The ebb and flow of the NFL offseason, particularly since the advent of true free agency in 1993, treats most teams roughly the same. While franchise decision-makers try to fashion a core of talent they can succeed with in the long term, an entire roster never stays the same from one September to the next. On average teams turn over about 20% of their rosters every season.
The Bucs have already seen players come and go since the new league year began. In are All-Pro safety Dashon Goldson, tight end Tom Crabtree, linebacker Jonathan Casillas and several others. Among those who have departed are two starters on the 2012 defensive line, end Michael Bennett and tackle Roy Miller.
For those who remain in Tampa, the turnover in teammates comes as no surprise.
"Well, those guys are great players, but it's the NFL, it's a business," said defensive tackle Gerald McCoy on Tuesday, the second day of Tampa Bay's 2013 offseason workout program. "Things had to happen and they had to move on. I think we have a great unit of guys now and somebody has to pick up the pieces. The guys they brought in, I think are great to fill those slots. I wish those guys all the best."
Head Coach Greg Schiano also spoke about the roster turnover on Monday, and made a point of noting that the Bucs are trying to build the strongest overall roster possible, not just, say, the strongest secondary or offensive backfield.
"You have to look at every decision," said Schiano. "Certainly all of those decisions are organizational decisions. But it's not just this position you are looking at. You are looking at the whole football team. So sometimes there has got to be some give in this area for some take in that area and vice versa. I think that's the hard part. You can't look at all of these decisions in a vacuum you have to look at them in a more global kind of vision."
None of which is to say that the Buccaneers believe the departures on the defensive line have left that unit in a bad position. Quite the contrary. There have been some additions as well – defensive tackle Derek Landri and defensive end George Selvie, though it will be some time before it's clear how much they will contribute in 2013 – and next week's draft also offers the potential for help. More importantly, while two starters have departed, two other expected starters who played a total of just 11 combined games last year are expected to return and have a big impact. That would be defensive ends Adrian Clayborn, who had 7.5 sacks as a rookie in 2011, and Da'Quan Bowers, who came back very strong at midseason last fall after suffering a torn Achilles in May.
"I feel good about the D-Line," said Schiano. "Certainly there are some guys coming back, with AC coming back off of the injury – he looks good and feels good. We're young, I think we have the opportunity to be really good there. We have some players that we are developing that we feel good about."
McCoy, who emerged as that unit's leader and a Pro Bowl performer in 2012, doesn't believe Clayborn or Bowers have anything to prove. Their teammates already know what caliber of players they are and are expecting big things in 2013.
"We know what they can do," said McCoy of the Bucs' first and second-round picks in the 2011 draft. "When those guys get going, I mean it's hard to stop them. You see Clayborn, when he was healthy, he was green as it gets and he had seven and a half sacks as a rookie. There have been guys with better numbers but for a rookie season, for a guy who is just green, that's great. Bowers came in midseason and had five sacks [three, to be precise, plus five TFLs and seven QB pressures]. So, for people to say they really haven't proven themselves, that's an opinion to me. I think those guys are great. I'm excited."