Raheem Morris has been fired, granting the wishes of countless Buccaneers fans and apparently most of the Buccaneers players. After suffering one of the worst downward skids in team history, the Buccaneers organization has every reason to look for a deep hole in which to bury all memories of the 2011 season.
The calls to reboot the team once more have grown nearly as loud as the demands for Morris' job. The expectation of pink slips for a number of Bucs players and coaches is not entirely without merit, but general manager Mark Dominik is the one individual in the organization who should not be on any fan’s cut list. In fact, the wholesale clearance of the current squad would bring the organization no closer to a winning squad than it is now.
There is no questioning that Mark Dominik has made mistakes since taking over as GM. He foolishly gave big contracts to free agent busts like Derrick Ward, Michael Clayton, and Quincy Black, and he missed on acquiring great players like Darren Sproles and Johnathan Joseph. His worst offense, however, came when he allowed the organization to cut one of its all time greatest players, Derrick Brooks, who would probably still be better than either of the Bucs’ current starting outside linebackers.
Nevertheless, his blunders are easily balanced by his successes. The great purge of 2009 saw Dominik and Morris cut most of the team’s over-the-hill players, most of whom went on to retire or embarrass themselves. Dominik wisely rid the team of Antonio Bryant who subsequently fleeced the Cincinnati Bengals for $28 million while playing in exactly zero games for the "Bungles."
After a season like the Buccaneers had, it can be easy to forget some of the lessons learned and dismiss some of the treatments for what ailed the team’s long-term success. Rewind three years ago to 2008. Jon Gruden is head coach and the Bucs are one of the oldest squads in the league. The team is seemingly on their way to another playoff berth with a 9-3 record when they meet the Carolina Panthers for Monday Night Football on December 8.
What followed was a thorough trouncing of the Bucs’ aging defense by running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, exposing the age of the defense. What came after was even worse as the Bucs dropped each of their remaining games to finish 9-7 and miss the playoffs.
Does this story sound familiar? Jon Gruden, a Super Bowl-winning coach, and his experienced staff could not rally a veteran-laden team against even a pitiful Raiders team in the final game of the season. It is the very reason the team is now built the way it is, only now on the flip-side of the same coin.
The key difference now is upside. For two years in a row, the Buccaneers have had the youngest roster in the league. Such abundance of youth entails two consequences: growing pains and unrealistic expectations. Obviously, the Bucs nation has become familiar with the former, but the latter has been lost in the rubble that is the 2011 Buccaneers.
Yes, the Bucs went 10-6 in 2010, but it should be clear now that the team benefited from a soft schedule and some luck. What may be less apparent now is the genuine talent on the team and how Dominik has both hit on a number of draft picks and found some diamonds in the rough.
First and foremost, Josh Freeman is the real deal. Though he had some luck last year, you don’t throw 26 touchdowns to 6 interceptions unless you have elite potential. A franchise quarterback takes advantage of the opportunities afforded to him, and Josh simply has not had many this season.
Second, rebuilding a team takes time. Gruden and former GM Bruce Allen could not draft to save their lives and hit on exactly one first round pick, Davin Joseph, during their tenure. In fact, Joseph is one of only a handful of players drafted by Gruden and Allen that is even on an NFL roster right now. Dominik had the daunting task of rebuilding this team from scratch, which takes more than just three drafts.
Yes, hiring Raheem Morris to be head coach was a mistake, but that is a mistake shared by Dominik and the Glazers. Whether the decision was made out of thrift or folly, Dominik does not bear sole responsibility for this decision, nor is he alone in learning from the mistakes of the past three years.
The Glazers must pay out for a better pro personnel staff who can better evaluate free agents and push Dominik to throw some money their way. Dominik does not have the best record of signing free agents, so a fresh perspective is required.
Sure, it looks like the past three years have been a total waste, and there seems to be a talent deficiency on the Buccaneers roster. Nevertheless, Bucs fans must give Dominik time to turn the team around from the dead end where Gruden had driven it.