If you're going to choose as your franchise-building model the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s or the Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s or the Indianapolis Colts of the 2000s, then you're going to have to put considerable emphasis on the annual two-day (and soon to be three-day) event that rolls around every April.
The four-Super Bowl dominance of the '70s Steelers was founded on draft day, most notably the drafts of 1970-74 that brought Terry Bradshaw, Mel Blount, Jack Ham, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth, Mike Webster and others into the fold. The Cowboys of the next generation hoarded draft picks and then constructed their championship team around them (with the notable exceptions of Deion Sanders and Charles Haley). And the Colts of this past decade won more games than any other team despite the fact that their most notable free agent signing of that stretch was a kicker, Adam Vinatieri.
Draft-weekend success is critical for every team, but some organizations choose to rely on it more exclusively, believing that route is the best one to sustained success. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, under the nascent leadership of General Manager Mark Dominik and Head Coach Raheem Morris, intend to be one of those teams. And never will that emphasis on the draft be more intense than it is this year.
Now, every draft is important, and indeed the selection the Bucs made in the first round last year (franchise quarterback hopeful Josh Freeman) will probably be the most significant one the team makes for many years. But the Buccaneers, for more than a year now, have placed a special bulls eye on the 2010 draft, believing it to be a critical juncture in their plans for the future.
And they're not just paying lip service to that thought.
Everything about the Buccaneers' 2010 offseason revolves around April's draft. For one thing, the team is asking its coaching staff to get even more involved in the evaluation of draft prospects than it has in the past. Tampa Bay coaches have always been a part of the scouting process, and that's the norm around the league, but Buc assistants can expect to watch more college film this winter and spring.
"We've done a lot of things different not only in the last 12 months but maybe even in the last couple months in terms of how we look at the draft and the way we do things, the way we break players down," said Dominik. "With everything being digital now, we're able to do so much more and look at players in so many different capacities. We're taking advantage of that, and we're asking our coaching staff to get involved as much as they can in this draft as well as all of our scouts.
To give the coaching staff as much time as possible to focus on the draft, the Buccaneers have, for the first time, scheduled all of their "organized team activity days" (OTAs) for mid-May and beyond. Each team is allotted 16 OTAs during the offseason, which are voluntary but still structured much like an in-season practice. In previous years, the Bucs had held some of those OTAs in April and some in early May, spreading the rest out into the first half of June.
"That's another element of why we pushed OTAs back, to make sure that all of our coaches and everybody is really focused on this draft," said Dominik. "We're just putting a stronger emphasis on this draft."
The change in the OTA schedule isn't solely designed to give the coaches more time to study tapes of prospects, but it is a result of the team's focus on the 2010 draft. Essentially, the team believes its '10 rookie class - which may include as many as 10 picks, many of them high in the draft - is important enough to be involved in all of the offseason activities.
"It was the thought process of how we are building this team," said Dominik. "It was sitting down with Coach Morris and saying, 'This draft class is that important. Let's make sure they're involved in every OTA day. Let's not let them miss out on five or six days prior to the draft. Let's make sure this whole team is moving forward together.' That was really important to us. We pushed all of our OTAs back behind the draft to make sure that everyone of those draft picks could be here. Let's get as close to the 80-man limit here from Day One of the OTAs all the way through mini-camp. That's every important to us."
Tampa Bay is scheduled to pick third overall in April's draft. The team's second-round pick is third in that stanza, too, or 35th overall. The Bucs also own Chicago's second-round pick, which will be either #42 or #44 overall, depending upon a coin flip at the NFL Scouting Combine next week. Tampa Bay's high slot in the draft order also makes its third and fourth-round picks more valuable. Thanks to a handful of trades, the Bucs own a total of 10 draft picks heading into this spring's proceedings, and they have the wherewithal to move up, down or any way that seems beneficial.
And now it's time to make sure those assets are well-deployed.
"A lot of the thought and emphasis was put in the last 12 months in terms of acquiring draft choices, because of what we want to do with this football team moving forward," said Dominik. "That's where our focus has been, our main focus. We're going to put a lot of time and a lot of effort into the 2010 draft because it is such an important class and because we do have a lot of selections and a lot of high selections."