4.) The Waiver Wire

Ted Larsen started 11 games for the Bucs last season.

To say that Mark Dominik will dominate today’s entries would be a bit of an understatement. We’ll start with the 4th best aspect of 2010 for the Buccaneers, their ability to utilize the waiver wire to add talent not just to the back-end of the roster, but on the field as well.

While the Bucs’ talented young GM made solid moves throughout the season, continuing to improve the bottom of the roster, it was three big waiver acquisitions that are really worth noting. Quietly at the beginning of the season, after the final roster cuts had been made and teams were attempting to sneak players on to their practice squads Mark Dominik used the team’s favorable waiver position (thanks to an abysmal 2009 record) to claim Dezmon Briscoe, Ted Larsen and LeGarrette Blount.

It’s rare to see a team snag one rookie off the waiver wire and get a contribution from them in their first year. Mark Dominik found three of them. By the end of the year he’d snagged two starters and promising back-up that made some plays when he got the chance to. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure and as Mark Dominik proved undoubtedly this season, he’s got a good eye for these things.

We’ll start with Dezmon Briscoe, the 21 year-old receiver from Dominik’s alma mater, Kansas. Briscoe was originally a Cincinnati Bengal, having been picked in the sixth round. The Bengals entered the season loaded at receiver, having signed Terrell Owens and drafted Jordan Shipley to compliment Chad Ochocinco, Andre Caldwell and the rest of the receiving corps, heck they even had Antonio Bryant (until they cut him). The team intended to stash him on the practice squad (just as the Titans and Patriots hoped to do with the other acquisitions) but the Bucs were willing to sign him to their active roster and took his rights.

This didn’t sit well with Marvin Lewis at the time, but as I said then, his comments were much ado about nothing. What Dominik did is common practice in the NFL and if a team can use a player that’s been waived (as you are when you are added to the practice squad) they can claim him. That’s what the waiver process was set up for. Dominik exploited it to perfection in 2010.

Briscoe ended up coming on strong at the tail end of the season for the Bucs, when injuries to Sammie Stroughter and Arrelious Benn tested the Bucs depth. Briscoe was active for the first time in week 16 against Seattle and hauled in 2 catches for a modest 28 yards, the following week against the Saints he added four more for 65 yards and a beautiful sideline-teetering touchdown reception.

Ted Larsen and LeGarrette Blount ended up starting for the Bucs. We detailed all that Blount accomplished yesterday. But in short, he took the Bucs run game from 27th, when he first received substantial playing time, to 8th at the end of the season. He averaged 100 yards a game the last five weeks of the season and totaled 1,007 yards and six touchdowns in just seven starts. LeGarrette Blount should have been the rookie of the year, in my opinion, and he was only available because Mark Dominik did due diligence scouting Blount in the preseason and pounced on him when the Titans waived him.

Mark Dominik understands something a lot of other GM’s don’t. When you look at a GM like Jeff Ireland working for our neighbor to the South you see him utilizing the waiver wire to pick up players he’s familiar with. Mostly ex-Cowboys he scouted under Bill Parcells in Dallas. The trouble with that is that the Cowboys were a bad team this year, so players they cut typically weren’t amongst the overlooked gems on the waiver wire.

What Dominik seems to get is that a lot of times teams with particular strengths have good players in the camp that they just don’t have a spot for. The Bengals came into the year with a very highly touted receiving corps, chances are they were going to have to let go of a good player or try to hold on to him on their practice squad. Same with the Titans and their tailbacks, the Patriots and their offensive linemen, sometimes good teams don’t have enough space for all their good players.

Take for instance Larsen, he was a sixth round pick that I’m sure would have rounded into an excellent guard for the Patriots at some point. He was a center in college though (Rimington finalist as a senior at NC State). But with the quality of the linemen they already have, they couldn’t keep him on their active roster while they brought him along and he became exposed when they made final cuts.

Dominik was savvy enough to pick him up and he ended up playing in 12 games and starting 11 of them. If you noticed, the Bucs rushing attack actually came to life when LeGarrette Blount came into the lineup (for one) but also when Jeff Faine and Jeremy Trueblood were forced out of the lineup with injuries and Larsen entered at left guard. With Jeremy Zuttah now at center, James Lee at right tackle and Larsen at left guard the line began to grind out yardage on a consistent basis.

How many other teams can say that? After starting the season averaging just 2.5 yards per carry, the Bucs popped two rookies they claimed off waivers into the line-up and finished the season in the top ten in the NFL in rushing. That’s value. The Bucs spent a first round pick on Gerald McCoy, an incredibly talented player, but I really couldn’t argue that McCoy had a better rookie season than either Blount or Larsen. All three made significant contributions. Two just came a whole lot cheaper.

And that’s one of the reasons Mark Dominik should be the NFL executive of the year.

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