TAMPA, Fla. – Many had labeled his day a victory, and Mark Dominik stepped to a stage prepared to plan for the future. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager was two hours removed from introducing cornerback Darrelle Revis on Monday in that same room at One Buc Place, a moment that will influence how the general manager is remembered. Already, his draft strategy had changed.
A deal to land the NFL’s top defensive back from the New York Jets was rumored for months. The Bucs’ pass defense from last year, which surrendered a league-worst 297.4 yards per game, was a glaring offseason weakness, and the signings of Revis and former San Francisco 49ers safety Dashon Goldson, through free agency in March, had made the Bucs’ secondary a projected strength in the pass-heavy NFC South.
Gaining Revis came with a cost, but one not as high as thought earlier. The Bucs gave the Jets their 13th overall pick in this year’s draft, which begins Thursday, in addition to a fourth-round selection after next season that could become one in the third if Revis remains on Tampa Bay’s roster on the third day of the 2014 league year.
“I prepared the entire time as if we had all our selections,” Dominik said. “We’ve set our board in that capacity. It hasn’t really adjusted or changed much since the trading of the 13th pick.”
The Bucs’ board will be tested. Signing Revis to a six-year, $96 million deal (no guaranteed money), despite concerns about how he will play after tearing the ACL in his left knee last September, presents possibility but also a need to adjust for the draft.
In what Dominik has described as “a thick draft, a depth draft,” the Bucs must be deliberate. Throughout the coming days, in their war room, they’ll make the first calculated choices of life with their newest star.
“We approached it, through all our meetings, as if we did not have Darrelle Revis on this football team,” Dominik said. “We approached it just in case it did not happen so that we were prepared.”
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Bucs history offers both boom and bust tales of trades involving first-round picks.
There are famous examples. In 1995, Tampa Bay traded first (seventh overall) and third-round picks to Philadelphia for first (12th overall) and two second-round selections. Then the Bucs traded two second-round picks to the Dallas Cowboys for a first-round selection (28th overall). The result: defensive tackle Warren Sapp and linebacker Derrick Brooks were drafted.
Later, in 2000, Tampa Bay traded two first-round picks (13th, 27th overall) to the Jets. The result: wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson was signed.
There are infamous examples. In 1982, Tampa Bay traded its 1983 first-round pick (18th overall) to the Chicago Bears for a 1982 second-round selection. The result: defensive end Booker Reese, he of two tackles in 24 games with the Bucs, was drafted.
Later, in 1983, Tampa Bay traded its first-round pick (first overall) in the ’84 draft to the Cincinnati Bengals. The result: Quarterback Jack Thompson, he of 26 interceptions and a 3-13 record as a Bucs starter, was signed.
As of now, the Revis deal appears more positive than negative for Tampa Bay. The Bucs only surrendered one first-round pick, unlike the multiple future first-round selections that were rumored for weeks. Tampa Bay is hopeful that Revis, 27, is entering his prime and that the knee injury, though serious, won’t linger as he adds to career totals that include 294 tackles and 19 interceptions.
“We’ve already begun our preparation in how to best utilize him,” Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. “A lot of that will come in conversations with Darrelle – what he’s comfortable doing, (and) what he feels best doing. This isn’t a rookie out of college. This is a guy who has played and been very successful in this league. So we’re going to play to our strengths within our scheme.”
There is danger, of course, that Revis won’t be as strong in his return. Last season, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson made a historic recovery from a similar injury sustained in December 2011 and threatened for the NFL’s single-season rushing record. Yet as prolific as Peterson was, rebounds don’t always go as well.
Still, the Bucs have moved forward as if signing Revis has opened their draft options. Before Tampa Bay secured the cornerback, his position was a clear weakness, especially after they lost E.J. Biggers to the Washington Redskins in free agency. Now, Dominik seems content with how offseason needs have been addressed.
“I think the main thing with having Darrelle Revis on the football team is that it allows us to have more flexibility,” Dominik said. “It doesn’t hold you as hostage to a cornerback, which obviously everybody knew was a position of need for this football team in terms of continuing to develop the competition at a high level. So I think it actually expands our draft board. I think it allows us flexibility, starting with pick No. 43 (overall, in the second round), the ability to consider going up. But it also allows you to stay there or move back. But I think you don’t feel like you’re hostage to a position.”
There are avenues available to Dominik and Schiano with their seven picks, which include four in the first four rounds. The Bucs can address depth on the defensive line, at tight end and at wide receiver. Perhaps they can search for a young quarterback to develop as a backup to Josh Freeman or perhaps use as future trade value. The Bucs could also select another cornerback to be mentored by Revis.
From the Bucs’ perspective, the Revis signing presented options. It accomplished two goals: Enhance the future and create freedom for the present.
“We’re going to make a lot of noise, don’t worry about that,” Revis said. “The intangibles we have here with this team with players like Josh Freeman, Vincent Jackson and Doug Martin – I could go down the list. … We have some guys here that can already play, and I think that’s the best fit for me.”
Dominik sees this draft as a chance to build, not a rush to buy. That’s a product of signing Revis, who, at this point, gives the Bucs reason to think they’ll be stronger against the pass in a division that includes Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton.
As of Monday afternoon, about 240 prospects were in the Bucs’ sights, according to Dominik. Starting Thursday, Dominik, Schiano, director of player personnel Dennis Hickey and director of college scouting Eric Stokes – along with scouts and other staff members – will step into Tampa Bay’s war room and watch events around the league unfold.
They’ll work as if they hold a first-round pick, sliding prospects off and within a “Top Five” list as players are selected. It’s a process envisioned by Dominik, one he says is unique for Tampa Bay, and one that helped the Bucs maneuver the draft last year to secure safety Mark Barron and running back Doug Martin in the first round. Both players became key contributors in Schiano’s 7-9 debut season.
“We won’t approach the draft any different,” Dominik said. “We’ll still have our running draft board. Our top-five prospects will always stay up there. As soon as one gets selected, we’ll put the next guy in. Although we don’t pick until pick No. 43, we’ll have and maintain the same process, because I think it has been the right way for us to do it.”
The Revis Effect, in turn, will test that process. There’s opportunity in flexibility, and the Bucs enter the draft without a “must-need” position to be addressed either Thursday by trading up into the first round (that seems unlikely), or in later rounds Friday and Saturday.
For the Bucs, Monday was an image victory. Signing Revis made them relevant, made them a possible NFC South contender despite a five-year postseason drought, and it remains to be seen how the buzz will translate to the field. But work is far from over: Dominik, for one, knows he must win in the war room too.