The issue of DT Warren Sapp's pending free agency was one new GM Bruce Allen intended to begin addressing his first weekend on the job
When Bruce Allen was introduced as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' new general manager on Friday, he mentioned how unique it was for a man stepping into his position to already have the exact head coach he would have chosen.
However – there always seems to be a 'however' in this age of the salary cap – there are some aspects of the situation Allen inherits that are not quite as clean as who wears the headset on the sidelines.
Allen first arrived in Tampa late Thursday afternoon. Though he had packed fairly lightly, he doesn't plan to leave town again until the beginning of Senior Bowl week (January 18-24) other than a quick jaunt up to New York for a one-day league meeting. And you can't blame him. Put a check mark next to 'Head Coach on the Bucs' to-do list. Otherwise, it's evaluation time for everything and everyone.
Among the matters that are awaiting Allen's attention, some more immediately than others, are two big ones: the pending free agency of defensive tackle Warren Sapp and the salary cap excesses that must be trimmed in the coming NFL calendar year.
Allen touched on those subjects Friday, admittedly in a cursory manner. At the time, he had yet to even see the space that would be his office, and he was still looking forward to his first meeting with the team's player personnel staff that afternoon. Still, Allen's first thoughts on the job give at least a quick glance at the days, months and years ahead.
The Sapp issue, of course, was one of the first brought to his attention by the media. The franchise's second all-time sack leader and a seven-time Pro Bowler, Sapp is slated to become an unrestricted free agent in March. As is the case with any long-time star in his 30s, it is a complicated situation hinging both on talent evaluation and the state of the salary cap. Allen planned to attack the issue immediately, saying on Friday that he hoped to speak with Sapp's agent over the weekend.
There is internal work to be done on the matter, as well.
"I want to hear from the personnel people on where they see him right now in his career," said Allen. "I want to know how they see him fitting in with this team. (An approach) will come after meeting with the personnel people this weekend, meeting with the coaches and getting their evaluations of their players, and then studying some of the free agents."
In Oakland, Allen was known for attracting veteran stars, not dismissing them. Head Coach Jon Gruden's preference for 'veteran' or 'older' players may be vastly overstated – he wants good players – but it is safe to say that he rarely holds age and experience against a prospective Buccaneer. And both Allen and Gruden obviously realize that Sapp is still a very good player.
"My philosophy's always been to add players, not subtract players," said Allen. "To make the Bucs better, you've either got to have Warren Sapp back or get somebody a lot better, which is maybe even more difficult to do. So I'm interested in seeing the coaches' philosophy and the personnel evaluations and then we're going to look into who might be available instead of him. But I'm looking forward to talking to them."
Of course, Allen knows that options can be impacted by the salary cap, and the Bucs' cap situation, at this very moment, is daunting (the team never releases individual or overall player salary information). That's one of the first things that Allen must address, because every team in the league has to be under the cap by the time the new NFL year officially begins in March.
"I'm going to try to get a better understanding of (the Bucs' cap situation), but it doesn't look good," said Allen. "But we'll fix it and go forth. There has been a different philosophy that I have to learn that they've used. I just have to understand why some of the deals are structured the way they are. We're restricted but we're going to fix it.
"I want to understand better some of the contracts that were done (before) and I'll do that in the next few days. We have to fix it, and once again, the salary cap is not a year-to-year issue. It's a long-term plan that you have to have. We had a long-term plan in Oakland where we knew that we would never let the salary cap get in the way of acquiring a Pro Bowl-type player."
Allen just recently helped the Raiders escape a similarly rough cap standing after Super Bowl XXXVII, leaving behind a favorable situation for the next man in his position. He spoke very matter-of-factly about doing the same in Tampa.
"There are a couple of teams that have it worse this year," he said. "It will be corrected. We don't have a choice, we're going to fix it."
It won't be easy, but Allen didn't seem too concerned on Friday. His main point of emphasis that afternoon was not how difficult the looming cap numbers will make his job but how determined the team is to improve itself regardless of those constraints.
"We want players that are going to help us win, and not just today," said Allen, who then invoked some words of his famous father, the late George Allen. "I know a famous coach who said 'the future is now.' I agree with him. The future is now, because if you take care of today, tomorrow will take care of itself.
"If we can get an impact player, and we need several right now with the Bucs, we'll get them anyway we possibly can."