Rich McKay (left) traded the Bucs' two first-round picks for Keyshawn Johnson, but still has plenty to do this weekend
Think the blockbuster Keyshawn Johnson trade rendered the Bucs useless on draft day? Think again
Here's the big debate currently being waged in the Buccaneer war room: nine or 18?
That's how many golf holes the personnel department thinks it can get in on Saturday, the first day of the NFL's 64th annual draft. They're kidding of course, but the punch line is that Tampa Bay may have very little say in the first five or six hours of Saturday's draft after trading its two first-round picks to the New York Jets on Wednesday for Pro Bowl WR Keyshawn Johnson.
There will be no golf for General Manager Rich McKay and his staff on Saturday, of course, though a ritualistic morning run is scheduled. McKay, Dungy, Director of Player Personnel Jerry Angelo, Director of College Scouting Tim Ruskell and the rest of the Buccaneers' personnel staff will be just as involved in the draft as usual. That's because, as McKay pointed out on the eve of the draft on Friday, there is still quite a bit to accomplish. McKay discussed the Bucs' coming weekend in depth, and highlights from that discussion are provided below.
After this final public discussion, McKay retreated to the team's war room near the back of Buccaneer headquarters, rejoining the real debate over draft-worthy players. McKay and his staff will also spend most of Saturday and Sunday in the war room, and Buccaneers.com will be on hand to cover all of the news that comes out of that nerve center.
Tampa Bay has six remaining picks in rounds two through seven, and to prove that this weekend will still have a profound impact on the team's future, McKay invoked such names as John Lynch, Donnie Abraham, Mike Alstott, Jason Odom, Frank Middleton, Brian Kelly, Shaun King and Jamie Duncan. The common thread between those players, and quite a few more, is that all were chosen by the Buccaneers in the second, third or fourth rounds in recent years. This weekend, the Bucs pick 57th overall in the second round, 90th in the third round and 120th in the fourth round.
For recent reference, the last three players chose 57th in the draft were G Randy Thomas by the New York Jets in 1999, CB Cordell Taylor by the Jacksonville Jaguars in '98 and LB James Darling by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1997. Though Taylor has been on three teams in two years, Thomas and Darling have quickly made contributions. Thomas stepped right into the Jets lineup as a rookie last year and started all 16 games, earning strong praise from Head Coach Bill Parcells. Darling started 10 games at MLB last year and has opened 24 games and made 157 tackles in three NFL seasons.
Most likely, the Bucs will remain in that late-second round vicinity to make their first pick, even if a trade to re-enter the first round would further enthrall Tampa Bay fans. "That's very, very hard to do without using future number-one picks," said McKay. "That's the way those deals are made. We're so far back in the second round, being at 27, that it just gets very hard to move. You're going too far.
"It depends on the team and how many picks they have. Teams looking for picks will move further. We've done that before, we've said, 'Hey, we'll move 15 or 20 picks because we're going to pick up two extra picks and we need players.' Teams with a lot of picks, you're not giving them anything they don't have. We're saying that once the second round starts, you make your list of guys you are interested in trading up for, and then when it's realistic to make those calls, then you make those calls. It doesn't happen very easily."
McKay also indicated that, had the team held onto its first-round picks instead of trading for Johnson, the chances of a trade up from the 13th slot was 'slim to none.' On the other hand, a trade down had been contemplated since the Bucs' wish list for that slot was relatively short and far from guaranteed.
During the discussion, McKay also touched on such subjects as:
…do the Bucs want to acquire some more offensive line talent?
"Everybody does in this league. You always want to try to get some young guys on the offensive line to keep that process going. Easier said than done. True also of the defensive line. We'll never say we have enough defensive linemen. We've done it before where we've listed our needs and said, 'Now, how are we going to fill these? What's the best formula to fill these? Where do we have to pick to get certain players we want?' We're not going to do that this year. We're much more driven by, 'We think these guys are going to be there and we'll take the highest rated of those five that are there.'
We've been pretty good – I think Jerry and Tim do an excellent job – of figuring out where we need to take guys. We'll see if we're right this time. We've been wrong before, too. The year we drafted Jacquez Green and Brian Kelly, we were trying to decide which one to draft at 23. We traded down and drafted both of them. Sometimes you don't get it exactly the same."
…does the loss of Hardy Nickerson put the Bucs into the market for a middle linebacker?
"It's not a need for that very purpose. Our guys are very interchangeable in the positions they play because our demand on athleticism and speed applies to our Sam (strongside) linebacker, our Will (weakside) linebacker and our Mike (middle) linebacker. So we're pretty much set up to move some guys around and go from there. If we get the opportunity and the right guy's there, we'd consider it, but I don't think that's one that we sit there and say we have to have.
…with all of the focus on receivers, is there a position that has been underrated?
"I'd say running back is a little underrated. Don't read anything into it with respect to us – we have some relatively good ones! – but I would say that when you look at running backs throughout the draft, it's a pretty deep group. There's a lot of guys. It usually is so, but there will be guys drafted in the fourth round in this draft that will definitely play in the league, and be starters. There are a lot of guys in this draft that were very productive in college that are going to go lower. They're going to go in the fourth round, they're going to go fifth round, they're going to go in the sixth round, and we'll see. If they get to the right team, and the right scheme, and the guy ahead of them gives them a chance to play, you've got a shot. All it takes is for that guy to go to the wrong team, two guys ahead of him, and you never hear from him again."
…does the trade for Johnson mean the Bucs have ruled out drafting a receiver?
"I wouldn't rule it out, because it's so deep in this draft that one may pop up that you say you've got to take. But we're not sitting in there with a design to get more receivers."
…are there any more maneuvers necessary to prepare for the draft in regard to the salary cap?
"No. We don't have (the rookie salary pool) yet, but it won't be very big. We'll absolutely have (cap) room."
…how do the Bucs specifically break down the 'character' issue?
"Character is another totally misused word, in one sense. Are you talking about on-field character or off-field character? Work habits? The way he treats his mother? What are we talking about here? It's a word that's kind of all-encompassing. To us, you have to separate all the issues and figure out where he is in each issue. Because, today, with the money where it is, and how good the game has gotten and how skilled the players, if you're going to take a guy that has bad work habits, you've got a problem. I think you could have done it 15 years ago because nobody had good work habits. It was a job that was seven months a year. Today, it's 10, 11 months a year, so if you take a guy that does not work in the offseason – and usually that's a character issue – then you've got a problem.
We have various categories and then we give a (combined) character grade. We give a simple A through F. We call it the 'Buc Filter.'
…are there a good number of offensive tackles that are first-round worthy and will the Bucs find one in the draft?
"I think that there are a number of tackles. Tackles are going to go in the first round. The issue always with tackles to me is, are they left tackles, are they right tackles, is somebody going to move a guy to guard? That's where the disagreements among teams always occurs.
Plus, I think what can happen to offensive linemen is that you can start overanalyzing them. You can make an offensive lineman any grade you want, because there are going to be plays where he just doesn't look very good. We've done that, we've scrutinized them pretty hard.
Would it be nice to have another tackle? I guess, but it's just not a perfect world. And it's a position that runs out pretty quickly."