Re-signing right tackle Jerry Wunsch means the Buccaneers don't have to fix their draft-day gaze so intently in one direction
Tuesday morning, there was movement on the pro boards that line the office walls in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' player personnel department. With former free agents Ronde Barber and Jerry Wunsch finally back in the fold, magnetic markers bearing their names were shifted upward, into the ranks of the signed players, filling a pair of rather sizeable voids.
These magnetic boards reside in the offices of General Manager Rich McKay, Director of Football Administration John Idzik and Coordinator of Pro Personnel Mark Dominik. A few dozen yards away, in the makeshift 'War Room' near One Buc Place's weight room, a different board is littered with the names of draft-eligible college players.
Nothing changed on that board on Tuesday, except the perspective of the men checking it over. Now, with Barber and Wunsch back in their familiar places, McKay and his men were free to step back, take off the blinders and take in the entire board.
It's a good feeling. With their two most pressing concerns now dealt with, the Buccaneers believe they can walk into the draft next weekend with a full range of options open.
"It kind of solidifies things," said Dungy of Tuesday's good news. "It would have been tough if Jerry and Ronde had gone other places. You would have had some holes that you really had to fill at right tackle and corner. Now, it's not that we don't want to bring young players in at those positions, but it's not going to be a sense of panic. I think that's good for us as an organization."
The Buccaneers, as has been widely and accurately reported, believe in the 'best-available-player' approach to the draft, but there is no denying that positional need plays a role. Dungy basically admitted that the potential departure of Barber and Wunsch would have impacted draft strategy on April 21 and 22.
"Obviously, right tackle and corner are hard positions to find in the draft. It's tough to just plug a guy in and say he's going to start.
"I think it's always a little bit of a danger when you're looking in the draft for a guy to start at (a certain) position, because maybe you don't always make sound decisions in the long haul. Really, that's what the draft is all about, the long term, and not necessarily what's best in September."
Taking off the shackles of positional dependency could work wonders for the Buccaneers on draft weekend, particularly if they stay put at their current position, number 21 in the first round. When taken in the context of the first round, that slot may not seem exciting – it's difficult to predict who will be available, though it is easy to rule out some of the high-profile prospects almost any team would love to have.
Taken in the context of the entire pool of players, however, it's an exciting place to be. Any pick in the first round is. The Buccaneers are likely to get one of the best two, three or four players at whatever position they decide upon. By not limiting that decision to one or two particular positions, the team can improve its odds of hitting on an outstanding player.
"I think you always go in, to a certain extent, hoping that the best athlete (available) is at a certain position," said Dungy. "But that's the philosophy that we've always taken, that you have to pick players that you think are going to be good and not necessarily just to fill a spot. When you've got as many guys back as we do, it helps to do that."
On the other hand, the remaining array of strategies open to the Buccaneers does still include trading the 21st pick, either to move up to snag a specific player, which would likely decrease the team's overall stock of picks, or move down to add picks and take advantage of a deep pool of interesting players. Once again, the flexibility added by getting Barber and Wunsch back into the mix allows the Bucs to more seriously consider either option.
"Every year, our guys have done a good job of (choosing whether to trade up or down)," said Dungy. "We'll look at going up or going down, and you just have to accept what's best. You always have a few guys that you'd really like to have, and whether you have to move up to get them or move down, it depends on how they fall. We've never felt like we had to stay at one spot, so I guess either situation is viable right now.
"We've tried to look and see what's available. Picking at 21, you never know what that's going to be exactly, so we have to cover a lot of bases."