Contract extensions for General Manager Bruce Allen (left) and Head Coach Jon Gruden will keep the team's leadership in place through 2011
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, fresh off their second division championship in the last three years but hungry for another Super Bowl victory, are headed in the right direction.
And they have the right men in place to lead them back to the top.
Maintaining that leadership is obviously important to the franchise. That was emphasized on Tuesday when the Buccaneers announced that both General Manager Bruce Allen and Head Coach Jon Gruden have signed three-year contract extensions with the team. The new deals carry through the 2011 season.
The extensions for Allen and Gruden come on the heels of a strong 2007 season in which the Buccaneers dominated the NFC South while making significant changes to the roster and the starting lineup. Tampa Bay's defense, which had slipped to an uncharacteristic 17th spot in the rankings in 2006, rebounded to finish second in the league even with new starters at middle linebacker (Barrett Ruud) and free safety (Tanard Jackson) and an almost completely rebuilt defensive line.
The Buccaneers' offense was much improved in 2007, as well, and is being built around a young offensive line that is among the most promising in the league. Despite a rash of injuries to the skill positions, the Buccaneers established their strongest running game in years and got vastly improved play from the quarterback position with free agent import Jeff Garcia. On special teams, the Bucs enjoyed career years from kickers Matt Bryant and Josh Bidwell and even recorded the first kickoff return for a touchdown in franchise history.
In keeping with the theme of maintaining core leadership, the Buccaneers have also resigned all three of their coordinators – Monte Kiffin, Bill Muir and Richard Bisaccia – to contract extensions this offseason.
Kiffin, Muir and Bisaccia are all heading into at least their seventh seasons with the Buccaneers – Kiffin is going on year 13 – as is Gruden. The seventh head coach in franchise history, Gruden joined the Buccaneers in 2002 and has led the team to division titles in three of his first six seasons, as well as the team's first Super Bowl championship in his first season.
Allen took over as the Buccaneers' general manager early in 2004 and has been the steward for two NFC South-winning clubs. Under his leadership, the Buccaneers have escaped dramatic cap difficulties and have now positioned themselves for an extended run as potential players on the free agent market. Allen, the 2002 George Young NFL Executive of the Year in 2002 while with the Oakland Raiders, has the Bucs well under the salary cap for this season and the foreseeable future, and the fruits of that effort began to bear in 2007.
The Buccaneers' first significant dip into free agency produced Garcia, linebacker Cato June, fullback B.J. Askew, defensive end Kevin Carter and tight end Jerramy Stevens, among others, and all played significant roles in the team's run to the NFC South title. With the roster rejuvenated, the Bucs nearly swept the rest of the division, only dropping the season finale to Carolina in a game in which Tampa Bay rested most of its starters.
Despite that boost from free agency, the Buccaneers still consider the draft the key to keeping the roster strong, and Allen and Gruden have provided excellent leadership in that department in recent years.
Focusing on stockpiling picks – and using them successfully – the Buccaneers have made 32 picks over the last three years, and an impressive percentage of those selections have made an impact with the club. Among the starters produced by the 2005-07 drafts are Ruud, Jackson, Cadillac Williams, Alex Smith, Davin Joseph, Jeremy Trueblood, Gaines Adams and Arron Sears. Other contributors from those drafts have included Dan Buenning, Maurice Stovall, Bruce Gradkowski and Quincy Black.
That infusion of talent has the Buccaneers excited about the very near future. The Bucs appreciate their recent division titles but are eager to take the next step and return to the Super Bowl. They expect Allen and Gruden to lead them there.