the ones worn during the Super Bowl season? 

Dan McKechnie (via email to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com)

Okay, full disclosure: There was more to Dan's email and he went on to reveal the answer and even include a link to a "where-are-the-now" type of article about the player in question. I'm going to steal it and share it here with you (a little bit below) in case anyone else with fond memories of that Buccaneer era wants to check it out.

Actually, there was a lot more to Dan's email because he also shared his opinions on the three different uniform sets in team history (hint: he likes the Super Bowl-era ones best). I don't necessarily share all of Dan's opinions, but I've heard from fans in favor of all three designs and I respect everyone's opinions. The only reason I bring it up is because Dan asked about the possibility of going back to the previous look and I wanted to point out that the NFL has a rule prohibiting a uniform change for five years after one has been made. So, while I don't think that's a likelihood anyway, it's definitely not happening in the next few years.

Okay, to Dan's question, which is really more of a trivia quiz since he already knew the answer. In this case I'll admit that I had to look it up. Obviously, I knew that we had to be talking about the last game of 1996, unless the Bucs were kept out of the end zone in that game. And I was pretty sure that was not the case because there was a little stretch there in the late '90s and early '00s in which the Bucs kept finishing the regular season with easy wins over a team that used to own them, the Chicago Bears. Quick look in the media guide and, yep, the Bucs beat the Bears, 34-19 to cap the 1996 season (similar wins over Chicago ended 1997, 1999 and 2002).

READ: FRANCHISE TAG NOW IN PLAY

So, I was pretty sure there had to be a touchdown or two in a 34-point game, but like I said, I couldn't recall who scored it. The play-by-play from the game says it was wide receiver Courtney Hawkins, who scored on a 15-yard pass from Trent Dilfer with about four minutes left in the first half. That made the score 28-3 and Michael Husted later added two field goals as the Bucs coasted to a 15-point victory to cap a second-half-of-the-season hot streak in which they won five of their last seven, portending very good things for the years ahead. In fact, here's a nice excerpt on the matter from another email from Dan:

"I had recorded on a cassette tape that last game of the year against the Bears in '96, the one where Courtney scored the touchdown (more trivia, it was his only one of the season). Near the end of it Gene [Deckerhoff] and Dave Logan (poor Dave) were talking with excitement about how things were looking up, and were absolutely right. Such exciting times."

Indeed, Tampa Bay famously won its first five games to start the next season, broke a 15-year playoff drought and started their march to the top of the league and a Super Bowl title at the end of the 2002 campaign. Hawkins didn't get to experience that part of it, as the 1996 finale was his last game as a Buccaneer. It wasn't his last in the league, though. He played four more seasons for the Pittsburgh Steelers, a total of nine seasons in all, and finished with career totals of 366 catches for 4,573 yards and 18 touchdowns.

And now, according to the link Dan shared, Hawkins is a high school football head coach (coincidentally for a team called the Buccaneers) and the athletic director for the school district. 

Dan's second question was about Throwback games, which the Buccaneers haven't done since 2012. He wonders if and when Throwback games return, would the team consider returning to the uniforms they wore from 1997-2013. I can't say I have solid information on that one way or another, but I strongly doubt the team would do that. The change of uniforms in 1997 was a massive overhaul of everything, from the color scheme to the logos. The change in 2014 was more of a variation on the existing theme. If you're going to throw back, I would think you would want to really evoke a much older time in team history. Plus, those four Throwback games the Buccaneers played in orange were very popular and probably would be again.

2. Understanding the Waiver Wire


Why, yes I can, Leighton!

First, for anybody who doesn't have the basics, the "waiver wire" refers to the league's system for managing players who have been waived by a team. When a team wants to cut a player who is not yet a vested veteran (meaning he has not yet accrued four years of pension credit) it places him on waivers. For most of the calendar year, that means there will be a 24-hour period in which other teams can "claim" that player off waivers.

If more than one team submits a claim, then at the end of the 24-hour period the team highest in the waiver order is awarded the player, and whatever remains of his contract situation. For the entire offseason and the first three weeks of the regular season, the waiver order is the same as that year's draft order. After Week Three of the regular season, it is determined by the current standings. If no team puts in a claim for the waived player, he becomes a free agent and can sign a new contract with any team.

READ: BUCS PARTICIPATE IN NFLPA EXTERNSHIP PROGRAM

The terminology and procedure is different for vested veterans. They are not waived but "terminated," though you'll often see the term "released" used as a less ominous sounding description. Those players are not subject to the waiver wire and can immediately sign a new contract with any team. However, even vested veterans are subject to the waiver system after the in-season trade deadline. This is obviously a way to keep teams from circumventing that deadline. One other note: Unlike in major league baseball, a team cannot put a player on waivers and then pull him back if he is claimed by another team. When you waive a player in the NFL, you relinquish all rights.

Now, from the end of the regular season through the Super Bowl, the waiver system is put on hold. If a team wants to a release a player from the roster it had at the end of the regular season, it just has to wait until the first post-Super Bowl Monday. (Actually, a team can inform the league of its decision to waive a player in that period, but it won't be officially reported by the league until after the Super Bowl.) Check out the NFL's list of transactions from January; the only moves involving players being waived or terminated came from teams that were still alive in the playoffs. Now check out the February list; the first cuts you'll see came on the sixth, right after the Super Bowl. The most notable one was Steelers' cornerback Justin Gilbert.

I should note that while we're taking about "24-hour" waivers, the NFL is on a Monday-Friday schedule for most of the offseason. So if a player is waived on Friday he won't be assigned to the claiming team until Monday. This applies to some holidays as well. The waiver wire works seven days a week while the teams are in training camp. During the season, waiving a player on either Friday or Saturday is the same thing; they won't be claimed until Monday.

So, Leighton, for the most part the waiver wire system in the offseason is the same as it is during the season. The most notable difference is that the claim order remains fixed for a good seven months. This is a notable advantage for the team that happens to have the #1 overall pick in the draft, and something the Bucs were happy to exploit in 2015.

3. Free Agency Approach


Man, answering a question like this is against my better judgment, but I'll give it a go anyway. The reason I say that, of course, is that General Manager Jason Licht is not sharing his free agency strategy with me or anybody else outside of the personnel and coaching staffs. That makes my answer here a prediction; hopefully an informed one, but a prediction nonetheless and not any inside information. That's my way of saying the following is not meant to reflect the opinions of Licht, Dirk Koetter or anybody else on the football staff.

So here it will be in writing if I say that the Bucs are going to lay low in free agency this year and then Licht goes and signs the biggest names on the list. Or vice versa. Oh well, the hazards of the business.

My prediction is that the Buccaneers use a similar approach to last year and look for "value" in free agency. That's not a phrase that Licht himself used last year – he simply said he would try to make the team better in free agency – but it essentially refers to the idea of working the middle level of free agency and not necessarily going after the biggest-ticket players. Of course, defensive end Robert Ayers was pretty high on the list of available defensive ends last year, but overall the addition of Ayers, cornerback Brent Grimes, punter Bryan Anger, cornerback Josh Robinson and guard J.R. Sweezy rang of that "value" approach. And the Buccaneers certainly got a good return on investment from those signings.

My main reason for making this guess is that it appears as if the 2017 free agency class will not be particularly strong or deep. Some are calling it the weakest group of potential unrestricted free agents since the mid-90s…and unrestricted free agency has only existed since 1993! Notice that I used the phrase "potential unrestricted free agents;" you can't really get excited about the list of pending UFAs until you see which ones are locked up by franchise tags or other means prior to March 9.

By most accounts, this particular group of free agents is going to be light on big names, Evan, so the ones that do hit the market are going to be in very high demand. That doesn't mean there will be a complete lack of useful players, and again, Licht's goal is simply to make the team better through both free agency and the draft. My guess is that he'll do so with a handful of smart signings that add depth and competition at spots where the Bucs' roster may be a bit thin. Like whom, you ask? Sorry, as I've mentioned before, we can't really discuss specific names of potential free agents until they actually become free agents on March 9. I can point to some positions that would make sense, and in that case I would suggest wide receiver, defensive tackle and safety as possibilities. That last position may depend on what happens with Buc safeties Bradley McDougald and Chris Conte, both of whom could become UFAs on March 9.

I will say this, though: Tampa Bay's decisions in free agency will not be limited by cap-space problems or an unwillingness to spend. So the possibility exists, painfully, that I'll be made to eat these words in about a month.