- The Buccaneers approached free agency not as a rebuilding tool but as part of a rapid turnaround effort
- Head Coach Lovie Smith says the team has followed a very specific roster-building blueprint
- A full transcript of Wednesday's introductory press conference
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers wasted no time in exploiting the 2014 free agent market, nor could they have waited if they hoped to land some of the most coveted players available.
And clearly, that was the team's intent.
The swiftness with which the Buccaneers attacked free agency was no accident. It was, on the contrary, a mission statement. Anyone wondering how serious the new management team of General Manager Jason Licht and Head Coach Lovie Smith would be about winning now should wonder no longer.
"I definitely would say that we're not trying to build anything slowly," said Smith during the press conference to introduce the free agent additions of Michael Johnson, Clinton McDonald, Brandon Myers and Alterraun Verner. "It's not about rebuilding or anything like that; we want to put a better football team on the field next year and in order to do that you can't stand pat."
There is a bottomless well of evidence that turnarounds can be affected quickly in the modern NFL. It's right there to see in the Buccaneers' own division. The Carolina Panthers went 7-9 in 2012 and started the 2013 with a 1-3 record before blasting to a 12-4 finish and a division title. The Kansas City Chiefs welcomed new Head Coach Andy Reid last year with a nine-win improvement from 2-14 to 11-5. No such turnaround is guaranteed any losing team, nor is it easy, but it is also not the province of the meek. The Buccaneers aim to compete again, and right away, and the first 24 hours of the free agency period made that abundantly clear.
"We're a 4-12 team, so we knew we had to look into all areas to improve," said Smith. "Luckily we had flexibility to do that, and then we had players that seemed like a perfect fit for what we wanted to do."
Smith, Licht and the newest Buccaneers all spoke about their reasons for joining together to pursue a championship during an introductory press conference at One Buccaneer Place on Wednesday. The full transcript of that press conference follows.
General Manager Jason Licht
"Thanks for coming everybody, it's a real exciting day here at One Buc Place, not only exciting for myself, but exciting for (Head Coach) Lovie (Smith), our staff and also the Glazer family. We have a roadmap for success here and we've followed it to a tee and one of those plans that we had was to come out in free agency here and be proactive, signing the right players for this football team. We're not simply talent collectors, we're finding the right fits; it's about building the right team and with these four men that we have sitting here today, we feel we've found those fits. Not only are they great players on the field, but they are great people off the field and they'll represent this community well.
We felt we needed a pass rusher off the edge, that is disruptive not only in terms of sacks but pressures, hurries, knockdowns, PBUs (pass break ups), interceptions and that person is (defensive end) Michael Johnson. With (cornerback) Alterraun Verner, few found a proven Pro-Bowl corner that led the AFC in interceptions and also tied the NFL high in PBUs, but also on the tape excited Lovie and I for what he can do in this defense. Lovie has a strong place in his heart for takeaways and turnovers and that was definitely one thing that stood out. With (defensive tackle) Clinton McDonald, he's coming off a Super Bowl Championship team, one of the elite defenses in the league and to go along with what we talked about Michael, he provides that same pressure, active, athleticism and quickness that we covet here in Lovie's defense. And then last but not least, (tight end) Brandon Myers a tight end whose production over the last two years stacks up with some of the elite tight ends in the league in terms of receptions and yards. He'll be a valuable member of our offense and be a complement to the pieces that we already have in place. We're very excited once again and without further ado I'll let Lovie have his day."
Head Coach Lovie Smith
"As Jason has said, we had a plan in mind to improve our football team. Excited about the staff and some of the things that we have been doing, but the next phase was to bring in some quality football players and as Jason mentioned we have that. it's about establishing our foundation a little bit more and as you can see and once you do your research on the players that we have right now and you'll get a chance to meet, great football players, but once you get a chance to meet them and spend a little bit of time with them, you'll see we're bringing in some quality guys into our community and of course with our football team. We're just taking some steps, I mean this is a big step we've taken with these four gentlemen here, but of course it's not done. We have more guys to add and just enjoy the process. Jason and the rest of the staff has done a great job, our coaching staff, everybody has been a part of this. Of course this isn't our day, this is our players' day and I will turn it over to Michael."
The Bucs expect to compete quickly with a roster that now includes (from left) DE Michael Johnson, CB Alterraun Verner, DT Clinton McDonald and TE Brandon Myers
DE Michael Johnson
"Very thankful to be here and be a part of what they have going on here with the new staff and the new regime. I was saying earlier today that you can't beat being around good people and I believe that good things come to good people and we have a great group of guys that have signed and coming down here. I'm just excited to be a part of the talent that we've got coming down and also the talent that's already on the team. I'm excited to see what we can do, I know that we're going to do great things and I'm just ready to get after it."
CB Alterraun Verner
"It's just a true blessing, God just really set this all up for me, just the journey to get to this point in my career and to be able to spend the next few years here and help build a championship team is just something that's very intriguing. I think the guys that were already here to the guys they're bringing in to everybody from Coach Smith and it just seemed like a great fit for me to come here and I just got a great feeling about this place and now I'm just ready to go work and create all these turnovers that Coach Smith loves and just make a difference. I feel like I can do that here and I feel like my teammates are expecting it from me and I expect it from myself."
DT Clinton McDonald
"We're just giving honor to God first and foremost and Jesus Christ to bless us. I just want to thank the staff for giving me the opportunity to come play with a great group of guys and a great group of characters. I hope to form a brotherhood here, a championship team here with the guys on stage and the guys that are already here as well. We know it's going to take a lot of hard work and a lot dedication, it's going to take a lot of focus but I think we have the right people to do it and get the job done."
TE Brandon Myers
"Basically what everybody else said, I'm very thankful and blessed to be here. This organization has brought a great group of guys in and there's obviously the people that are already here, that are great talents. I'm just excited to get started and to get this thing going in the right direction and just to do whatever the coaches and my teammates ask of me. I'm just excited."
(Smith on the signing of quarterback Josh McCown)
"Ideally we would like to hold off on that a little bit. There's plenty of time to talk about him, I have a lot to say about him. Right now let's, if we can keep, it to the players here."
(Smith on if these are players he studied during his season off)
"Yes they were. Again when you have a year off, you have a lot of time to watch a lot of video and watch a lot of different guys. I did have a chance to – and not in detail the way Jason was able to, but I knew about them, all of these guys have a reputation and there's a reason why, not only the Buccaneers but others wanted them. We knew about their reputation and their play over a period of time and we got a chance to really finalize that in these last couple of weeks had an opportunity to watch them more closely and do a little more amount of research and just knew that they were guys that we wanted to add to our football team."
(Licht on the philosophy they used going into free agency)
"The goal is always to make sure that your team is young and fresh, but we're not going to eliminate an older player whatever that age is if he's a good football player. We just wanted to go improving our football team at various spots, at multiple spots, there's always – every team, you can be coming off a Super Bowl and you're still going to want to improve your football team. We went in trying to improve it as much as we could, given our resources and looking at – really evaluating the players that we had on the roster in full detail."
(Johnson on playing with McCoy)
"Very excited to play with Gerald, got a text from him yesterday and talked to him about how excited we were to get an opportunity to play together. You're going to see us crashing on the quarterbacks a lot in the next years to come. It's going to be exciting, I'm stoked."
(McDonald on why he would leave the Super Bowl Champions to come to Tampa)
"I would say first and foremost faith, having faith in God and him just directing me here. Coach Lovie Smith and the staff here are just great men and great men direct great troops and I believe in that."
(Smith on if the players fit into his defensive scheme)
"It's going to take a while for me to explain our scheme and to just talk about scheme, first off, in our scheme, we need good football players, and any good football player can play in our scheme. Cornerback, we talk a lot about the position, Alterraun Verner can play man coverage, great zone coverage player, has great ball skills and he'll tackle. Whether we're going to be playing man, zone, whatever and as far as what we do defensively, we want 11 football guys, 11 athletes that can run and hit on the football field. From there we're basically doing the same things, it's not a big difference between a 3-4 defense and a 4-3 defense, you have seven guys up front, it's just kind of how you maneuver those players. Scheme-wise anybody can play on our football team and in our scheme if they have talent and that's what we have right now. As far as the money, yes there's only a certain amount and as you look at what we were able to get, three very good football players almost for the price of one."
(Verner on replacing Darrelle Revis)
"Darrelle is a very good guy, very good cornerback over the years and I got to spend some time with him at the Pro Bowl actually. I don't know if it's really just replacing, I mean it's hard to replace a guy like that. I'm going to come in and be the best Alterraun Verner I can be and be the best football player I can be for this team. I think what they're looking for me to do, I can provide for the team. Hopefully it's going to be extra with leadership and just determination and hard work. Hopefully my teammates can be fueled by that. I wouldn't really say that I'm looking to replace Revis, I'm just looking to be the best football player I can be and hopefully my teammates respond to it."
(McDonald on being cut early last season and what it did for him)
"Well I wasn't out of football last year, I got released during the preseason, at the end of the preseason and in just that short time I was released it made me realize you only got one shot at this sport, one shot at this life and you got to make it the best opportunity or make best on the opportunities that you have presented with you. With that in mind, I got back in my college mode and got back on grind mode and do what it takes to make the necessary sacrifices to get what you want."
(Myers on what brought him to Tampa Bay)
"I think just the opportunity to be with this organization as they build their way back up. Coach Smith and I, we had a good conversation about how it starts now. We're trying to get back to where everybody wants to be. Our conversation that we had and his mindset in how we are going to do that – it starts day one and bring your lunch pail and build a good foundation. I feel like I've always prided myself on that, so that conversation just solidified my decision to come here. So, April 7, we're getting started, we're starting a foundation and we're excited."
(Licht on common threads between the free agents signed)
"It's pretty simple: they're good football players. Just like Coach Smith said, there's not a specific skill set that we're looking for for a scheme. We need good football players. We want tough, aggressive, smart, passionate football players. We had to check the box first that they were good and then, all of those things, if those boxes were checked, those guys were our targets."
(Licht on how he views free agency and the draft)
"Building through the draft is always going to be our core approach. Building through the draft and then protecting our own. Now that these guys are signed, these guys are our own. They go into that heap, too. With the limited amount of (draft) picks that we had this year, we felt that we needed to go out and improve in as many ways as we can, and free agency is one of those avenues. But there are other avenues, too. Like Lovie said, we're not done yet."
(Licht on the talent level of the Tampa Bay team that he took over)
"Before I interviewed with Ed (Glazer), Bryan (Glazer), Joel (Glazer) and Lovie (Smith), I did my research. It is about what I thought."
(Smith on how Clinton McDonald will be used in Tampa Bay's defensive scheme)
"We can put different titles to it, but, yeah, it will be our nose (tackle) position. Gerald (McCoy) is our three-technique. We play with an under tackle and a nose in our base defense. From there, there are nickel situations where you want to get two inside path guys that can pass rush that will both line up over the guard. That's where Clinton – 5.5 (sacks), did I get that right, Clinton? When you have an inside guy who can get pressure like that and rush, we're not just going to play him in that position. We'll move him around a lot; do some different things with him. As we talk about athletes, get 11 athletes on the field that can run – I mean, Clinton is a sub-5 guy. 4.86, Clinton, is that right? So we have some flexibility with him."
(Smith on Michael Johnson at the right defensive end position)
"We started talking to Michael's agent, and, Michael, the first couple questions out of his mouth, he said, 'I'm a right defensive end, right?' and we said, 'Yes, Michael, you're our right defensive end.' We like what Adrian (Clayborn), Da'Quan (Bowers) and some of the guys can do at the left position, but Michael has spent his time (at right defensive end) getting used to that. That's what he's done for the most part, is to be able to rush from that side. As a general rule, that's the quarterback's blindside most of the time. You need a special guy who can rush the passer there and Michael has done some good things, but we still feel like his best ball is ahead of him. As we talk to our defensive line, everything we do is kind of based on being able to get pressure with four guys, and we've gotten closer to that."
(Johnson on his 2013 season)
"I think I got better last year, even though the sack numbers were not there. Anybody who watched the film from 2012 to 2013 could see that my play trended upward. I plan on it continuing to trend upward and hopefully the sacks go up in the number column, as well. I was very disruptive this year, even more so than I was the year before. Sometimes you're right there and you get him (the quarterback), and sometimes you don't. But the name of the game, like Coach Smith said, is you get turnovers, turn the ball over, and disrupt the quarterback, get him off his spot. However you do that, good things will happen. I'm going to continue to bust my tail and give all the effort I got and we'll see what happens from there. I'm excited about coming down and playing in this defense and really being able to be aggressive and get after it."
(McDonald on what it takes for a team to become Super Bowl champions)
"The experience from the Super Bowl and winning was more so (about) responsibility, doing the right things. After we won the game and everything, we got back on the plane and Coach Ken Norton, Jr. –everybody's using the word 'champ' now – and he told us that it's a responsibility. You start to feel that more and more. It's not just one guy. It's a team effort, and with this group of guys on the stage and along with the guys that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers already have, and the staff, it's going to take an effort. It's going to take hard work, it's going to take bringing your lunch pail every day, it's going to take coaching, it's going to take criticism, it's going to take honesty – you have to be honest with yourself and you have to be ready to go out there and work for it. Like me and Coach Smith talked about, (the Super Bowl) was more so a reward for the hard work that we put in, and I believe when we put the hard work in here, we'll get the reward."
(Myers on the Tampa Bay offense)
"Obviously there's a lot of talent. Looking at the offense as a whole, you've got guys on the outside who can stretch the field, who can make plays. You've got a running back who can take it to the house any time he touches it – a couple years ago I experienced that. I think he had four touchdowns (against Oakland). For guys like that, that are special players that can make plays, it's my job to work the middle of the field and to find the zones and if those guys are going to be doubled, hopefully (the opponent) forgets about me in there somewhere and I can make a catch or two."
(Smith on Brandon Myers)
"That's why we liked Brandon so much. You do need a tight end, and not only a tight end that can catch the football, but a tight end that block, too, wide for us. That's what we're getting in him. He had a lot of success and we're anxious to let him work the middle of the field and see what he can do."
(Johnson on how the prospect of playing for Lovie Smith influenced his decision to sign)
"It felt like, early on, just looking at all the teams that were getting in the hunt, that this was the best fit for me, personnel-wise, coaching-wise, all of that. Like we mentioned earlier, I feel like one of the common things is not only are we good football players, but good people. And Coach Smith and his staff, they're good people. And like I said, good things come to good people. When you do things the right way, day in and day out, good things just happen for you. I'm just thankful to be a part of that and I'm excited to see what we do. There are going to be a lot of great things coming this way; just hold onto your seat."
(Licht on if Darrelle Revis' release is bittersweet)
"Bittersweet – I don't really want to classify it as that. It was a tough decision. He's a good player, a very good player. We've said that from the beginning. But we've been able to add four, five, very good players as well. We're going to not look in the rearview mirror and look forward, and we're excited about the future now, especially with these four guys sitting here and the other transaction that we did today as well."
(Licht on whether these signings are tailored to his plan for the draft)
"I would say a little bit. We want to go into the draft not being pigeonholed into taking on position. We may move up, we may move down. We're not sure yet. But this gives us some flexibility."