Charting A New Course II: Get An Identity

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers haven’t had sustained success in the regular season in over 10 years. Let that sink in. Recently, I took a look at one of the big reasons the team has come up short in the win column. Today, I’m digging a little deeper into how our BUCS have lost half the battle well before they’ve even taken the field.

It’s been 17 years since our BUCCANEERS franchise won its 1st and only Lombardi trophy. 13 seasons have passed since the last playoff appearance. Some of those have been damn near unbearable. The 2009 and 2014 campaigns were the worst in regards to the Win/Loss record as the team went 3-13 and 2-14 respectively.

For me, the most gut-wrenching seasons were the ones that came after having relatively successful ones. After the 2010 season that saw our squad go 10-6 and narrowly miss the playoffs partially due to some tomfoolery in Detroit, we went 4-12 the following season. Uggh. And then we followed the 9-7 season of 2016 with a 5-11 disappointment. Every time we thought the Team was turning the corner and we got that walking on Cloud 9 feeling, we got slapped back to reality(insert Eminem lyrics or if you’re old enough, Soul II Soul).

A huge part of these long stretches can be attributed to a lack of foresight by the front office. A lack of vision for building the Team has haunted us. The Team hasn’t had a real identity since 2008. For 14 years prior, the Buccaneers were a defensive team. No doubt about it. It was the calling card of the team many of us knew and loved. It was the most dominant the side of the ball. No matter what, people knew the defense was gonna show up and show out. At the very least, that was the expectancy. More often than not, the defense most definitely showed up. From 1995 to 2001, the defense was ranked Top 10(Points Against) a total of 6 times. They did something well. And they kept doing it over and over.

It’s my belief that you are what you do consistently. That’s your identity. I also strongly believe there’s no better way to set yourself up for consistency in the NFL than to build through the draft while having a clear goal in mind. Having young talent at a relatively low cost for 4 seasons is the best way to set a foundation. Let’s take a look at how the draft was once used to shape the vision of the BUCS recently.

“Know, first, who you are, and then adorn yourself accordingly.”

Epictetus

While the draft has always been a bit of a crap shoot when it comes to the ultimate outcome of prospects, the rule in any lottery still holds true: The more chances you have, the better the odds of hitting on one. When it comes to the NFL, the more you invest in a unit or a position, the better the chances of it becoming a strength. Conversely, if a team doesn’t invest in enough viable options at a position, they’re likely to suffer the consequences. Consequences which include overpaying free agent rentals and a lack of depth until they come full circle and end up right back to the draft. It’s a vicious cycle as this could also lead to a team overdrafting at a position.

Rich McCay and Tony Dungy seemingly had a clear goal in mind when it came to building their team. They wanted to be a defensive team. Dungy likely drew on his past experiences of being with a dominant Pittsburgh Steelers defense. The investment in the defensive line was paramount as it set the foundation of a dominant defense for years to come. The secondary was also regularly invested in with high draft picks. Over seven years, five 2nd or 3rd Round picks went to the ensure the defense was solid on the back end. This helped give the BUCS its biggest turnaround in franchise history.

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” One consequence of trying to change your identity is losing an identity altogether.”

Pinnacle

Jon Gruden had an entirely different approach. He was believed to be an offensive innovator. His approach to building the team through the draft reflected this. Under Gruden and General Manager Bruce Allen, it looked as though the goal was to make the offense as notable as the defense. It was like Gruden was trying to validate the notion of his being an offensive genius. Yet, there was never anything really good about the offense that would change the perception of the team. The offense was never ranked above 18th(Points Scored). This was still closer to being a defensive team despite the heavy emphasis on molding it into something different. Once dominant in at least one area, the Team was left starving for talent on both sides of the ball.

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“Time is the enemy of identity”

 

Michael Moorcock

Enter Mark Dominik. After taking a QB with his inaugural pick as GM, he made the effort to rebuild the defense whose growth had been negated. It looked like he may have had a plan for the roster, but after ushering in two different head coaches with two very different personalities within five years, the team still wasn’t known for anything other than confusion. There was little to no time for either coach to see their respective team grow. All we know is that Raheem Morris’ team was “Youngry” for 1 season and Greg Schiano’s squads needed to have their toes on the line when he saw them. That and, well, MRSA. The team was identified as “The One With MRSA”.

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Ryan Smith, the lone pick from the 2016 draft class that even has a chance to be re-signed, is a dedicated special teams player that has switched positions 3 times since his arrival in Tampa. That’s the identity crisis of the team under Jason Licht in a nutshell. Lovie Smith. Dirk Koetter. Bruce Arians. 3 Head Coaches in 6 years with 1 Jason Licht acting as General Manager.

For the first couple seasons, it appeared to be the goal was to make the BUCS an offensive juggernaut. And that sorta made sense to try taking advantage of the recent rules changes made by the League. But much like the previous attempt to make the team more relevant on the offensive side of the ball, the defense suffered a bit. There was little balance. Four years later, the goal to be known as one of the League’s best offenses still hasn’t been recognized. The offense has been above average(Top 15) in scoring just 2 times under Licht. On the bright side, those were back-to-back seasons. That’s good for consistency sake. On the downside, they also led the League in turnovers in those seasons. F@&#!!!!!!

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I think the organization has been guilty of trying to build a narrative rather than build a Team far too often. That needs to change. Going forward, the BUCS do have a unique chance to be well balanced and even somewhat dominant. For the first time in a long while, the roster features multiple young players that can be mentioned with some of the League’s best on BOTH sides of the ball. Mike Evans(26), Ali Marpet(26),Chris Godwin(23), and O.J. Howard(25) are staples of the offense and make it one of the most potent around. The defense can boast Vita Vea(24), Carlton Davis(23), Jemel Dean(23), Sean Murphy-Bunting(22) and Devin White(21) as being some of the best young up-and-coming guys on any team. But there has got to be some foresight. There needs be a direction in which this team is heading. This Team needs to know what it wants to be.