With a host of new players around him, QB Shaun King will get a jump on offseason preparations
Newsflash: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers did not call a press conference Friday.
After three straight days of media blitz at team headquarters, the Bucs took a break on the final day of the work week, giving their press conference banner a much-deserved rest.
Nevertheless, Friday brought to a close one of the busiest player personnel weeks in recent team history. On Tuesday, the media assembled to hear from tackle Jason Odom, who re-signed with the team for three years and reported that his recovery from back surgery was progressing nicely. It was an important part of the team's offensive-line restructuring, as the youthful and versatile Odom is capable of starting on either end of the line. On Wednesday, the Bucs brought in some new blood for that same unit, signing 11-time Pro Bowl guard Randall McDaniel. One of the most decorated offensive linemen in NFL history, McDaniel is one of the highest-profile free agents ever signed by the Buccaneers. On Thursday, the press conference parade continued with the news of QB Eric Zeier's return to the team.
As furious as the week's activity was, it was only a slight acceleration from the previous weeks, when the team signed the top free agent center on the market, two-time Pro Bowl C Jeff Christy, added a new offensive coordinator in former Tennessee Titans coordinator Les Steckel and re-signed linebackers Shelton Quarles and Alshermond Singleton. On Tuesday, Buccaneers General Manager Rich McKay indicated that the re-signing of Odom and the additions of Christy and McDaniel did not necessarily indicate that the team was done revamping its front wall.
Clearly, the Buccaneers have chosen to strike while the iron is hot, and not only due to fear of losing the best prospects. Tampa Bay wants to get an early start on improving its 28th-ranked offense and keeping the team in prime Super Bowl contention. With a new offensive coordinator taking over, the urge to get started early is even stronger. This could bear on the team's continuing efforts at quarterback, where Zeier's signing still leaves the team one player short at that position. Tampa Bay intends to continue to peruse the QB market, which has several stages, according to McKay.
"The quarterback market has a couple of phases to it," he said. "There's the phase going on now, there's the phase right at the draft, which is where we got Eric Zeier last year in a trade, then there's the phase after June 1, which is when some of the veterans that were higher priced get released, based on contracts."
Again, however, the Bucs are shopping that market with an eye towards a quick start. "It's not just the new offense, it's any offense," said McKay. "Letting the (new) guy learn any offense. It's the reason we never like to talk about the June guys, because then they have to come in and learn the offense and go."
Zeier can begin that process immediately, and second-year starter Shaun King, a Clearwater native, is expected to be a familiar sight at One Buccaneer Place during the offseason program, which begins in March. While all rostered players are allowed to train and prepare at team headquarters during the offseason, the team is allowed just one mandatory mini-camp, which it will hold directly after the draft as usual.
Then, in May, the Bucs and the league's other 31 teams are allowed a limited number of non-mandatory organized gatherings. This schedule is another example of the team's accelerated schedule. Until 2000, Tampa Bay had always held these workouts in the early days of June, adhering to the old NFL regulations that did not allow rookies to report until that month. Now, the league allows players to join their teams in May if they have completed their college coursework. The Bucs would like to have another quarterback in the fold by that time to aid in those sessions, which might make a veteran signal-caller a more attractive option.
"(A veteran) can absolutely can pick it up a little quicker," said McKay. "We moved our offseason 'organized team activity days' – which are these days allotted by the league when you can have on-field activities – to May. We start around May 16th, which is what most teams have done now that we got the rule change with the colleges. So you'd really like to have that player here by that date, because that's a good teaching team.
"We'll take the best guy, which is kind of a canned answer, but we wouldn't be opposed to a veteran. We'll talk about it, but we wouldn't be opposed to a veteran because right now, salary-cap wise, we could probably fit one. We couldn't have done that last year; we just didn't have the room to do that."
The Bucs obviously plunged into the free-agent pool with more wading room under the salary cap this year, and they have made good use of it so far. For a team that has openly professed its preference to build through the draft, such a flurry of free-agent activity is a strong sign that the Buccaneers have their sights set high in 2000. On Friday, however, they rested.