The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been uncharacteristically active in free agency the last three offseasons agreeing to deals totaling more than $402 million and taking steps to drastically change the perception of their franchise in the process.
What was once an organization notorious for their frugality has suddenly become a team known for doling out large wads of cash every March.
Yet, despite their string of spring splurges, the franchise is no better off today than it was the day it fired Raheem Morris. The Buccaneers have compiled an 11-21 record since letting Morris go and have recently hired their third head coach in four seasons.
Their latest free agency haul boasts two defensive lineman, a defensive back, an offensive tackle, a tight end and a journeyman quarterback. New general manager Jason Licht even went on to say on the Booger & Rich radio show Wednesday afternoon that the team is "not done" being active in free agency this year.
Which tells me Licht has either chosen to ignore the failed signings of years past and continue full steam ahead, or worse yet, thinks he has figured out something his predecessor Mark Dominik failed to.
This, in spite of strong evidence suggesting the quickest way out of football purgatory isn't via free agency as some of Dominik's failed signings have shown.
Cornerbacks Eric Wright ($37.5 million) and Darrelle Revis ($96 million) have both come and gone. Guard Carl Nicks ($47.5 million) has played sparingly due to season-ending injuries in each of the first two seasons and safety Dashon Goldson ($41.25 million) found himself on the wrong end of costly penalties all too often last season.
In fact, out of all of Dominik's deals, the lone bright spot has been wide receiver Vincent Jackson ($55.5 million), who has hauled in 150 receptions for 2,608 yards and 15 touchdowns in his two seasons since signing with Tampa Bay.
Sure, the signings have all but silenced the naysayers who linked the Glazer family acquisition of Manchester United to a lack of spending stateside. Further, the big money deals have shown effort and a by-any-means-necessary approach the team largely lacked for nearly a decade.
But how far does simply trying get anyone in the NFL? Sooner or later, all of the roster moves, coaching shake-ups and promises of a better tomorrow have to come to fruition. Before too long, the conveyor belt currently cutting through 1 Buccaneer Place, has to come to a stop.
How many more losing seasons and missed playoff appearances do the Bucs expect their fans to put up with? How many more failed signings, introductory press conferences and top-10 draft choices should they be forced to endure?
In short, when will all of the upheaval pay off?
You see, that is truly Licht and Smith's biggest challenge moving forward—putting an end to the turmoil and uncertainty that has hovered over this franchise since it's Super Bowl championship 12 seasons ago.
For what it's worth, Licht and Smith appear to have a well thought out plan in place. They opted to part ways with Revis and his $16 million annual salary, and using the same allotted money, sign three players—Michael Johnson, Clinton McDonald and Brandon Myers—to deals that account for around $13 million this season.
Smart, sound and savvy, sure, but only time will tell if letting arguably the best cornerback in the game simply walk away was a mistake.
Do Licht and Smith deserve the benefit of the doubt? For now, of course. But as we've seen quite a bit around the Tampa Bay organization, those good graces only last so long. This is a results-driven business, and the men in charge understand that. You either thrive and survive, or you fail your way out of a job.
To be fair, Dominik didn't have much of a choice but to spend money, because the roster wasn't exactly bursting at the seams with talent.
Which, coincidentally enough, highlights the root of the issue at hand—all of the turnover, all of the big signings and false promises of tomorrow can be traced back to their relatively dreadful draft classes of the past decade, some of which were orchestrated by Dominik and his scouting department.
It also points to where, if I were Licht, I would be putting a particular emphasis moving forward: scouting and developing.
You see, had Bruce Allen and Jon Gruden drafted better, one could argue Dominik wouldn't have had to spend so lavishly to make up for the lack of talent. The same can be said about Dominik and how much Licht and Smith are having to account for a general lack of depth and talent on this roster.
Look, I'm not pretending the job of general manager is easy. In fact, it's largely based upon a certain degree of guessing and projecting how well a player or players will develop or fit in. It's an inexact science, and those who attempt to master it often fail miserably, so I respect the fact Licht is willing to give it a shot.
That said, while a lot of the nitty gritty stuff of being a GM involves dealing with the unknown, what it ultimately boils down to is rather simple: winning. You either win and are revered, or you fail to win and are reviled.
For what it's worth, I'm sure Bucs fans want Licht and Smith to succeed. They're tired of wondering about what could've been, where it all went wrong and who was to blame. They're sick of observing meaningless December games and watching the playoffs without a rooting interesting.
But most of all, Bucs fans just want something to be proud of, something they can brag to their friends and coworkers about.
Give them 21 points and a dominant defense.
Give them excitement and relevance.
Give them a fighting chance.
Come to think of it, is that really too much to ask?
J.J. Rodriguez can be reached via email at BRJJRodriguez@gmail.com
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