Considering the way the season ended with a thundering silence, I was all to ready to pull a Professor and abandon this trainwreck for the next month or so. But then somewhere between Boise State's hook and ladder touchdown and Ian Johnson proposing to the head cheerleader I rediscovered my love for the Pigskin.
It's been well over a decade since a Bucs season threatened to destroy my will to live. If not for wins over two team I love to hate (Iggles, Skins) and one team I hear far to much about (Bengals) this season would have driven me to the edge of a very tall cliff. The losses varied from gut punches (Carolina take 1, Chicago) to down right embarrasing (B-more, Thanksgiving Day Massarce). When the Bucs looked like they were about to get the ship back on track, the Panthers defense decided they liked Simms better without a spleen. Forget the Ravens loss, the Bucs season started going downhill when Tampa Bay first learned what splenectomy meant.
Let me be as crystal clear on this as possible, Gruden is one of the top ten coaches in the NFL. I have never shied away from making bold and potentially flame throwing statements so let me take this one step further and state, for the record, any one demanding the resignation of Gruden deserves to be taken out back and beaten with the stupid stick.
I could spend the next 1,000 words explaining why Gruden deserves to stay, in fact I have already made the argument for why Gruden should stay. If somebody has a rational counterpoint to my argument beyond the whole "it was Dungy's team, I HEART Alstott, why do the Bucs suck, ARGHHHHH!!!!" I would be willing to listen to it.
Heading into the offseason the Bucs have a shit ton of things they need to do. The defense needs to be restocked and several free agents need to be resigned. The local inksheets (specifically Gary Shelton) have argued that the Bucs need to bring in 11 players to be competitive, which is absurd. The Bucs need at least four players (all on the defensive side) to be get back to the playoffs in the wretched NFC. The NFC should be a breeze to get through, and in one game against the AFC anything can happen.
Step One: Resign Chris Simms
The Bucs already accomplished their first offseason priority, resigning Chris Simms. While this made much easier by the lack of teams bidding against the Bucs this was the first step the Bucs needed to be competitive next season. Even if Simms is a poor fit for Gruden's offense (and that's the one thing that really scares me about the Bucs chances) he's the best thing the Bucs have going on at quarterback right now.
Also, I have resisted all season from tooting my own horn on this point (note: that would be your cue to skip this entire paragraph) but not resigning Griese was easily Gruden and company's biggest mistake last offseason. I made the argument that the Bucs essentially had no offensive line and no one decent backing up Simms and was mocked, roundly. But then again, any one who defends Brian Griese deserves to be mocked.
Step 2: Resign Sean Mahan, Dewayne White, Tim Rattay, Phillip Buchanon/Torrie Cox, Blue Adams, Kalvin Pearson, Mike Alstott in that order
In the interest of simplicity I will address these one at a time...
-Mahan: Mahan was supposed to be demoted to B Squad with the arrival of Davin Joseph. Instead Mahan became the essential glue guy an offensive line needs, filling in for injured Joseph and later Dan Buenning. Throw in Mahan's ability to play center and he is a must sign for a still developing offensive line.
- White: I wasn't sold on White until the Seattle game. White played with an unmatched enthusiam against Walter Jones and pressured Hasselbeck all game. Although it sends up a red flag that White waited until the last game before he hit free agency to actually try.
- Rattay: For much the same reason I supported bringing back Griese I now support bringing back Rattay. Neither is all that impressive but at least they can run the offense.
- Buchanon/Cox: I grouping these two together because they are both, at best, nickelbacks. Both saw extensive action due to injuries at corner. Although Buchanon showed more flashes of promise and could be coached into a starting corner.
- Blue: Just because I love saying his name. Is also pretty good at special teams.
- Pearson: For reasons I mention below I could care less if the Bucs bring back Pearson. He was a decent backup strong safety. That's about it.
- Alstott: I considered moving the A-Train to the top of the list until I read that Gruden would like to bring back Alstott if he wants to play another year. Considering that Alstott has stated he only wants to play for the Bucs, this decision most likely rests entirely with Mike.
Step 3: Dump Rice, Keep Kelly
For some reason the local inksheets have hinted that the Bucs may dump Brian Kelly. Not sure why the Bucs would do that considering Kelly is vastly underpaid and one of the better corners in the league. Kelly has another year on his contract and I would like to see Gruden and company offer him a two or three year extension.
As much as Simeon Rice has done for Tampa Bay he should be cut unless he agress to lower his cap figure. Rice has one of the more expensive contracts for the Bucs, and even discounting his injury Rice was not living up to expectation this season. He had 2 sacks through 8 games, and looked a step slow all season. I know he struggled through injuries even before he sat out the second half of the season but the Bucs can find a better deal than Rice next season.
Step 4: Spend some of that cap money on the defense
If there's one theme you are going to see this offseason it's this..............RESTOCK THE DEFENSE. The Bucs have roughly $24 to $30 million in cap room next season which should make them buyers in free agency. Gruden and company have always looked for the best value in free agency so I don't expect any wild shopping sprees.
I have taken a close look at who will be free agents this offseason but some of the names I have heard brandied around are Lance Briggs, Charles Grant and Dwight Freeney. I sont know much about Briggs othen than he plays in the Tampa Two in Chicago in a position the Bucs need, linebacker. Grant and Freeney are both appealing options if the Bucs can get them a decent price.
Step 5: Draft Wisely
Much like I did last offseason I'm going to vacillate a dozen times on what the Bucs should do with their first pick. A month ago I was sold on the Bucs picking defense first, but now I'm coming around on Calvin Johnson or JaMarcus Russell. Both could be special players (especially CJ) which the Bucs could use even if they don't have as pressing of a need at receiver or quarterback.
If the Bucs go defense Gaines Adams from Clemson would likely be the pick. The defensive end is the top rated defensive player in the country at a position the Bucs could use help at. At the beginning of the season Adams was considered a top ten pick but was behind Georgia's Moses as the best defensive end in the country. Adams saw his draft stock continue to rise as Moses level of play dropped and Adams level of play stayed.... well, level.