According to the Bucs' Bruce Allen, Joey Galloway is more than just a speedster thanks to his surprising strength
You know Jon Gruden's reputation: Veterans? Loves 'em. He got Chris Simms in the draft last year but you half think he'd like to add his father, too, if Phil Simms ever came out of retirement.
And there's no denying that he's had an eye for some of the players he grew to appreciate in Oakland: Rickey Dudley, Charlie Garner, Matt Stinchcomb, Reggie Barlow, Marcus Knight, Jim Plunkett. Just kidding on that last one.
Maybe those angles are played up a little more than is accurate, but it is fair to say this: If you're a proven performer with a skill set Gruden has appreciated in a player before, he wants you. And so it was that Tampa Bay Buccaneers General Manager Bruce Allen knew Gruden would relish the chance to work with Galloway, because Galloway reminds both Buc leaders of one man who is both an NFL great and a former Raider.
"When you look at Joey Galloway, Jon and I both saw Cliff Branch in him, that type of rare speed, with strength," said Allen. "He's a strong man. We decided we were going to do whatever it took in order to get Joey. It just so happened it would work out in a trade where the Cowboys and Bill Parcells would get a receiver he's familiar with and we feel we're familiar with Joey because we're so familiar with Cliff Branch."
On Friday, the Bucs completed a month-long courtship and thus the much-anticipated trade of Keyshawn Johnson for Galloway. They got their man, a player who fills a very specific need Allen and Gruden felt the team had, a player who was by far their first choice to fill that need. They got a receiver of whom Allen said, later on Friday, "He may be the fastest player in the NFL."
So the acquisition of Galloway is a success, particularly in that he was swapped for a player with which the team had planned to cut ties anyway. Dallas could say the same thing about Galloway in 2000, when they sent two picks to Seattle to get what the Bucs wanted: the best deep threat in the NFL. However, four years later, despite some strong numbers and one whole season (2000) that was a wash due to a knee injury, the Dallas-Galloway relationship ends with neither side feeling fully satisfied.
Thus the questions for the Buccaneers as they move past the elation of just getting Galloway and begin trying to make it a truly successful move are twofold: Is Galloway still one of the NFL's fastest players, and just how will the team utilize that speed?
To the first question, the Bucs clearly have no doubt, and the 32-year-old Galloway is even more emphatic, though in a surprisingly non-boastful manner. He recently trained with the same man who has been running his offseason workouts for 13 years, Dave Kennedy, and says his measurables are as good now as they were when he left Ohio State in 1995.
"As far as being the player that I was, that Dallas traded for, I think given the right situation and the right opportunity, of course I can be that guy," said Galloway. "I have not lost a step. I think that, hopefully, we'll see that this year. You'll again see me going deep and stretching defenses and having fun on the football field."
On Friday, as he switched teams, Galloway steadfastly refused to say anything negative about his Dallas experience, praising Head Coach Bill Parcells and claiming that his only regret was not winning more games. And though he did not have a 1,000-yard season in Dallas after doing so three times in five years in Seattle, Galloway did average an NFL-high 19.8 yards per catch last year, and he did catch 61 passes and score six touchdowns the season before.
Really, there is nothing the Buccaneers could see in Galloway's numbers that would indicate a loss of speed, and they were even more impressed when they got a look at him in person. Far from a slight speedster or an Olympic sprinter in a helmet, Galloway is muscular and solid and quite comfortable playing the physical game.
"He's surprisingly strong," said Allen. "When you think of people who run a 4.2 (in the 40-yard dash), you don't think of someone his size."
No, if you're Allen, you think of the 5-11, 170-pound Branch who, as a college split end both ran and caught the ball, and as an NFL receiver was one of the league's top deep threats for a decade and a half. Branch's career average of 17.3 yards per catch is better even than Galloway's excellent 15.7, and he had many seasons like the one Galloway had in 2003. In 1980, for instance, Branch caught 44 passes for 858 yards, averaging 19.5 yards per grab. Neither Allen nor Gruden were with the Raiders while Branch was there, but they both are well-versed in the franchise's history, and in NFL lore in general.
Of course, the Raiders were well known for their love affair with the vertical passing game, something that has rarely been considered a strength of the Buccaneers. Can the Bucs go bombs-away simply because they've added the speed merchant they craved, as the second question above alludes to?
Gruden is not likely to go all vertical, given how well he is able to create opportunities on all levels of the field. But having the ability to go deep – an improved offensive line will allow quarterback Brad Johnson more time to look for the longer route, and Galloway will in turn reduce the amount of time needed for that – will only serve to further open up options underneath.
Whether it's serving as a field-stretching decoy or the home run hitter, Galloway believes he'll find plenty of opportunities to help in Tampa. Though he came to the Bucs in a trade, Galloway did have the opportunity to impact where he ended up, given that he had to agree to a restructured contract first or likely be waived by the Cowboys at some point.
"[Gruden] has reiterated that he knows what I do and what my strengths are, and I truly believe that's why they brought me there," said Galloway. "I plan to work extremely hard to be prepared to do whatever it is they ask me to do. If I can come in and just be open-minded and ready to go – which I plan to do – then I think that he'll do everything he can to use me and help the team win.
"If we make an effort to use this opportunity, this offense, to be a big-play offense, go down the field – and sometimes that even means just stretching to let the guys run underneath me – I truly believe that we can be successful. And I think that I can be successful in this offense. I think that it just takes an effort by whoever is running the offense to do that.
"Really, I couldn't ask for a better situation as a receiver, as a player, as an athlete, as a guy that wants to win."
Galloway knows he is the latest in a string of intriguing acquisitions by the Buccaneers, easily the league's busiest team since the beginning of the free agency period. Four new potential starters on the offensive line add size and nastiness, and three new running backs, headlined by Garner, should help the running attack and set up the play-action pass. But a receiver of any talent can't make a huge impact without a good quarterback.
The Bucs have that, too, in Brad Johnson, who has broken virtually every franchise passing record over the past three years, and won a Super Bowl. Allen was asked whether Galloway's presence would expose a weakness on the deep ball in Brad Johnson's game, but that assumption about Johnson is unfair.
Johnson and the Bucs' passing game produced five receptions of 68 yards or more last year, the most ever for the franchise in a single season. In 1999, playing in a Washington offense that had big-play potential, he threw for over 4,000 yards and averaged an outstanding 7.72 yards per completion – that's better than Peyton Manning's mark last year. Any passer who can throw the deep out as amazingly accurately as Johnson can is surely able of putting enough air under a deep ball to let Galloway run underneath it.
Besides, there are different ways to get the big strike besides running a straight fly. Galloway knows that Gruden is a master of uncovering those ways, and he's eager to become involved in his new coach's plans.
"I know that he is pretty good at creating matchups on the field," said Galloway of Gruden. "And I think if you can create matchups and get singles in different places, if you can strike from different areas of the field and have big-play ability, then I think it makes it tough for teams to double guys or eliminate a guy from the offense. So, if we can do that, or if he can do that, then I feel pretty good about my chances of being successful."
Keyshawn Johnson may very well be successful in Dallas, under the man who helped him have some prolific seasons with the New York Jets. Replacing his contributions has never been the issue for the Bucs, who feel they did just that with Charles Lee down the stretch last year. Finding a player with Galloway's talents – that's a goal the team would have had with or without Johnson. Now that they've got him, it's time to get the most out of him.
"The Keyshawn move was made during the season last year," said Allen. "It was clear that his career with the Bucs was going to be over and Charles Lee replaced him and did very well actually. What we knew [is] we needed to find another receiver that would complement the receivers that we have on this team. So, we looked around and the guy who really just jumped off the page and the videotape is Joey Galloway."