COMMENTARY | As football fans gradually transition from following March's flood of free agency to gearing up for April's draft excitement, supporters of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are forced to believe that much work remains for a rebuilding team that finished 7-9 in 2012. While last year delivered a definite touchdown through the flashy additions of Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks, and Eric Wright, general manager Mark Dominik's handling of free agency resembles a punt in 2013.
Signing of Dashon Goldson
The signing period got off to a solid start, however, with the club landing two-time Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson, who has spent his entire career with the San Francisco 49ers. Signing the six year veteran to a healthy five year, $41.25 million contract, Dominik must be credited with obtaining a high skill player for the Bucs' needy secondary, which surrendered an NFL worst 297.4 yards per game in 2012. As arguably the most coveted defensive back in the free agent pool, Tampa Bay's inking of Goldson has been widely praised. The defender should bolster an already solid run stop and, with nine interceptions in the past two seasons, will assist the squad's bleeding pass coverage.
Yet, the offseason's prized move is not without potential pitfalls. While Goldson is clearly a worthy addition, the Bucs did shell out $22 million of guaranteed money, a commitment the 49ers were unwilling to make. Furthermore, the move likely signals the end of the 16 year run for team leader Ronde Barber. The veteran was moved to safety last season to be paired with Mark Barron, the club's top 2012 draft pick, and is unlikely to return for a role off the bench. While the Bucs understandably desired a boost in a sub-par secondary, cornerback is a far greater need and remains unaddressed. In fact, the only move of note might be addition by subtraction, with the departure of the underachieving E.J. Biggers to the Washington Redskins.
Additional Moves Seem Underwhelming
Other Tampa Bay signings include inking tight end Tom Crabtree to a two year, $1.6 million deal, linebacker Jonathan Casillas to a one year, $3 million deal, and wide receiver/kick returner Kevin Ogletree to a two year, $2.6 million contract. These reasonable additions are easy to praise, as the money involved is modest and each player offers high upside, since all three have four years experience or less. Indeed, these decisions represent the kind of under-the-radar activity that winning teams execute every spring to replenish talent and ensure continued excellence.
However, they are not the home runs that this fan-base craves. When examining Dominik's track-record, the obvious must be stated: the Bucs are not a winning team. Absent from the playoffs since 2007, the franchise has posted only a single season above .500 during the past four years. While fans concede the glory days of Super Bowl XXXVII are long gone, empty seats at Raymond James Stadium speak loudly with displeasure at the recent direction of the team. Highlighted by a dominant 1,384 yard performance by Vincent Jackson, last year's splashy signings obviously did make a difference. Apart from the early grabbing of another safety in Goldson, no move executed by the Bucs is likely to contribute in a similar manner.
Under the Salary Cap Again
Finally, no statistic further irritates this writer than the annual examination of the extent to which the Bucs reside under the league's salary cap. Even after the forced spending of the NFL's most recent collective bargaining agreement, it is obvious that ownership intends to find creative ways to save money via payroll. Accounting for the generous Goldson contract, the club still sits nearly $27 million under the salary cap, according to the Tampa Bay Times. This figure affords the Bucs some of the greatest flexibility in the entire league, which makes the lack of activity even more frustrating.
While available monies may be used towards future extensions for players like Josh Freeman or Gerald McCoy, they could be employed immediately to improve a team with numerous glaring needs. In fact, by losing both Michael Bennett and Jeremy Trueblood in free agency, those deficiencies have arguably increased during the offseason. Offensive line, defensive line, linebacker, and secondary all serve as positions of weakness that risk preventing Tampa Bay from making progress on the field in 2013.
It must be conceded that free agency has not closed and valuable assets remain on the market. Players, such as defensive ends John Abraham and Dwight Freeney, offensive tackles Eric Winston and Bryant McKinnie, and cornerbacks Brent Grimes and Nnamdi Asomugha, are all big-name free agents, capable of injecting veteran leadership at needy positions. Tampa Bay certainly possesses the financial ability to sign one or more of these stalwarts and such potential moves would prove popular. The Bucs have time to act, but as the draft nears and their roster remains unchanged, disgruntled supporters lose faith in that likelihood.
Yahoo! Sports, TampaBay.com.
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Jeff Briscoe is a writer who covers sports and more for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. A loyal Tampa Bay Bucs fan, he co-hosts the Florida-based radio show, The Sports Train.
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