How things could have been different.
Had the Jets taken Sapp at nine, then the Browns/Ravens end up with Brady as their tight end. The Buccaneers then, still looking to build that defense, draft the next defensive lineman taken, tackle Ellis Johnson out of Florida. The Bucs had a whole “Florida thing” going in this draft, which makes sense given the whole “Tampa thing.” Johnson would still have his rather unremarkable career, while Sapp flourishes in the big apple and Brady is a solid, if not unspectacular tight end for the Ravens. So where does that leave us?
For the Jets, they had made the AFC Championship game during the 1998 season (lead by Vinny Testaverde of all people) and actually held the high-powered Broncos to three field goals and two touchdowns (23 points) in a losing effort. Would adding a second-team All-Pro in Sapp change that? It’s hard to say, but it would have given them a chance. The Ravens meanwhile, without Lewis and with a tight end in place in Brady, don’t sign Shannon Sharpe in 2000, nor have a nearly as great a defense sans Lewis that year, but still, a solid one, which obviously means they don’t get to Super Bowl XXXV. Who does? The team with the best record in football that year, the Tennessee Titans, goes on to defeat the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV. Ray Lewis ends up with the 49ers, the team that originally had the pick to take him in 1996, and instead of beating the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII to retire after the 2012 season, he is with them in defeating the Ravens. Funny how things work out in the multiverse.
In the case of the Bucs, they still have a great defense, but not enough to get over the hump. Let’s be honest, Ellis Johnson was not Warren Sapp, to be kind. The Buccaneers then probably do not make the 1999 NFC Championship Game, which means the controversial Bert Emanuel play never happens, thus delaying the updating of the catch rule. This also means in 2002, Ronde Barber isn’t the one to close down the Vet, it’s the Philadelphia Eagles on their own terms, culminating in a win in Super Bowl XXXVII over the Raiders.
Speaking of the Raiders, in reality, the Ravens defeated them in the 2000 AFC Championship game, so had the Raiders gone to the Super Bowl in 2000 instead of the Titans, Jon Gruden may never have gotten traded to the Bucs in the first place.
So let’s recap. There are a plethora of directions one can go with this, and it’s truly shocking that one draft-day decision could affect the fates of so many teams and individual legacies. Had the Jets decided to draft Sapp the butterfly effect could have lead to Ray Lewis being a 49er, Steve McNair and Donovan McNabb getting Super Bowls, or perhaps Gruden winning one with the Raiders and never coming to Tampa to give Bucs fans there’s, or possibly even the Jets winning one in 1998.
The point is, the Jets passing on Warren Sapp for Kyle Brady had a HUGE impact on obviously the Buccaneers, but also the entire NFL, and it’s always fun to see what could have been. Let us know what other “what-if” scenario you’d like us to explore to see how life for Bucs fans could have been different.