The first wave of free agency was pretty intense. We saw Asomugha go to Philly, Ochocinco to New England, and Hasselbeck to Tennessee. So many athletes ended up in such unexpected places. Yet none of these big names found their way to Tampa.
I’ve always valued what Coach Morris and GM Mark Dominik vowed for this team. They have sworn to rebuild the Bucs from youth and the NFL Draft. They have stuck to that philosophy and it has definitely paid off. I couldn’t be more excited to see what this young team has in store for this coming season.
However, I have a great deal of concern for the Bucs. Last season, they had a fairly easy schedule. I believe it may have been to their advantage because winning certainly added to the confidence and swagger. They were just one game shy of making the playoffs and ended the season on a high note. This season may present more difficult challenges for them. They will host the Colts, Bears, Texans, and Cowboys, as well as, travel to face the Titans, and the Champs, the Packers.
Let’s not forget that they also face the Falcons and Saints twice a year, and the Panthers may surprise us with a win or two. Now, the schedule isn’t my primary concern, it’s winning within our division. That’s what gets them to the playoffs. Let’s take a look at what our divisional opponents did to prepare for this season.
The New Orleans Saints, in my opinion, had one of the best drafts in the league this year. They focused on improving their defense by drafting to defensive ends and two linebackers, and also drafted Heisman Trophy Winner of ‘09, running back Mark Ingram. With those moves alone, I knew the Saints meant business. They recently let Reggie Bush go to the Dophins, and immediately signed Darren Sproles to their roster. They resigned WR Lance Moore and S Roman Harper. Of course we’ll need to see the rookies endure some growing pains before they are a real threat, and Harper is a bit out of his prime, but they still have a complete team that is definitely a playoff contender.
The Falcons added speed to their offense in drafting WR Julio Jones and RB Jacquizz Rogers. They upgraded their pass rush with signing former Viking DE, Ray Edwards, to team up with John Abraham. They also resigned LB Stephen Nicholas and OT Tyson Clabo. There is still some uncertainty if they will resign CB Brent Grimes, but they still seem to be one of the better built teams in the league.
The Panthers have a new head coach and QB this year. Although I would have liked to see what QB Jimmy Clausen could have done for them this year, I can’t say that drafted Cam Newton was a bad choice. They resigned RB DeAngelo Williams, WR Steve Smith, and LB Jon Beason. I don’t believe that they will dominate in their division this season, but doubt has proven to be a huge driving force for change.
As for the Buccaneers, they drafted two dominate defensive ends, a good tight end to compliment Kellen Winslow, and did well in addressing their needs in other positions. I feel they had one of the best drafts this year. They resigned OG Davin Joseph, OT Jeremy Trueblood, and OLB Quincy Black. I agree that this was the priority for them in this free agency. They signed Michael Koenen, a punter from the Falcons, to upgrade their special teams unit. Outside of that, they’ve been pretty quiet in free agency. With a difficult schedule ahead, and their divisional rivals taking big steps towards solidifying their playoff hopes, I feel the Buccaneers should have been more active in free agency in order to maintain their strength within their division. Many of their young athletes have proven much in the past two seasons, but leadership and experience a veteran brings is unmatched. I truly hope the Bucs find success in their decision to stick with what they already have, yet have doubts that they will be as lucky as they were last season.