Bucs raid free agency, grabbing up three stars
The Tampa Bay Bucs spent last season on the defensive for their spendthrift policy of shunning free agency — a strategy that backfired with a 4-12 season and the end of the Raheem Morris era.
Talk about going on the offensive now.
In a stunning 24-hour period, the Bucs dived head-first into the opening of the free-agent market and came away with three players who could help change the fortune of the team under new head coach Greg Schiano.
It was an about-face that suddenly changes the face of the franchise.
After signing top-tier wide receiver and former San Diego Chargers Vincent Jackson on Tuesday night, general manager Mark Dominik inked ex-Detroit Lions standout cornerback Eric Wright and longtime New Orleans Saints star offensive guard Carl Nicks on Wednesday morning.
And all three met the media in an impromptu afternoon press conference at One Buc Place — marking what could be a pivotal day in the club’s history.
If Dominik and the Glazer Family were looking to get the attention of disenchanted fans, they certainly found a good way to do it.
If they are out to fill those empty seats at Raymond James Stadium and end those annoying blackouts — something that the hiring of Schiano and his staff alone wasn’t going to achieve — this might just do the trick.
Having been frequently critical of the GM and ownership for their free-agent stance last year and meandering coaching search over the winter, it only seems fair to give them some credit now.
No, the flurry of high-priced signings don’t mean the Bucs are about to challenge for the NFC South title or even rebound into the playoffs. But the high-profile, high-priced moves signal that the gang that couldn’t shoot straight in 2011 is aiming high in 2012 — and giving Schiano and Co. the tools they need to compete.
It means the Bucs might actually be interesting — and, dare we say? — entertaining this year. At least, that’s a good starting point as the team begins a rebuilding process from the embarrassing shambles of last season.
“It’s a great day in Buccaneer history and a great opportunity for our football team,” Dominik said. “. . . It’s been a very exciting 24 hours for our organization, and to bring in the caliber of players that we have is certainly a unique opportunity for our football team.
“Each one of these men — Vincent Jackson, Eric Wright and Carl Nicks — were all guys who were desired by their original organizations to bring back. So there was a lot of calculation and a lot of work behind the scenes. And a lot of people within our organization — coaching staff, front office — to get to where we are today, 24 hours later.”
Time for a quick recap:
Jackson, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound Pro Bowler, gives the Bucs a genuine big-play receiver with speed — a tantalizing target for quarterback Josh Freeman and an ideal complement to Mike Williams and Arrellious Benn.
He’s coming off his third 1,000-yard receiving season in four years, and the only reason he isn’t four-for-four is that he played only five games in 2010 because of a prolonged contract dispute. He’s averaged 17.5 yards per catch over his three full seasons, along with 25 touchdowns.
Deal of the day: $55.55 million over five years to catch passes from No. 5, Freeman (Apparently, high fives all around)
Nicks, a 6-foot-5, 345-pounder, has been an anchor of the Saints’ O-line, with a reputation as one of the best — if not the best — pass-protectors in the NFL. He has two straight Pro Bowl selections under his considerable belt, along with a pair of Associated Press first-team honors. He joins a Tampa Bay offensive line that features Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph and stalwart veteran tackles Donald Penn and Jeremy Trueblood. As evidence of his prowess, Nicks has only allowed 8.5 sacks in his four NFL seasons.
Deal of the day: $47 million over five years
Wright, 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, should provide stability in the secondary at a critical time, with the legal fate of troubled cornerback Aqib Talib unknown and the possibility that ageless cornerback Ronde Barber could retire after 15 seasons.
A former Cleveland Browns standout, Wright played last year in Detroit and tied a career-high with four interceptions, established a personal best with 16 passes defended and fell one tackle short of his all-time for stops, making 74.
Wright has started 71 in five seasons, amassing 324 tackles with 13 interceptions – one he returned 94 yards for a touchdown in 2008.
Deal of the day: $37.5 million over five years
“These are all guys that their own football teams desperately wanted to hang on to,” Schiano said. “To have them here in Tampa, we’re very excited. I want to thank Mark and his staff for the incredible job they’ve done – this is high-pressured stuff – and the Glazer family for being willing to do the things needed to (be done).
"One of the things that was asked early on when I came here was, ‘Do you feel there’s a commitment?’ And I said it unequivocally, ‘They’re (committed) to being the best.’ And we’re sitting next to the best here. So I can’t wait to coach these guys. And I’m thrilled to be part of this organization.”
All three players seemed just as thrilled.
“Everything I’ve heard so far today, being around these guys and their staff, is it’s about being a family here,” Jackson said. “I’m excited to be part of this family and meet my teammates here next to me. I know we’re definitely going to fit in very well in this organization. . . . We love the city. We love the fan base. And we’re all looking to contribute. There are a lot of good young players, and we’re definitely looking to fall right into that fold and make this team a contender.”
“We’re all kind of starting fresh,” Nicks added. “To be a part of something that is eventually going to be great is a good feeling. And to know I’m a building block is humbling, and it makes you hungry and makes you want to work. I look forward to the challenge.”
What sold Wright on the Bucs?
“I think it was just a mixture of everything,” he said. “This is a situation where everybody wants to call it a building situation, but I think we have a great, young team here — a team full of guys who are hungry. A team full of guys who are ready to take that next step and get to the playoffs — and get to the Super Bowl and the upper echelon of this game.
“The grass roots level of getting to that stage is simply working hard,” he continued. “I know you guys have heard ‘hungry’ a lot around here lately. That’s no disrespect to anybody, because I love Raheem, and I have a relationship with him. But these young guys are hungry and very talented.”
Jackson echoed a similar refrain when asked why he chose Tampa Bay.
“We believe in what they have here,” he said. “We all come from places that have been playing good football.”
But Jackson sees good football on the horizon here. And he credited Schiano, Dominik and the Glazers for “believing in us and giving us the opportunity to be part of something special. We think there are a lot of good things happening in this organization and in this city, and I think all of us were very excited to come down here and play in a place like this.”
Now, the organization turns its attention to the NFL Draft next month. Dominik said he’ll monitor the free-agent market but doesn’t anticipate the team being an active player in it going forward this season.
But unlike last year, the GM and owners made their free-agent mark this time around — and one in which they got a very big bang for their Bucs.