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Bucs' problems might be just beginning

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; http://cbs.sportsline.com/nfl/story/6847730 OUCH! ÂÂÂ* Bucs' problems might be just beginning ÂÂÂ* ÂÂÂ* Nov. 19, 2003 By Pete Prisco SportsLine.com Senior Writer ÂÂÂ* If the powers that be really wanted to make the fake pirate ship in the end zone at Raymond ...

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Old 11-20-2003, 11:00 AM   #1
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Bucs' problems might be just beginning


Bucs' problems might be just beginning
Nov. 19, 2003
By Pete Prisco
SportsLine.com Senior Writer

If the powers that be really wanted to make the fake pirate ship in the end zone at Raymond James Stadium more in tune with the NFL team that calls that facility home, they'd probably be wise to add some seawater to the lower part.
Why? The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are taking on water, and could be sinking in the coming years.

We're not going to imply that the horror of the Creamsicle-colored uniforms will return, but Keyshawn Johnson might be the smartest man in Tampa today.

By telling the captain -- we all know by now that Jon Gruden has assumed that role -- that he didn't want to be with the team in 2004, Johnson was the first to abandon a sinking ship. Maybe he saw the rough waters ahead and decided he simply wanted no part of it.

His strained relationship with Gruden led to what the organization said were insubordination issues, which, in turn, led the Bucs to deactivate him Tuesday for the rest of the season.

After the season, he will be traded or released, with the latter more likely since it's doubtful anybody will give up anything, since they know Tampa Bay will have to let him go.

Even without Johnson, this season is still in the balance. Tampa Bay has six games left, one against a team with a winning record. So even at 4-6, the playoffs are a possibility.

The real problems begin in 2004.

That's when age, salary-cap problems and the possible departure of respected general manager Rich McKay could become major issues. Tampa Bay has the seventh-highest amount of salary-cap room already committed next year, and the second highest in 2005.

It won't help that Johnson will be on the books for $7.2 million in 2004, even though he won't be on the team. That means that nearly 1/10th of the projected $78.5 million cap will be going to the ghost of Johnson. Ghost to the post?

"I have no idea how they can handle that," said one NFL head coach. "That's a lot of money committed to a guy not on your roster."

But the problems are a lot more than just about Johnson. They're about a team that sold its soul to get a Super Bowl, charging up that credit card to its enjoyment but with the bills now about to come due.

What price glory?

In the case of the Bucs, it could mean some lean years.

There are those who say getting those Super Bowl rings makes that all worthwhile. The feeling here is that's indeed true. Any franchise would take one Super Bowl championship and then have to deal with the consequences of the actions taken to get there.

We've seen many a team seduced by the Super carrot, jumping to make bad deals, with the idea that one or two more players would put them over the top. They made bargains with the salary-cap devil, sacrificing the future for the now.

When the now doesn't produce the championship, that cap devil makes for some pretty tough times. And exorcizing him can be touchy.

That's what happened to the Jacksonville Jaguars. They were so sure they were close to a championship in the late 1990s that they went out and spent big money on veteran players like Bryce Paup and Carnell Lake. Those two proved to be major busts, the team never got past the AFC Championship game in 1999, and the Jags haven't had a winning season since.

At least Tampa Bay has the ring.

"I can guarantee you there are 31 other teams that would make that deal," said one NFC personnel director. "Getting the championship is worth a couple of lean years."

Tampa Bay is about to find out.

By trading away premium draft picks since 2000, including two first-round picks that year to get Johnson, the Bucs have hurt their talent pool. Tampa Bay also gave Oakland two first-round picks and two second-round picks to get Gruden.

There's no denying Gruden is one of the game's best coaches. He is a detail-oriented, hard-driven coach who can make a gourmet meal out of table scraps.

His offense is ranked seventh in the NFL, even though it doesn't have a premium back, a star receiver or an offensive line that any scout would rank in the upper half of the league. If the Bucs finish ranked in the top 10 in offense, it would be the first time since 1984. That says something about Gruden's ability.

That coaching talent is about to get tested even more. The lack of playing talent could make him start getting out of bed an hour earlier, which would get him up at about 2:17 a.m., just past closing time of some of those Tampa watering holes. How much harder can a guy work?

Tampa Bay's past four drafts, the building blocks for the next couple of seasons, have not produced. Of the 28 players picked in those four years, five started last week's game against the Packers: tackle Kenyatta Walker, fullback Jameel Cook and guard Cosey Coleman on offense and corner Tim Wansley and safety Dwight Smith on defense.

Of those five, Wansley and Cook were starting because of season-ending injuries to Brian Kelly and Mike Alstott.

Only two premium picks -- first and second rounds -- are starting, and that's Coleman (second round, 2000) and Walker (first round, 2001). Neither is going to be confused for a Pro Bowl player, either.

Tampa Bay does have a first-round pick in next April's draft, but their second-round choice will be the final payment to the Raiders for Gruden.

The Bucs have done a good job of signing free agents to fill holes, including defensive ends Simeon Rice and Greg Spires, running back Michael Pittman and wide receiver Keenan McCardell. But going that route can lead to cap problems. Draft picks have to play because they are cheap labor. They help balance the books.

A handful of players will take up the majority of the $75,789,000 in cap room the Bucs are committed to in 2003. The top 10 are:

1. Linebacker Derrick Brooks ($8.67 million);
2. Johnson ($7.2 million);
3. Brad Johnson ($6.8 million);
4. John Lynch ($6.03 million);
5. Simeon Rice ($5.5 million);
6. Ronde Barber ($4.61 million);
7. Kelly ($3.18 million);
8. McCardell ($3 million);
9. Kerry Jenkins ($2.42 million);
10. Anthony McFarland ($2.23 million)

That's $49.5 million committed to 10 players. Barring restructuring some of those deals, which has to happen, the Bucs will have less than $30 million to fill out the roster and sign practice-squad players. It doesn't help that of those 10 players, all but Barber, Kelly and McFarland will be 30 or older when he 2004 season starts.

Good luck.

Plus, Tampa Bay might not have McKay to handle the responsibility of making it all work. McKay and Gruden have been in a season-long power struggle -- one denied by both parties, but according to sources 100 percent true -- and McKay is almost certain to be working elsewhere (Atlanta) next season.

"The Johnson thing was Gruden's first move as a general manager," said one NFC personnel director.

McKay and the rest of the organization were said to also be on board with the move, although Gruden certainly led the charge to deactivate Johnson.

The next big decision will come with Warren Sapp. He is set to become an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the team can't really afford to bring him back; the talk is that it won't. Sapp is a declining player who will be 31 in December, which makes letting him go the right move.

But who replaces him?

Chartric Darby? He's a good backup, but is he ready for starting status? More proof of the talent shortage.

If Sapp's smart, he'll look to go somewhere else anyway. Keyshawn Johnson is getting seared across the league for his actions leading to his deactivation from the team.

The reality is Johnson set in motion the mechanism to be playing somewhere else in 2004. For that, he might need some applause, because he got off before the ship sunk.

[Edited on 11/20/2003 by saint5221]
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