Younger is better.
This seems to be the new motto of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers just over a month into the off-season. Management in Tampa has been making several unexpected moves in what appears to be a conscious and cognizant effort to get younger.
Starting from the top, the Bucs replaced Head Coach Jon Gruden and General Manager Bruce Allen with two men, both shy of 40 years old, who will be stepping into uncharted waters in their new positions.
Raheem Morris was appointed the new head coach of the Buccaneers and at 32 will become the youngest man in his position. Morris, who has already been referred to as a “player’s coach,” spent two seasons as the Bucs defense backs coach, and a few weeks as the defensive coordinator as Monte Kiffin was on his way out the door.
Morris was a large reason why the Bucs had the top pass defense in the league in ’07, moving up 18 spots from the previous year. His fiery and energetic coaching style, along with his ability to relate to players, has many Bucs excited about his move to the top.
Mark Dominik, the Bucs director of pro personnel for the past eight seasons, was promoted to the newly vacant GM position in Tampa. Dominik has come in saying he will immediately strengthen the offensive side of the ball by adding as many productive and proven players as he can.
In his short stint as GM, Dominik has already gotten the wheels moving with several key personnel changes.
The youth movement really got underway when the Bucs decided to part ways with some of their oldest, yet most proven players. Last week, the team cut 32-year-old Ike Hilliard, 34-year-old Warrick Dunn, 37-year-old Joey Galloway, and 35-year-old, 11-time Pro Bowler Derrick Brooks.
The four former first round draft picks all contributed in the ’08 campaign and many thought they still had some gas left in the tank. The Bucs though decided not to hold on to their fading stars in the vicious “What have you done for me lately?” league.
The moves were made to make room for younger free-agent signings, and the team did just that in the days following.
Free agent wide receivers Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton were re-signed and a piece of the Giants' unbelievable running back tandem, “Wind” Derrick Ward, was brought in to carry the load at running back.
Ward surpassed 1,000 yards in less than 200 carries last year, averaging 5.6 yards a touch. His addition should bring a huge spark to the Bucs ground game as well as downplay the late season injury suffered by running back Cadillac Williams.
Along with the young free agent signings, the Bucs also decided to hit the trade market snatching up 25-year-old tight end Kellen Winslow from Cleveland.
The oft-injured and hot-headed Winslow seems to have been immediately put into his place by Coach Morris and just wants to be “a piece of the puzzle” in Tampa.
The truth is though, Winslow, when healthy, is hardly just a piece to the puzzle. He is a dangerous target who can explode for a big play on any given down.
The improved receiving corps and promising new tailback are the first of what appears to be many moves the Buccaneers are looking to make this off season.
With the most cap room of any team in the NFL don’t be surprised to see the team make more splashes into the free agency pool and on the trading blocks, and don’t be surprised if those players continue to get younger and younger.
With currently only eight players born before 1980, excluding kickers and punters, the Bucs are quickly transforming from one of the NFL’s oldest teams to one of the youngest.
The youthfulness on the field and within the coaching staff should create a rejuvenated atmosphere and electrifying spark to a team that was all but deflated down the stretch last season.
The questions are endless, but one thing can be sure, these young bucks will be ready to run in ’09.