TAMPA, Fla. — Don’t do it. That’s the simple answer when it comes to the idea of guard Richie Incognito joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and it’s also the most realistic.
Debate about possible roster additions in the NFL, no matter the role or position, sometimes includes gray area. Players are human, after all, and environment can dictate behavior.
"Perhaps he’ll work out this time…"
"He has had issues before, but this situation can be the exception…"
"Forget the past, he’ll be different here…"
Sorry, not always. The talk of Incognito as an option for the Bucs should be a black-and-white issue, the what-if thoughts left to float throughout the Twittersphere and Tampa Bay’s airwaves without harm until they disappear for the next hot topic. That’s because adding Incognito and all the baggage he represents — a circus, a massive distraction and an all-around bad guy — would be wrong for this Bucs team at this time in Lovie Smith’s first year.
Yes, Incognito’s talent would be an upgrade over the Bucs’ current top options at guard, Oniel Cousins and Jace Daniels. No, the potential gain isn’t worth bringing him to One Buc Place, a development that would violate a standard that Tampa Bay should be about this fall: No drama, none at all, after moving beyond the Mark Dominik/Greg Schiano regime that drowned in the muck last year.
"All players that are available, we look to see if they would fit into our program," Smith said Monday, addressing the Incognito attention without naming Incognito specifically. "All players. I’ll just kind of leave it at that. If we’re really interested in someone, we’ll bring him in. So again, we’re looking at everyone constantly."
The Incognito intrigue is understood. It took all of one quarter in the Bucs’ preseason loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars last Friday to know that the Bucs have major issues on the offensive line, specifically at guard. A quick fix with the current names on roster appears out of the question.
Conveniently, Incognito is unemployed. Based on his football skill alone, which produced a Pro Bowl season in 2012 with the Miami Dolphins, he would help heal a line that has a major weakness at his position. Perhaps he could resurrect his career in Tampa, with a zero-tolerance policy in place by Smith and general manager Jason Licht. Perhaps he could make believers out of doubters. Perhaps he could start anew.
Sorry, the Bucs have no time for a character project this year.
That’s because Smith’s hire — and by extension, Licht’s addition — represents more than an organizational overhaul. The addition of both men means an about-face from everything 2013 came to represent: Not just the losing, but the off-the-field sideshows as well.
Goodbye, MRSA. Goodbye, Josh Freeman fiasco. Goodbye, everything that made a sane person ask, "Why? Why? Why?"
This franchise and its fan base don’t have time for another drama. The wounds aren’t fully gone among some. Skepticism remains until consistent winning can be delivered.
Healthy organizations don’t operate with daytime TV plotlines, and this season in Tampa should be about healing. Set the foundation for success. Pay careful attention to detail. Rinse and repeat for 2015.
Incognito could very well be a changed man if given another chance in the NFL. But he’d represent drama, something the Bucs should leave quarantined in 2013. The move to add Incognito would deliver a message that the Bucs are willing to cut corners for the sake of limited gain in the present, the outcome unknown.
Such a strategy would be wrong for a new regime that has worked to advance their franchise beyond its old era. Incognito’s addition would bring back memories of circuses and failures past.
Smith’s recent history suggests he won’t seriously consider Incognito. If the coach were willing to take headline-grabbing gambles this year, Johnny Manziel would back up Josh McCown in this training camp, not Mike Glennon.
The fact that Smith passed on Manziel with the seventh overall pick in the NFL draft hints that the coach wants sure things in a race against time to make the Bucs relevant, not could-be answers. It’s the same reason why Smith sought out McCown in free agency and refused to keep Glennon as the Bucs’ starter. Smith is savvy enough to know that each decision, no matter how small, has consequences.
"We consider everything, the total player and what he brings," Smith said Monday, speaking in generalities. "So off-the-field, on-the-field, that total package comes into play for every player that we evaluate, every player that we draft, we sign through free agency and all. And it’s very important that a player fits in the locker room. If a player doesn’t fit in the locker room, we have to go a different direction. It’s as simple as that. You have to be accepted in there."
Of course, players would defer to Smith’s judgment, a fact that makes Smith’s judgment calls all that more important.
"If he thinks the guy fits, he’ll put him in the locker room," Bucs center Evan Dietrich-Smith said, speaking in generalities. "It’s obviously not my job to put the guys in the locker room. But if they come in the locker room, I’m going to accept them with open arms and try to get to know the guy. … I don’t ever go off what the guy did. If the guy is going to come in, and he can help us win, I want to make sure I get to know the guy and get to know him for who he is."
Still, this season isn’t the time for a gamble that could become a locker-room sinking move if it goes wrong. The Incognito talk is just that for now â talk with no evidence that he’ll be seen in pewter and red any time soon.
The Bucs will be better off if Incognito finds a home elsewhere, or at least remains far, far away from them. There’s no gray here, just black-and-white common sense.