The Buccaneers attacked the 2014 free agency as aggressively as any team in the NFL, nabbing highly valuable players early and often. They took part in the early feeding frenzy on big names and then kept right on shopping, getting quality and quantity. The team's approach came as a surprise to many – including, to some extent, your author – but in retrospect it makes perfect sense once you learn the underlying philosophy that was driving it.
Head Coach Lovie Smith was hired on January 2, just a few days after the Buccaneers finished a 4-12 season. General Manager Jason Licht came aboard 19 days later. Together, they evaluated the team roster and formulated a plan that was presented to ownership. The plan was backed by what one might call a mission statement, which was fully embraced by everyone from the Glazer family on down. That mission statement: Win now, because Buccaneer fans should have to wait no longer.
"Lovie and I and our staff, and the Glazer family, we're all on board with the same plan," said Licht during this week's league meetings in Orlando. "We thought it would be unfair to ask the fans to be patient with us. We wanted to go out and sign as many good players as we could this year to help our football team, make it competitive this year and strive to win the championship this year.
"We did not want to go back [and say], 'Hey, give us a couple years.' We're going to do it as soon as we can; the fans deserve it. I found it in this two-month period that the fans are so passionate in Tampa, so we want players that are just as passionate as the fans. And we succeeded with that, at least."
While new first-string quarterback
After thoroughly evaluating the team, GM Jason Licht believed it would be unfair to ask Buc fans for patience during a lengthy rebuilding process
“We’re not trying to put a 'Dream Team' together or a quick fix," said Smith. "We’re trying to improve our ball club and we addressed some areas. One of my first statements was that I couldn’t wait for the day when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were relevant again. There’s no rebuilding. You look at every position and you evaluate every player on your team and see if you need to improve that position. If we think we do need a lot of improvements in a lot of areas, I think you do owe it to your fans – and not just our fans, but everybody who loves the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – to do that. That’s what we’ve done. We’re going to do the same thing in the draft.
"We’ve addressed a lot of issues, but we’re just trying to catch up with the rest of our division. Carolina had a heck of a run. Ron Rivera did a great job with them last year. There’s Mike Smith (in Atlanta), Sean Payton (in New Orleans). We know what they’re going to bring leading their football teams.”
The Bucs have sought to match their fans' passion with their aggressive approach to free agency, but no season has ever been won in March. The team still must prove that its new-look roster can translate into victories. For now, however, the Bucs have a plan and are sticking to it in an effort to maximize their chances of satisfying the fan base in 2014.
"There's the offseason, and then there's the season," said Buccaneers Co-Chairman Joel Glazer. "But we're excited about the changes that have been made. I know Jason and Lovie feel good about the players, a certain type of player that we've brought in. And we were 4-12 last year, so we can't just still. This team needs some drastic changes, and we want to get back into the upper echelon of the National Football League. This is the way they thought we had to go about it, so we support what they want to do."
* The Buccaneers signed two new offensive line starters among their free agency haul, with
Nicks has been limited to nine starts in two seasons since signing a lucrative free agency deal with the Buccaneers in 2012. He saw action in just two early-season contests last fall while battling a series of complications arising from an initial toe injury the year before. If he is to return to the field this coming fall, the first step could be taken in the spring when the Bucs' offseason program begins.
Licht says the Buccaneers are "still hopeful" that happens in the coming months.
"We're gathering all the intel that we have there, with all the doctors that we've sent him to," said Licht of the team's potential starting left guard. "He's been rehabbing. Things look promising, but we're crossing our fingers and hoping for the best."
Having seen Nicks at One Buc Place frequently over the last two months, Smith knows that any delay in the lineman's return won't be due to a lack of effort.
“I know he’s rehabbing right now," said Smith. "I’ve seen Carl quite a bit. He’s one of the guys that is in town that I have had the opportunity to speak with at times. It’s really no more than that. I know Carl has worked extremely hard to get back out on the football field, and that’s all we can ask for right now.”
* Like any coach, Smith will seek to foster competition at every spot on the depth chart, before and during the season. Still, as was evident immediately after the signing of McCown, Smith also acknowledges that each of those spots needs a starting point, a name to initially put at the top of the list. At the league meetings on Wednesday, Smith addressed a few of those depth chart questions.
LEFT END: With
Smith say— Roy Cummings (@RCummingsTBO) March 26, 2014
William Gholstonand Da'Quan Bowers will also be in the mix at LDE.
RIGHT GUARD: This position, previously held by Davin Joseph, does not necessarily have a clear leader as of late March. Smith confirmed on Wednesday that Dietrich-Smith will be the center, which means the current competitors for the spot to his right include
RUNNING BACK: There's little question, of course, that
NICKEL BACK: You won't find this position on the standard depth chart, but Smith considers the nickel back to essentially be a 12th starter on defense. In his eyes, second-year player
FULLBACK: Smith acknowledged that the role of the fullback has been waning in recent years but said there is still a place for that position in the Bucs' offense. The two-back set might not be especially prominent in the Bucs' attack, so any potential candidate would also need to contribute in other ways, such as on special teams. Tampa Bay effectively has no proven fullback on the roster after the free agency departure of Erik Lorig, with late-2014 signee
Coach on Mike James: He's a tailback, not a fullback, and a very good one.— Scott Smith (@ScottSBucs) March 26, 2014
QUARTERBACK: Again, McCown has been tabbed as the starter to begin the process, pushing 2013 starter