Nothing went according to the plan for the Bucs last year. After an impressive 10-6 season with Josh Freeman unable to make a mistake, and rookie Mike Williams proving the doubters wrong, hopes were high for Tampa in the most competitive division in the league. But things could not have gone worse as Freeman struggled to find his form behind a weak line, the running game struggled to find their consistency and the young defense proved incapable of stopping anything that came their way.
It ended with a 4-12 season and Raheem Morris without a job. But they had money to spend, that is of course if the Glazers wanted to spend it. The owners had gained a reputation for being more interested in their footy interests than their football, but the fan base was unimpressed after such a disappointing season, and the owners opened the checkbook.
Josh Freeman looked out of shape at times last year, but having a handful of years of experience at his wideout spots did not help his case either. So the first move they made was going after one of the physically imposing wideouts in the game. Vincent Jackson is nothing short of a beast on the outside, and if he can stay healthy for the Bucs, Freeman could have his downfield threat that he has been missing.
But the Bucs were in need of much more than a beast on the outside. Freeman is a bit of a Big Ben clone, therefore he needs his time in the pocket if he is going to be effective. So what is the best way to protect the youngster? Might as give All-Pro guard Carl Nicks $47.5 million for four years. After protecting Drew Brees for the first part of his career, Nicks will have a new adventure is protecting a pivot that can actually see over his back.
They were not quite done yet, and keep in mind all of these moves were made in a matter of a few hours. Ronde Barber is aging and Aqib Talib can’t stay out of trouble. So it was clear that some help was needed in the secondary. Eric Wright is by no means a shut down corner, but he had a solid season for the Lions last year and earned himself a nice little $37.5 million deal. Whether he lines up on the corner of in the slot, he will do what he can to help the prevent.
Tampa entered the draft with the fifth overall pick, and many saw them going after another corner along the lines of Mo Claiborne. But rather than stockpile a position that was not their most glaring need, they traded down at got themselves the best safety in the draft with Bama product Mark Barron. He will step in from day one and control center field for Greg Schiano’s defense.
LaGarrette Blount had a solid rookie season after going undrafted out of Oregon. But last year he proved that he needed some help in the backfield. His pass catching was simply nowhere to be found and while he could muscle up the middle, his speed on the edge left much to be desired. So with their man still on the board late in the first, the Bucs traded up to grab Boise St. product Doug Martin. The Ray Rice clone has explosiveness between the tackles, a burst on the outside and solid pass catching ability that will make him a threat on every down.
On day two of the draft they grabbed a solid outside backer in Lavonte David who should be able to step in right away and help the young defensive line. It had been two straight years that Tampa went heavy along the line, with Gerald McCoy, Adrian Clayborn, Michael Bennett, Da’Quan Bowers and Brian Price to show for the commitment. Bowers tore his achilles in off-season workouts and McCoy cannot seem to keep his triceps in one piece, but there is still hope for the group. Bennett will have to step up in Bowers absence, but if Clayborn, Price and McCoy can provide some pressure up the middle, the anemic pass rush will be in much better shape.
But while most teams are done making moves after the draft, there was still one left to be made for the Bucs. Schiano was apparently no fan of the attitude that Kellen Winslow brought to the table, and he made it known early. The athletic tight end was one of the sure things in Tampa’s attack over the past few years, but his attitude has often been called into question. So a move was quickly made in shipping him to the Pacific Northwest, and a new man was brought in.
Dallas Clark has been one of the most dangerous tight end/slot wideouts in the past decade. Teaming up with Peyton in Indy, he tore opposing defenses apart as they struggled to find someone who could contain his size and speed. But an injury plagued season and the upheaval that took place in Indy found him without a job. So after flirting with teaming up with Peyton in Denver, Clark took his time in picking a team before working out with the Bucs this week. They quickly signed him to a deal as they added another weapon for Freeman.
It has been a busy offseason to say the least in Tampa. New coach, guard, wideout, corner, running back, safety, tight end and outside backer. But they are committed to this change and they could find themselves fighting with the Panthers and Falcons for top spot in the division.