On Friday, March 31, Tampa Bay Buccaneers General Manager Rich McKay sat down with Buccaneers.com for an interview in the web site's 'Your Turn' series. All of the questions used for the interview were submitted by Buccaneers.com users. What follows is a transcript of that interview, with the name of the user preceding the question that he or she submitted. To watch the video of this interview, please click here.
Your Turn with Rich McKay
Moderator: It's March 31, 2000 and we are here with Rich McKay, general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Rich, you're just back from the NFL's Annual Meeting and we know you've been busy, so we thank you for taking this time with us.
Rich McKay: Happy to be here.
Moderator: This interview is part of a series called 'Your Turn' because the questions we use are submitted by Buccaneers.com users. So, what follows is what our fans would really like to know.
Rich McKay: Good. Let's tell them.
Buck from St. Petersburg, Florida: What is your position on realignment? I really think that the NFL should put us with Miami and Jacksonville to have a state rivalry here in Florida.
Rich McKay: "Good question. The natural inclination is to say 'Why don't we have state rivalries; why don't we make geographical divisions.' I'm not sure that's the way the league leans, though, because this is the National Football League, and the word 'national' should be emphasized, because we're a league that has national attention and national telecasts. So it's hard to just create regional games and regional divisions. I think that there will be an element of regional aspects to the divisions, but I don't think they'll be totally regional-driven. I think also you won't see a lot of teams switching from the AFC to the NFC and vice versa. I think there will be minimal changes. Accordingly, I think it will be hard for us to get into the AFC, where Miami and, I think, Jacksonville will remain. I think we will get some regional games, because I think we will get some division opponents such as Atlanta, maybe New Orleans, maybe Carolina. I don't look for us, though, to go to the AFC based on what I've heard.
Kyle from Miami, Florida: Over the last couple of years, you have extended the contracts of several key players before they could become free agents. Next year, the contracts of several Bucs starters will be up - including Reidel Anthony, John Lynch, Warrick Dunn and Jerry Wunsch. Are you going to try extending any of these players' contracts during the season so that they won't test free agency?
Rich McKay: I don't think Reidel's is up. I think he has one more year left. We will try to extend a couple of deals and you may have one of the names right there that we will try. We won't do that until July, probably, of this year. Different than when we did it before, this year, we spent some cap dollars on some unrestricted free agents and therefore the cap gets a little tighter. We'll wait now until July to see where our cap finally ends up after the draft and after any more street free agents we may sign, and then we'll decide who we can extend and how to fit them. But we will do a couple of extensions.
Drew from Boston, Massachusetts: I've been very impressed with the off-season moves you guys have been making and especially the re-signing of Dave Moore. What is the status of our other key restricted free agents, Ronde Barber, Frank Middleton, and Damien Robinson?
Rich McKay: All have tenders on them and after April 10th, they'll be Buccaneers. Up to April 10th, they can receive offer sheets from other teams and then we have the right to match them or not match them. I envision all of those players being back with us. Whether they have new contracts or play for their tender remains to be seen, but they'll be Buccaneers.
Robert from St. Petersburg, Florida: In the draft, best player regardless of position or best player in need positions?
Rich McKay: Well, the answer to that is always the same: you want to go best player regardless of position. However, don't think for a minute that you can honestly do that. It becomes very hard to do, taking the best player regardless of position, because that position may be running back. That may be the best player. What you have to do, though, is try to look at your board and not leave levels. If you have players on certain levels and one comes at a need position and one comes at a not-need position, you're going to take the need position. But if you have to leave levels in order to take that need position, you've got to be disciplined enough to stay and take the player that you rated the best regardless of your need. In our case, Anthony McFarland last year…we did not have a need inside in the defensive tackle area yet we took him and are very happy that we did.
Andy from Atlanta, Georgia: What will the Bucs end up receiving as compensation from Jacksonville in the Regan Upshaw trade?
Rich McKay: I want to say it's a fifth or a sixth-round pick in next year's draft. It was a next-year draft choice all along when we made the trade. The pick could move up based on playing time, which Regan did not achieve for Jacksonville, so it stays the same. I want to say that was either a fifth or sixth-round pick.
Chris from Orlando via Grand Forks, North Dakota: How would you define your overall draft strategy/philosophy and who influenced you most in developing this approach?
Rich McKay: The biggest influence would be the project we went through in '94 and '95 where we went back and looked at the history of this franchise; where did this franchise go wrong in the draft; how did we become such a poor drafting team? We figured some things out…too much emphasis put on potential; too much emphasis put on guys that could run fast, jump high and look good; not enough emphasis put on guys who are good football players who just play the game well and don't look the best. We kind of reformed our whole approach to that - I know I did myself - and focused much more on production. What did the guys do in college, how'd they play in college? Where did they play, what was their level of competition? Let's take Warrick Dunn and let's take Derrick Brooks, regardless of the fact that they may be shorter than most people think they should be. Maybe they're not the prototype size. We got back to that and I think it's been working pretty well for us.
Dan from Clearwater, Florida: It seems like there is a new rumor involving the Buccaneers' two first round picks every week (trades for Keyshawn Johnson and Willie Roaf, moving up to grab Peter Warrick, Plaxico Burress or Chris Samuels, trading down to get the most value out of the draft). Can you give us any idea what's in store?
Rich McKay: I can tell you one thing: you've got to enjoy these rumors because they do come out every day, and they're going to keep coming out. It just seems to me in drafts, even when we didn't have two first round picks, every team that does is the subject of a bunch of rumors. It's natural to think that they're the one team that can move up, they're the one team that can make something happen in this draft because they've got two ones and they can make the trade. We've had a lot of discussions, but they've all been very casual and very preliminary. I don't envision anything happening because, traditionally, that's the way it goes on draft day. As many times as you try to plan to move up or to move down, it doesn't happen. We've had more success moving down than we have up because moving up usually becomes very difficult. Teams get locked into a player, teams say 'this is the guy we want.' Now when you call them to move up, you just can't get it done. So, enjoy the rumors. Don't look for anything; look for us to be picking at the 13th pick and the 27th pick in the first round.
Moderator: Most of our fans probably realize that your father, John McKay, was head coach of the Buccaneers from 1976 to 1984.
Rich McKay: Yes, he was.
Tony from West Palm Beach: How has your father who was a great coach, influenced you in making football decisions, and have you ever asked him for advice?
"I've asked him for advice many times. How has he influenced me? Very simply this: his approach to football was pretty conservative...play defense, play ball-control, try to focus on being a defensive, aggressive, tough-minded football team. I think that's kind of carried over to my view in hiring Tony and going the way we've gone. We've tried to emphasize defense, tried to emphasize conservative football as opposed to the wide-open brand of football that others do. As far as seeking advice, I seek advice from him all the time, talk to him all the time about things. He's the ultimate dad, though. In fact, I talked to Wade Phillips the other day, whose father, Bum was a coach in the league…exactly the same experience as I have. That is, you ask his advice, you ask him how he would do something, he gives you his answer. You don't agree with it, you give him your version, and he immediately says 'I think you're exactly right and I support you one hundred percent.' So it's kind of the 'good dad' theory…he'll give you support when you need it.
C.Snyder from Tampa, Florida: I know you can't say who or what you are going to go for in the draft (I don't know why people even bother to ask), but I have often wondered what is going on when it is your turn in the draft. Are there many changes in the predetermined favorites on draft day?
Rich McKay: No. There are not. If there are, you've made a mistake. The object on draft day is just like the first time you go out and do a play. Hopefully, you've rehearsed it enough times where nothing happens out of the ordinary or unexpected. You have taken your time and gone through enough mock drafts, enough play-acting, if you will, which we do. We pretend we're various teams calling in and saying 'We'll offer this, we'll offer this, will you take it?' You make a board, and in fact make a book, where you state what we will take and what we won't take. And then you create hot lists: what players we will take at this pick and what players we won't take at this pick. That's what you try to do. If you play-act it enough and there really aren't surprises, there shouldn't be a lot of on-the-move. The year we drafted Warrick Dunn, there was a lot of on-the-move. We couldn't find anybody to trade with. We were trying to take Warrick at a lower number than we were. I think that year we traded up and then traded back to make the deal work, but that doesn't happen very often.
Mark from Wauchula, Florida: It seems that "salary cap reality" has struck across the league, but it seems that most of the other teams are looking for quick fixes, while we seem to be looking years ahead in regards to free agency. Do you think that the increasing turnover of rosters offensively gives us an advantage due to our commitment to the defense?
Rich McKay: Interesting question. Yeah, we have a commitment to the defense. We have a commitment to spend salary cap dollars on the defense but this year, obviously, we spent salary cap dollars on the offense. I think the key to all of this is that as long as you have a plan and as long as you have for at least two to three years planned your cap – who's going to be a free agent, how many cap dollars is it going to take to sign these guys and can you fit these guys? – as long as you have a plan, you're okay. The second you get lulled into thinking, 'Let's take our shot this year, this is it, this is the year, let's load up,' you're liable to sink the ship. Because then you're cap gets out of whack. You give players cap dollars that you don't expect to play the length of that contract, which means dead money coming in future years, and that's what gets you. It's when you come into a cap, let's say a cap is $60 million…if you've got five or seven or 10 million dollars against that 60, now you're at 50. And for that 10, you don't have a player on the field because they've all left and it's dead cap dollars, they've already retired or you've gotten rid of them – that's a problem.
David from Atlanta, Georgia: In your opinion what has been your best trade/move since being named GM of the buccaneers?
Rich McKay: I would have to say our draft-day moves to get Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks were the two cornerstone moves for us. We felt like we had to really jump it up on defense. We were doing a lot of maneuvering that day. We were betting Warren would fall but we weren't certain he would fall. Then we had to bet that we could come up far enough from the second round into the first round to get Derrick Brooks, who we really wanted. I would say that was one of our best moves. I would also say the trade of Craig Erickson for a 'one' was a really good move for us. One, we got value for it. Two, we loved the kid and it was hard to move Craig because he's such a good kid and a good player. But we had a plan as to how to try to develop Trent Dilfer and give him a chance to play. So, for me, that was the hardest decision, but maybe one of the better decisions because we were able to let Trent come in and play and we were able to get value for the player.
David from Orlando, Florida: Are the Bucs through wheeling and dealing or can we expect some more surprises before or on draft day?
Rich McKay: It's not over. It's not over. I would say this year, because of the two 'ones' and because of where we are as a football team and the fact that there aren't a lot of guys that can come in and impact our football team, wheeling and dealing is not something that we will say is out of the question. By the same token, it's harder to do than people think. It's harder to move, it's harder to make trades than people think, so we'll see. But I would expect something out of us. Don't just think we'll do nothing. In the end, we very well may pick at 13 and 27 because it becomes harder to do, but it won't be from lack of trying.
Matt from Jacksonville, Florida: Without tipping your hand, how much of an issue will character be in the Buccaneers' draft selections this year?
Rich McKay: It's always an issue for us. It becomes an issue such that we'll knock some people off the board, we'll knock some people down the board because of character. Character will play a part this year, will play a part next year, hopefully will always play a part.
Rick from Bradenton, Florida: I really enjoyed watching John McLaughlin on special teams last season. My question is, what is his chance of fitting into the rotation this season on the D-line, and instead of drafting a safety, could McLaughlin possibly make the move to that position to back up Lynch and or be groomed to fill his spot someday?
Rich McKay: (Laughter) It's a good suggestion! Johnnie Mac is a unique entity. We saw him at Cal-Berkeley where he really was a rotational player on defense but a great player on special teams. Our whole thought process was, bring him in and he's got to get bigger, got to put on weight. Let him play special teams the first year, then take the offseason, which we've just begun, and see if we can't make him a rotational player as a defensive end. We're convinced that he can do it. The issue to me is going to be, when can he do it. But he did a nice job on special teams for us last year and I expect him to be a force again this year.
Greg from Tampa, Florida: Do you foresee an increase in the cap for the purpose of reducing the loss of key veteran players, i.e. Hardy Nickerson - players who have value, but must go to free up cap room?
Rich McKay: I'm not sure that I understand the question. But if I understand the question for us, did we, by losing Hardy, create up cap room, then yes, we did free up cap room. His salary last year was of a certain number, a pretty high number, and therefore when he comes off the cap this year, it goes to zero. But understand, as he's coming off, other people are coming up in their salaries. Mike Alstott's coming into a big contract, we have a lot of guys coming into bigger contracts. So that room that you think you're picking up when a veteran moves on you're not necessarily picking up because you've got young guys you've already scheduled to replace them, from the standpoint of big-time salary-cap dollars. That's one of the things that happened in the Hardy situation. We still wanted Hardy, we still had a place that we could fit Hardy, but we were fearful, and it turned out to be true, that somebody would pay him at a completely different level. Well, to do that, we were going to have to sacrifice some young players, and it just became to tough to do.
Moderator: If I can paraphrase for Greg, I think what he's asking you is, the free agency system is working well, but a lot of teams lose long-time veterans that have been on the team for quite some time, such as a Bruce Smith. Are there any chances for changes in the system to deal with this?
Rich McKay: Okay, there's a good question: Are we going to change the system to allow exceptions for long-time free agents that have been on certain teams. Answer: no. The second you create an exception, it's usually not an exception that's this wide, it's usually about as wide as you can get. Teams will find ways to manipulate it. The biggest suggestion we've had along these lines was this year from Denver, where they lost Shannon Sharpe and tried to make the argument that somehow his salary and signing bonus should count half against the cap as opposed to full against the cap. No. Nobody wants that. This cap is being abused enough as it is with respect to dollars being spent on top of it and exceeding the cap. So none of us – at least I wouldn't favor that.
Chas from Rochester, New York: What is your philosophy to keep the Buccaneers in championship contention and avoid the problems that the Bills, Vikings, and 49ers have all run into?
Rich McKay: Cap management is the philosophy. You've got to continue to schedule players and figure out where they fit. You've got to try to not overpay for average, but pay special. And you've got to be a little lucky, because all it takes is one or two injuries or a player that really descends after an injury, doesn't come back. You can have problems that go beyond your control, that you could not have managed. So, to me, it's cap management, it's having a plan for the future as to how you're going to fit these players in. Then, lastly, making tough decisions. You have to put a ceiling on certain players, and if that means they're going to leave, they're going to have to leave. You're going to have to make that tough decision. If you don't make that tough decision, and you continue to pay everybody, there will be a morning when you wake up and the salary cap will not be your friend.
Kyle from Fort Worth, Texas: I've always been a little unclear about the General Manager position so I thought I'd take this wonderful opportunity to ask the man himself. So, as a GM, what are your major areas of concern?
Rich McKay: Major areas of concern? Well, basically, you're a football manager in the sense that you're trying to oversee the football operations...the hiring of the coach, helping of the coach with the assistants, running all the financial side of it, your budgets on football, on the training side, on the equipment side, all that stuff. You have the salary cap aspect of it, you have the draft aspect of it, you have to run the draft side of it. But you're still a manager at heart. You can't do all those things yourself, so your number one task is to hire good people and make sure those people are competent at what you hired them to do. At that point, you become more of an overseer, more of a decision-maker, more of a judge, if you will, at the end that hears arguments and hears viewpoints from different perspectives and then tries to make a decision. From a draft perspective, I always say we are a 'we' team. We try to make decisions as an organization. If the coaches have a particular viewpoint on a player and the scouts have a different viewpoint, then you know what? We're not going to pick that player. By the same token, if it goes the other direction, we're not going to pick that player, either. We're going to try to pick players that we agree on as an organization. And that's what I think geeneral managers do. You've got to make tough decisions every once in a while, because you are going to be faced with situations where you're not going to agree and somebody's going to have to make the call. But, in essence, you're an overseer that is trying to hire the right people to get the job done.
Chad from Iowa City, Iowa: If Peter Warrick is available when the fourth pick comes along, how probable would it be to make a trade with the Bengals for their pick? Is this even an option that you are considering?
Rich McKay: Well, I probably wouldn't be honest with you if I said one way or the other, because we're not big on talking about specific situations. The fourth pick in the draft, Cincinnati's history is that they have never been a team to trade down. They have always stayed and picked their players. I remember a year specifically when Sam Wyche was our coach, when Sam had just left Cincinnati and felt he had a very good relationship with Mike Brown and the Bengals. We had the 32nd or 33rd pick in the draft, which was a second-round pick – of course, Ray Perkins had traded away the first-round pick. On the board was Carl Pickens from the University of Tennessee, a wide receiver. He had fallen out of the first round. We considered taking him, wanted him, and we had the pick right after Cincinnati's. We called Cincinnati and asked to trade up – understand that we were only going to move up one pick – and Mike wanted a first-round pick in exchange. Mike's been a guy that historically has stayed and picked his players. So, do I envision him trading out? No.
Marv from Newport Beach, California: While playing for your father at USC I watched you grow up as one of the finest ball boys in southern cal. In this era of instant gradification is the draft or is free angency the way to build a team for the future?
Rich McKay: It's not even an issue – the draft is the way to build a team. The problem with free agency is very simple: it's too expensive. If you're going to try to build your team through free agency, you're going to end up with a bottom half of the roster that's not very good. You might be able to get a top half of the roster. You might be able to go out and buy five, six starters, even, and load up your salary cap, but the bottom half of your roster is not going to be very good. Where are you going to see that? Two places: you're going to see it in special teams and you're going to see it in depth. So, if you have an injury or two, you're going to be in trouble. And, the guys running down on your kick teams are not going to get it done. So, to us, we've always said build with the draft. Use free agency as a complement; don't use free agency to make your football team.
William from Dunedin, Florida: Me and my family are originally from Wisconsin and my parents went to the University of Wisconsin. We were upset when we saw that Gruber went down and wouldn't play in the playoffs. What's the latest on his condition and do you know if he'll be back next season?
Rich McKay: Well, Paul's doing very well, his rehab's going well. You know, he broke his leg, an unbelievably unlucky and untimely injury, to occur as we were about ready to win our first division championship in a long time. He's doing well. I wouldn't say he's 100 percent yet, as far as his plans to play next year. We've said it all along and continue to say it: that's on his timetable when he wants to make that decision. We'd be happy to have him back. He's been a great player for our organization and he's a great person. We'll wait and see. I don't know what's on Paul's mind. I'll say this: it's hard to play in the National Football League for Paul, because of how hard you have to work in the offseason and how much your body has to go through. So, when he suffered the injury, I think Paul mentally wanted to kind of stand back from it a little bit and make his decision with a clear head. And I think that's what he's doing.
Moderator: Thank you. Again, we understand how much is on your plate now, so thank you for taking this time with us.
Rich McKay: Happy to do it.