Tampa Bay, for a long time, was a destination for free agent athletes looking for a big pay day, no state taxes, and a beach. The Bucs and Lightning are starting to prove that Tampa Bay is a city built for winning.
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Doug Martin had a huge year for the Bucs and, in March, he turned that into a five year, $35.75 million dollar contract with $15 million guaranteed. The Bucs were also able to sign Brent Grimes, a pro bowl cornerback to a two year, $13.5 million dollar deal with $7 million guaranteed. Add in free agents J.R. Sweezy and Robert Ayers and the Bucs appear to be supplementing positions of need with high quality free agents who understand what the Buccaneers are trying to accomplish under the new regime.
Fast forward to June. The top free agent in hockey was Lightning center Steven Stamkos. You had the Detroit Red Wings clearing cap space to make a run at him and it seemed the odds on favorite to land him was his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs. Instead, Stamkos signed an eight year, $68 million dollar contract to remain in Tampa Bay. The following day, the Lightning locked up Viktor Hedman and Andrei Vasilevskiy to deals before they reached free agency and were likely coveted by teams trying to make Stanley Cup Championship runs.
But what do those two have to do with each other?
Quite simply, it shows the tide is turning in Tampa Bay. For long stretches, especially recently, it seemed these big named, high price free agents were looking for a fat pay day and great weather. They would take advantage of the lack of state income tax and coast once they received their check. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be a multi-millionaire on a beach, a ninety-minute drive to Disney World or Universal Studios? That’s the perfect life for a pro athlete with a family.
That no longer seems to be the case. These players, whether it’s the Bucs or the Bolts, are coming to these teams with the desire to win. They know that Tampa, aside from all the perks mentioned, is a place where professional teams are building to win championships. Yes, plural. The Rays are in a rebuilding process, but it seems unlikely they’ll be down for long. They have a tendency to, despite playing in a league with no salary cap and facing high spending powerhouses like the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, find a way to do it their way. They contend in the division, and make the playoffs, with a quarter of the payroll. Give it a little more time, Rays fans, and you’ll be part of this magic.
We’ve talked about the “Jameis Winston Effect” for the Bucs and how that impacts free agency, not to mention the attitude and atmosphere inside One Buc Place. For the Bolts, it appears to be the “Stevie Y Effect”, where players know this guy knows how to build a team – for the present or future – and it’s a place where they want to go to win championships.
Say what you will about Pittsburgh or Boston being “the city of champions”, or the curse the city of Cleveland just snapped in the most unlikely of ways. The truth of the matter is, Tampa Bay sports matters. It’s on the cusp of championship glory with the Bolts, the pieces are falling into place for the Buccaneers to become competitive and regain the glory days of the late 90’s-early 2000’s.
Tampa Bay, once again, will become a city of champions.