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Buccaneers Keep Striking Out in Free Agency

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers haven’t been good for quite some time now. There hasn’t been playoff football in Tampa since 2007, when they were bounced in the wildcard round against the New York Giants. The franchise’s lone Super Bowl victory was 12 years ago.

We’re in 2015 now and much hasn’t changed. Tampa Bay holds the top pick in the NFL Draft, which most believe will be used on Jameis Winston. Despite Winston’s troubled past, Bucs head coach Lovie Smith loves how he’s dealt with adversity.

“To me, I think he’s told us an awful lot with how he’s handled it,” Smith said. “It’s not like he’s getting ready to go into the NFL and scrutiny is coming his way. He’s gone through it a couple years now and he’s answered the bell. That’s what you have to do. You have to have tunnel vision and do your job. Looking from the outside, that’s what he’s been able to do.”

However, if Winston isn’t the guy, then Tampa Bay will most likely go after former Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

“I think, in the end, it will be a clear decision on who we should take,” Smith said. “It will be obvious to see who the best player is to lead our franchise, to lead our team next year and get out of that cellar.”

Regardless, no matter if its Winston or Mariota, the Bucs would be adding someone with a winning pedigree, which is something this franchise needs moving forward. At the same time, you can’t expect a rookie to single-handedly change the losing culture overnight.

The Bucs haven’t had a winning season since 2010, when they went 10-6 and they’ve only had four winning seasons over the past decade. In Love Smith’s first year as Bucs head coach, the team finished with a dreadful record of 2-14, which is why they find themselves with the No. 1 overall pick.

If this were the NBA, maybe Tampa Bay would’ve found their way out of the cellar by now. Unfortunately for Tampa, in the NFL, the way to truly build a contender is through free agency. In a league that is all about what have you done for me lately, you just don’t have time to wait on young guys to develop.

Bucs general manager Jason Licht thinks otherwise.

“Our philosophy is going to be to build through the draft. That’s where we find our stars. That’s where we find the next generation. But also in the short term and long term we’re going to supplement our roster through free agency,” the GM added. “But we’re going to look for value. We’re going to spend wisely.”

With that being said, its not as if the Bucs haven’t tried to land top notch players in free agency. They had big name guys like Ndamukong Suh, DeMarco Murray and Greg Hardy on their radar just to name a few, but failed to lock up any of them. Instead, they had to settle for Bruce Carter, Henry Melton, Chris Conte, Sterling Moore and Andrew Wilder.

While those players could be good value pick-ups, they’re not the type of signings that’s going to get the fan base excited for the upcoming season.

Which begs the question, why don’t star players want to sign with Tampa Bay?

The easy answer would be the losing culture, but the Jacksonville Jaguars are starting to sign elite talent and we all know that franchise hasn’t done anything significant in a long time.

So, what is it?

Well, the important thing is to show signs of moving forward. You can have a losing history, but if your doing things the right way, people will begin to notice. This is where Tampa Bay dropped the ball.

During their final game of the 2014 season, Tampa Bay held a 13-point lead over New Orleans heading into the fourth quarter. The lead went away after Lovie Smith decided to play a lot of backups, which led people to believe they were tanking to secure the top pick in the draft.

“It had nothing to do with substitutions,” Smith said. “You look at how we played. To me, I’m going to go back, we’re moving the ball fairly well even in the second half. They played a lot better. We played a lot of guys the first half also.Vincent Jackson only played a few reps. That happened in the first half also, and the team we put on the football field had a chance to win right up until (the end).

“Yeah, we didn’t have some of our best players there right in the end. But the guys we had in there we felt like we could move the ball and be able to win.”

Former Bucs quarterback Josh McCown denied the allegations as well.

“It’s unfortunate, I don’t think anybody tanked it,” McCown said. “We played the guys we played to rotate guys in to give them a look. As far as players are concerned, the draft and that stuff isn’t relevant to us as far as how we’re playing. We play and execute the plays that are called. That’s our job. All that other stuff is for people to try to speculate about all those things. We competed hard and that’s the main thing.”

Whether or not Tampa Bay tanked is beyond the point. It just doesn’t look good from the outside looking in and little things like that is probably why the franchise is unable to land big fish in free agency, despite having cap room and living in a state with no income tax.

The Bucs have been doing things the wrong way for so long that they have a reputation for dysfunction.  Add in 2013’s bout with MRSA and it’s no wonder why high profile free agents are taking their giant paychecks elsewhere.

 


About Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels is an NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has several years of experience covering the NFL and NCAA football. He's the radio color commentator for Lincoln University football. Mark's work has been featured on Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports and Yard Barker.