Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Road to Success MUST Begin NOW!
During the 2010 NFL season, Tampa Bay was the surprise team of the NFL. They finished with a 10-6 record and were only a tie breaker away from reaching the playoffs.
In 2011, the wheels fell off the Buccaneers' band wagon, as the Bucs fell to 4-12 and are now selecting fifth in the NFL draft as a result.
The season cost the Buccaneers their head coach, Raheem Morris.
There are many bright spots for the Buccaneers, however, as they enter the 2012 offseason, as there are many things to look forward to.
Here is what Tampa Bay has going for them in 2012, and what they could do to start on the road to success.
Salary Cap/Free Agency
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Not knowing what the salary cap is going to be for 2012, there is no real way to plan a course of what most teams are going to do once free agency starts.
Tampa Bay, on the other hand, is going to have a TON of cap space regardless of what the final number is, as their top 51 contracts are valued at $92.7 million. This gives them more money than every team in the NFL except the Cincinnati Bengals.
With the new CBA rules, Tampa is going to have to start using that cap space, and bring in some quality players to turn the franchise around.
This year, with the restricted free agency hassle from last year cleared up, looks to be the best free agency possibly ever in the NFL.
With over $30 million in cap space, Tampa could close the gap between them and the other teams in the NFC. For that kind of money, you could sign two quality starters on both the offense and the defense.
Here is who Tampa should consider bringing on board.
Mario Williams (Texans) DE - Mario Williams could be the best free agent not only this year, but ever. He brings a presence to a defensive line (4-3) and could bring the experience to get the young Buccaneer line to be one of the best in the league.
Cortland Finnegan (Titans) CB - With Ronde Barber at the end of his career, and Aqib Talib in legal trouble as well, Finnegan would be an upgrade over both of them. With shut down ability even against the run, Finnegan could bring an attitude to the Bucs secondary.
Vincent Jackson (Chargers) WR - Big, fast and strong. With Jackson finally escaping the purgatory that was the San Diego Chargers, he'll finally be able to go to the team of his choosing. Jackson would make Josh Freeman a lot better, and give all the NFC South teams headaches.
Peyton Hillis (Browns) RB - Yes, Hillis and the Browns had issues in 2011. Hillis needs a new start, and Tampa would be the perfect place. He is a throw back player, and would remind Bucs fans of Mike Alstott.
These players would move Tampa's defense to one of the best in the league, and could make their offense a threat to put a LOT of points on the board.
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The NFL draft is the way most of the successful teams build their teams. Look at teams like the Steelers, Patriots, Packers and Giants. They're the four participants in the last two Super Bowls, and you can see that the majority of their players were drafted, and not picked up in free agency.
Yes, this may seem like it contradicts what the last slide said, but when you have the type of cap room Tampa has, if you choose wisely, then adding free agents, especially some of the best in the NFL, could be a great idea.
Any team in the NFL that is picking in the top half of the draft has to be successful with their pick—especially in the first round.
The difference between good teams, great teams and elite teams, are success in rounds 2-4 (great) and 5-7 (elite). The NFL draft is the way many of the successful teams are built.
Drafting Dre Kirkpatrick is almost a lock for the Bucs, and it would be a great selection. Tampa needs to find players in the second and third rounds, ones who fit the system and fill a position of need.
Round 2: Zac Brown, OLB out of North Carolina would be a solid selection at the top of Round 2. He is a quality player, and fits a need for the Bucs.
Round 3: Chris Rainey, WR/RB/ST out of Florida is the type of player who can make something happen any time the ball is in his hands. Rainey could be the field position changer Tampa has never had.
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The New Orleans Saints were the division winners of the NFC South last year, but they are going to have a very difficult time repeating those actions.
The Atlanta Falcons have a great QB themselves. Well, a good QB. The Falcons are very much like Matt Ryan. Sometimes they are good, and sometimes they are great.
Other times they are just flat out bad.
Oh, the trendy pick that is the Panthers. Everyone is high on Cam Newton, and he is playing better than anyone thought he would. He is also entering his second season, and no longer playing the fourth place schedule.
Not only that, the Panthers roster has more holes than a round of swiss cheese at Mickey Mouse's house.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The NFC South will play the AFC West, which is the weakest division BY FAR in the AFC. They also play the NFC East. With the exception of the Super Bowl Champion Giants, every team in that division have spent seasons underachieving.
With this schedule, if Tampa splits their division games with the Saints, Falcons and Panthers, they should be able to win no less than nine games, which could get them into the playoffs.
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One of the biggest things missing from the Buccaneers is leadership.
Someone on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball need to step up and take the leadership role on. Ronde Barber is too old and may be gone, so if they sign one of my suggestions, they may be the player to take over on the defense.
Josh Freeman, on the other hand, needs to step up and become the leader of the offense.
I think Freeman has the potential to be someone like a Ben Roethlisberger. He is big, and has the ability to make plays on the run with both his legs and arm. No, he is not as good as breaking tackles as Big Ben, but there is no reason he does not make more plays.
As stated before, if he were to have more weapons, then Freeman could probably put up numbers similar to Roethlisberger.
Solid Coaching Moves
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Tampa Bay has not had the greatest run with head coaches. They let a great one (Tony Dungy) get away, they let a good one (John Gruden) leave as well.
Even this year, they had an extremely difficult time finding a coach, but now that they have their staff in place, the owners need to do what has to be done to let these men be successful.
Tampa Bay has a Lombardi Trophy in their case, so they already have what many teams only dream about.
They are now getting the pieces in place to make a legitimate run at another one.
But, that road to success HAS to start NOW. Tampa has the tools and ammunition to go out and transform their team into what they need to be. It is just these few moves, and Tampa could be hoisting Lombardi No. 2.