TAMPA, Fla. – The hope to move beyond a forgettable season in the secondary sat between his new franchise’s brain trust, fitted with a red-and-pewter cap, offering themes common for this time of year. Promise. Optimism. Potential. Visions of a large stride ahead.
As six-year safety Dashon Goldson spoke Wednesday afternoon at One Buccaneer Place – fresh off agreeing to a reported five-year, $41.25 million deal – the presence of the two-time Pro Bowl player marked both a beginning and an end. There, between coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik, sat what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers envision to be an answer to move past their pass-defense woes from a year ago. There, less than a day after stepping off a private jet sent to California to secure his services, sat what the Bucs picture to be a physical solution for their future.
Will Goldson’s reputation as a grinder raised within the San Francisco 49ers translate to Raymond James Stadium? Will he help change the course of a dreadful pass defense that ranked last in the NFL in 2012 by allowing 297.4 yards per game? Will he, as Dominik hinted, fill highlight tapes for seasons to come with an aggressive style that gifted him with an appropriate nickname, “The Hawk”?
The reality: There’s no answer. This is March’s tease, free agency’s temptation. This is a time for lofty visions, best-case scenarios and money earned, not production to be gained.
Still, Goldson is a good place for the Bucs to start in their attempt to patch a woeful pass defense, the main reason why they missed the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season last year. Will the fit prove snug? For now, it seems right.
“I was sitting down with my agent trying to figure out what was my correct fit, just to my style of play, my mind-set.” Goldson said. “Tampa came on my radar. I was fortunate to see a couple of games and their style of play. I fit well in this scheme. I think this is a good opportunity, and this team is definitely on the upcoming.”
This announcement lacked the fireworks of the Bucs’ news conference a year ago at this time that introduced guard Carl Nicks, wide receiver Vincent Jackson and cornerback Eric Wright. Still, Goldson’s addition is no less key. Tampa Bay has shown an ability to move forward in free agency with an “all-in” approach – they used the same private-jet courtship on the trio from last year – and so far Bucs leadership has corralled top targets.
It’s easy to see why they coveted Goldson, the free-agent market’s top safety. The former fourth-round pick – 126th overall – from Washington has 443 tackles, 14 interceptions, five forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries for his career. He became a vital part of a 49ers secondary that sought to intimidate opponents under Jim Harbaugh. After their slide against the pass last season, the Bucs would be wise to introduce similar attitude that Goldson employed to find success on the West Coast. Dominik, for his part, revealed that the Bucs inquired about trading for Goldson last season.
Along the way, Goldson will serve as a mentor at his new home. He’ll work alongside Mark Barron, a promising safety from Alabama who had 89 tackles and one interception as a rookie last year. Goldson has already scouted the young player, calling him a “young stud” and saying that his veteran influence “can definitely help mold (Barron) into the guy that he wants to be.”
“It was definitely high on the list,” Schiano said of finding help for the safety spot. “As you go into the year, you look at the whole team. There are things that every football team needs. But that was one at the top of the list – shoring up our pass defense. This guy is going to help do that.”
In the process, though, Goldson’s arrival could mean the end of 16-year veteran Ronde Barber’s time in Tampa Bay. Barber moved to safety last season after spending his career at cornerback, but he’ll likely be asked to take on a reserve role if he returns. A free agent himself, Barber has considered retirement, but nothing about his future has been decided.
“We’re going to wait and see what Ronde feels,” Schiano said. “Obviously, that’s been a thing we’ve talked about. But as (Dominik) said, this is Dashon’s day.”
It was Goldson’s day – a time to consider what could be in a month of new beginnings – though it was also the Bucs’ moment to move past the shadow of 2012. The newest Buccaneer turned emotional behind the microphone late in the event, calling his journey to this point “rocky.” He shared a memory of signing himself up to play football as a young boy, against his mother’s wishes and without her knowledge for “a couple weeks.” Years later, he has become one of the most coveted defensive talents in his game.
“Here’s a guy who has earned every penny he’s ever earned – the right way, doing it the hard way and doing it right,” Dominik said.
Promise. Optimism. Potential.
Will the fit work? For the Bucs, there’s nowhere to go but up.