The Bucs have among the lowest payrolls in the NFL. They have not been players in free agency.
Blame it on a series of poor drafts. That's what team co-chairman Joel Glazer believes.
Whether you agree with his theory or not, it's hard to deny his basic premise that the team has drafted so poorly in recent years, there's been very few -- if any -- players worthy of re-signing to large contracts.
Take a look at the numbers.
The only player remaining on the Bucs' roster from the 2004 draft is Michael Clayton, the team's first-round pick whose career has gone south since his rookie year. The Bucs did re-sign Clayton last year to a five-year, $24 million contract with $10 million guaranteed. But he rewarded them with just 16 receptions in 2009.
That was the first draft under general manager Bruce Allen. The 2005 draft wasn't much better, netting only two starters from 13 picks -- Cadillac Williams and Barrett Ruud -- and no backups. Two are with other teams and nine of those players are out of the NFL.
Guard Davin Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood are the only starters remaining from the 2006 draft. From 11 draft choices, there's one backup, one player with another team and seven who are out of the league.
How about 2007? That was the Gaines Adams draft. Only three starters remain -- Tanard Jackson, Quincy Black and Sabby Piscitelli. Of the 10 picks, four are no longer in the NFL. Of course, 2008 netted Aqib Talib. But it also produced Dexter Jackson as a second-round pick, who was cut in training camp last August.
Without calling them out by name, Glazer placed the blame at the feet of Allen and Jon Gruden, who controlled the draft from 2004-08.
"We endured a lot of criticism many years ago in that journey to get there (to the Super Bowl)," Glazer said. "That's fine. We'll do what's best. A lot of people can't handle criticism. A lot of people react to the press. We're used to it and sometimes that's leadership, to be able to take it on, fight through it and lead."
To be fair, college scouting director Dennis Hickey still is with the club, as are many of the scouts. Time will tell whether general manager Mark Dominik, who was part of those past draft failures, too, and Raheem Morris got it right in 2009.
That's why the 2010 NFL Draft in April is so critical for the Bucs. They have 11 choices, including three of the top 42. At No. 3 overall, they should get an impact player who should be a solid player for 10 years.
"You're talking about a guy that's exciting, a guy that's going to run out the tunnel, that's going to contribute to your football team immediately," Morris said. "He'll have his ups and downs. He'll go through his rookie woes, but those are the things you look forward to as a coach, those are the things you're challenged by. You don't want to be in this position a lot but when you are you have to take advantage of it.
Josh Freeman isn't sounding like a second-year quarterback.
He isn't working like one, either.
Freeman has been a fixture at One Buc Place in the offseason, lifting, running and throwing on a daily basis with lots of film study mixed in, too.
Asked about his expanded role in 2010, in which he'll be the starter from Day 1, Freeman said, "I'm taking it very seriously. ... This year it's my show. It's my team and I want to win. I want to get things done the right way. And I don't believe you do that by sitting around at home. I want to come in and I want to work. I want to be as well prepared as I can be and get this thing going."
Freeman looks very fit and says he weighs about 255 pounds. He has been working religiously in the weight room and it shows.
Players can't work with coaches on the field this time of year, so Freeman has taken it upon himself to organize many of the offensive throwing sessions with teammates.
"We throw every day," Freeman said. "This week is a little different. We're watching a lot of film, all the quarterbacks. We're trying to go over all the blitzes that gave us trouble last year and different coverages.
"Right now, this week is a big mental week. But I've been out with Maurice Stovall, Sammie Stroughter, Michael Clayton. All the guys. I think Kellen (Winslow) gets back tomorrow. I'm just trying to get a lot of work with the guys who are going to be a big part of our offense this year.
"I think it definitely shows guys that I'm serious, even though I'm young. I think I have something to prove and I think that's the attitude that the team should have."
As a rookie, Freeman played the final nine games. It was difficult for him to be the team leaders because of his experience. He finished with 10 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. But 2010 is going to be a different for Freeman and the Bucs.
"It's really hard for a rookie to be a standout leader on the team," he said. "But now that I'm in here and I got my feet wet last year, it's definitely a big point that I'm going to step up this year -- leadership."
--The Bucs have re-signed LB Angelo Crowell to a one-year deal, adding a little depth to their linebacking corps.
Meanwhile, WR Mark Bradley -- a restricted free agent who is something of a reclamation project after being acquired from Kansas City last year -- has signed his tender, which also calls for a one-year contract.
Crowell missed all of last season after he was slow to recover from a lingering knee injury then tore his biceps muscle upon his return. He was placed on injured reserve when final roster cuts were made but hoped to come back to Tampa Bay to make a legitimate effort to make the team and become a contributor.
Crowell, 28, once was a promising young player with the Bills before succumbing to a knee injury early in 2008. He underwent surgery for a lingering condition called chondromalacia (also referred to as runner's knee), which is an irritation on the bottom of the knee cap.
--Despite a lack of depth at receiver, it's not a foregone conclusion that Michael Clayton is with the Bucs in 2010.
Injuries have derailed him much of his career, but that's no longer an excuse.
"Everybody is on the bubble," Morris said. "You talk about Michael Clayton, he came in last year, you saw him in OTA days, we thought he was going to come back and have a better year. Unfortunately, he pulled a hamstring, he did this and did that ... he's going to go out there and give it his best shot.
"The guy plays so hard, he gets little nagging injuries that hurts his performance then he drops the football and absolutely pisses everybody off and all anyone remembers is the drop. I have a lot of confidence in Michael. Michael has a lot of confidence in himself. I look for him to come out and be more prepared than he was last year."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I wasn't excited building up to it and how we got there, but it's very exciting that we're there now and now we have to draft the best player, the player you think is going to contribute the most." -- Bucs coach Raheem Morris on owning the No. 3 overall pick.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Bucs traded a sixth-round pick to Philadelphia for WR Reggie Brown. They also need some safety help, having lost S Will Allen to the Steelers via free agency. They also want to create competition for starter Sabby Piscitelli.
Tampa Bay owns the third overall pick in the draft and hopes that either DTs Ndamukong Suh or Gerald McCoy is available. If not, then the Bucs will entertain offers to trade down as many teams will want to move ahead of the Redskins at No. 4 to take a quarterback. If the Bucs have to pick at No.3, they will consider Tennessee S Eric Berry or a left tackle.
1. Defensive line: The Bucs allowed nearly 160 yards rushing per game last season and plan to revamp their defensive line, most likely through the draft. Many of their 2009 starters may not return. DE Jimmy Wilkerson, an unrestricted free agent, is coming off a torn ACL. Chris Hovan is likely to be replaced by second-year pro Roy Miller, and the Bucs traded Gaines Adams to the Bears for a second-round pick. Fortunately, the draft is deep at all defensive line positions.
2. Receiver: The Bucs need some targets for second-year QB Josh Freeman. The team decided not to re-sign free agent Antonio Bryant. That leaves Sammie Stroughter, restricted free agent Maurice Stovall and underachieving Michael Clayton. Tampa Bay should come out of the draft with at least two receivers and Dez Bryant is a possibility if they trade down.
3. Offensive tackle: If you're going to have a franchise quarterback, you need a franchise left tackle. Starting tackles Donald Penn and Jeremy Trueblood are restricted free agents. Penn was miffed because the Bucs did not offer him a contract extension. Don't discount the Bucs using the No. 3 overall pick on a left tackle.
MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--S Jermaine Phillips broke his hand and finished the year on injured reserve.
--DE Jimmy Wilkerson has started at left defensive end is recovering from a torn ACL. He proved he's not an every down player.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--FB Byron Storer (not tendered as RFA) spent the year rehabbing his knee. He could be done.
--LB Rod Wilson (not tendered as RFA) is a special-teams player and backup middle linebacker.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (*indicates restricted because of uncapped year)
--*OT Donald Penn (tendered at $3.168M with first- and third-round picks as compensation) is a very capable left tackle and did his best the first weeks of 2009. But then he seemed to shut it down and gained weight.
--*LB Barrett Ruud (tendered at $3.268M with first- and third-round picks as compensation) is a solid, if not flashy middle linebacker who thrives in the current system. The Bucs would like to see more nasty in his game.
--*WR Maurice Stovall (tendered at $1.176M with third-round pick as compensation) came on late in 2009 after injuries were experienced by Michael Clayton. He's a tall, rangy receiver.
--*OT Jeremy Trueblood (tendered at $1.759M with second-round pick as compensation), as the starting right tackle, led the Bucs in penalties against last season.
--*RB Cadillac Williams (tendered at $2.299M with first-round picks as compensation) was the Bucs' most inspirational player who played in all 16 games despite tearing previously the patellar tendon in both knees.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
--WR Mark Bradley: RFA; (tendered at $1.809M with second-round pick as compensation); $1.809M/1 yr.
--LB Angelo Crowell: UFA; terms unknown.
-*LB Jon Alston: Not tendered as RFA by Raiders; terms unknown.
--WR Reggie Brown (trade Eagles).
--S Sean Jones: UFA Eagles; terms unknown.
--S Will Allen: UFA Steelers; $4.4M/3 yrs, $950,000 SB.
--P Josh Bidwell (released).
--WR Antonio Bryant: UFA Bengals; $28M/4 yrs.
--WR Brian Clark: Not tendered as RFA/Lions; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--CB Torrie Cox (released).
--P Dirk Johnson (released).
--LB Matt McCoy: Not tendered as RFA/Seahawks; terms unknown.