There’s one thing that’s a definite about the Tampa Bay regime under new head coach Lovie Smith: This team is going to be assembled Lovie’s way, and the game is going to played Lovie’s way. The Buccaneers franchise is going to move forward with his fingerprints and DNA all over it, and it’s going to look dynamically different in Tampa than the Raheem Morris or Greg Schiano years.
It’s only taken two days of free agency to see this is true.
The Bucs have moved through the first two days of free agency not just like a team that finished 4-12 last season and must improve, Tampa Bay is adding players—and releasing some—as if its franchise was dependent on improving, or else.
The franchise isn’t going anywhere—win or lose—but it’s high time for Tampa Bay to get back to its winning ways of the late '90s.
From 1997 to 2002, Tampa Bay never endured a losing record; five times in six seasons the Bucs went to the playoffs. The 2002 season was capped by the Bucs winning Super Bowl XXXVII.
In the 11 seasons since, the Bucs have enjoyed only four winning seasons and gone to the playoffs twice. Their 76-103 record since 2002 is only overshadowed in a horrible way by the combined record of 28-52 under Morris and Schiano and a six-year playoff drought since 2007.
Smith is in town to fix this, and he’s off to a resounding start.
The first order of business was for Smith and the Tampa Bay brass to agree that cornerback Darrelle Revis wasn’t right for this team, and that was a tough and mostly unpopular decision.
Darrelle Revis is 28-year-old CB who, when healthy, is among 5 most dominant defensive players in the NFL. And Lovie Smith wants rid of him.— David Haugh (@DavidHaugh) March 11, 2014
Revis, a top-five cornerback according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), excels at man coverage. Smith wants to run a Tampa 2, which Revis isn’t suited well for. Instead of paying Revis $16 million, the Bucs released the cornerback on Wednesday.
Before the team let Revis go, the Bucs signed his replacement on Tuesday: cornerback Alterraun Verner, formerly of the Tennessee Titans. The move to bring in Verner was brilliant because of Verner’s $26.5 million price tag over four years, and the fact that he’s perfectly suited for Smith’s Tampa 2. He was also the fourth-ranked cornerback in the league last season, according to Pro Football Focus, and he’s just 25 years old and entering the prime of his career.
Smith replaced Revis with Verner, got younger and spent much less money. And the drop-off in skill might not be noticed one bit. There might not even be a drop-off.
Tampa Bay also added a pass-rusher in Michael Johnson, formerly of the Cincinnati Bengals. Johnson, who is only one year removed from an 11.5-sack season, is going to give the Bucs a push from the defensive end position and be able to attack opposing quarterbacks.
A rabid pass rush is an absolute necessity for a Tampa 2 defense to work, and Smith made sure he got a pass-rush specialist who could get after the quarterback without blitzing.
Filling holes that absolutely had to be filled, Tampa Bay added tight end Brandon Myers, who is coming off a down year with the New York Giants but has pass-catching upside is used properly, and defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, who brings with him to Tampa a cap-friendly contract and the experience and know-how that a Super Bowl win the previous year can instill.
Possibly the biggest move of the first two days for Tampa Bay, and a move that oozed with Smith’s influence, was the signing of quarterback Josh McCown from the Chicago Bears.
McCown threw for 1,829 yards last season filling in for Jay Cutler and tossed 13 touchdown passes and only one interception. He also was the backup quarterback for the Bears in 2011 and 2012 during Smith’s final two seasons with the Bears.
Smith knows McCown and knows what he can do. And as soon as McCown was added to the Bucs roster, Smith was asked if the news Bucs' passer would be elevated to the top spot on Tampa Bay’s depth chart, according to Gary Shelton of the Tampa Bay Times:
"Yes, it is. We'll have a starting rotation at every position, and you have to have a certain level of play to stay there. But there has to be a starting spot, a starting point, a starting person to go out there first. And that will be Josh."
So, what about Mike Glennon?
Glennon will return to a backup role, the spot he filled for the first three games of the 2013 season while Josh Freeman floundered his way out of a job and off Tampa Bay’s roster. Glennon may have to fend off other competition too.
At the NFL combine, Smith said that if the right quarterback fell to the Bucs in the first round of the NFL draft in May, Tampa Bay would have to consider using that early-round pick on a passer, according to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times:
"I know enough about that draft to know, yeah, there’s someone that would be worthy of the seventh pick because everything is on the board right now. Whenever you have a chance to get a franchise quarterback, you have to consider that."
This could be another Smith move.
Glennon isn’t Smith’s quarterback; he was Schiano’s guy. If Smith can bring in McCown—a guy he trusts—to run Tampa Bay’s offense for a few years as sort of a bridge to get to this unnamed franchise quarterback, that’s what Smith is going to do.
The move to bring in McCown is further evidence that Smith wants every aspect of this team to reflect him. And if Glennon falls farther down the depth chart after the Bucs draft another quarterback, well that’s Smith’s decision too.
Remember, Glennon isn’t Smith’s guy.
Also remember that Smith is under some intense pressure to win—and do so quickly.
Lovie Smith was fired after winning 10 games with Bears. Could see him doing that first year with Bucs. Not expecting Jerry Angelo to join— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) January 2, 2014
If the first two days of decision-making transactions are any indication, Smith will have this Buccaneers ship headed back in a winning direction quickly.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.
Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of “100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die.” Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.