No one member of the Buccaneers is to blame alone for the disaster 2017 has been. Many things went wrong in this year’s unraveling. However, there are certain things and players whose absence in 2018 can help get the team back on track.
One of those players, is Buccaneers freshman Chris Baker. Or ‘Swaggy’ as he’s called.
Baker was one of the more entertaining personalities on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” this season, but there was an eerie premonition to all of it. The fact he was known for being a guy who didn’t give maximum effort in practices is a problem.
For the life of me, I’ll never understand why NFL teams continue to pay big salaries for players known to have a questionable work ethic.
However, I can’t totally fault Jason Licht here. He’d had the same reputation as a member of the Redskins and still churned out more than ten sacks during three seasons primarily spent as a starter.
Hind sight being 20/20, putting a veteran player with a less than serious approach to the game on a team with a very young nucleus, is a bad thing.
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Then there’s the thought process of how players are valued by their former franchises. The Redskins never offered Baker an extension.
Remember when John Elway didn’t really try to bring back Brock Osweiler? See how that worked?
The same could be said of the Redskins approach to Baker. Granted, the Broncos haven’t exactly found their franchise quarterback since allowing Osweiler to get overpaid elsewhere, but they also didn’t overpay the player themselves.
Washington decided to with a combination of Terrell McClain and Stacy McGee instead of retaining Baker. The duo have combined for two sacks with both coming from McClain.
In the process, they are paying more combined for the combination of McClain and McGee, but they’re also getting better production on paper.
Take this with a grain of salt, stats don’t tell everything.
Attitude, leadership, and influence on others is arguably more important than pure stats. Which is why Gerald McCoy continues to be one the greatest players ever to don a Buccaneers uniform.
McCoy’s stats don’t leap of the page when you think of a guy steadily becoming one of the best to play the game. His influence does though.
You’d be hard pressed to find a smarter defensive player on the field of play any week the Bucs take the field.
Tampa Bay fielded the eighth youngest NFL roster in 2016. In 2017, they jumped to the 21st youngest. Adding free-agents like Baker, DeSean Jackson and T.J. Ward accomplished this feat. With veteran addition, you expect some sort of impact beyond the field.
This is where Baker is lacking the most. Leadership, poise, and influence.
At no time has this been more evident than the final moments and immediate moments following the loss to Carolina.
On fourth down, with just 45 seconds remaining in the game, the Bucs had a victory just three yards away. Hold the Panthers to less than that on the play, and its game over.
McCoy, in his usual manner, is talking to his teammates. Providing purpose, direction, and motivation. Oh, and intelligence. His words to Baker, warning of a hard count from the quarterback, and not to jump.
The actions: Baker jumped.
"“I just had a mental error, because right before the snap, Gerald and the other guys told me to be alert for the hard count and I just got anxious and made a bad play.”"
Those were the words coming from the 30-year old nine-year veteran. This wasn’t a bad play. It wasn’t a play at all. It’s a dead ball foul. Meaning nothing was happening, except for you, being anxious.
Plays like this one are unacceptable. They’re exacerbated by the fact it came from a player who came in with a reputation centered on his lack of mental dedication, and perpetuated by a coaching culture which allowed it to continue.
It all came to a head in the locker room.
I don’t know exactly what was said, but whatever happened led to the franchise quarterback exchanging words with Baker, leading to linebacker Kwon Alexander hurling expletives at the defensive tackle, and Lavonte David essentially breaking the whole thing up to prevent further escalation.
Ladies and gentlemen, that’s a 23-year old quarterback addressing a 30-year old defensive player, being supported in the act by a 23-year old defensive player, leading to intervention by a 27-year old Pro Bowl talent.
The youth is not the issue. The veteran is.
Fans of this franchise have long criticized players like McCoy for shaking hands and taking smiling photos with opponents following losses.
It’s time to care about what really counts. Leadership and accountability. McCoy may shake hands with his opponents, but he takes every loss personally and works harder than just about anyone in One Buc to make sure he gets better every day.
Baker is not only sand-bagging in practice, but he’s laughing about losses, ignoring multiple teammates calls on defense, and drawing the ire of his younger teammates in the process.
Let’s get serious Bucs fans. Swaggy’s a joke, and it’s gotten old.
Bottom line is this. If the Buccaneers are going to get serious about winning, they need to build a roster of players who make winning their business.