There is a stigma that exists in the sports world entitled “Built vs. Bought.” This is a fan-derived idea suggesting that teams spend major dollars in free agency to win championships instead of using the draft to build their franchises.
The Miami Heat of the NBA have been scrutinized for utilizing this method for success. In July 2010, they acquired LeBron James and Chris Bosh to go alongside Dwayne Wade in helping them clinch two championships in four seasons.
The San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder have been praised for building championship-caliber teams through the draft. The Spurs have selected Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker as a foundation for multiple titles. Likewise, the Thunder have picked Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka to construct one of the premier teams in the league. Unlike the Spurs, however, OKC is still trying to capture a ring.
This offseason optimism brings us to another professional club residing in the state of Florida, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Buccaneers have been one of the NFL’s most active franchises in free agency over the last three years by dishing out large portions of cash to highly-coveted stars in their prime, but the lack of postseason action hasn’t backed up the offseason activity. If the Lombardi Trophy was handed out between March and July, the Bucs would be a dynasty.
In 2012, Tampa Bay signed San Diego Chargers two-time Pro Bowl receiver Vincent Jackson (5-yr/$55.55M) and New Orleans Saints two-time All-Pro guard Carl Nicks (5-yr/$47.5M) in Free Agency. The offense was solid throughout the season as it broke franchise records in several categories, yet the team finished 7-9 thanks largely to a horrid pass defense that ranked last in the league.
In efforts to keep up with the aerial attacks around the league, Tampa dedicated the entire 2013 offseason to address the secondary. They acquired San Francisco 49ers two-time Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson (5-yr/$41.25M); they even drafted Mark Barron to create a hard-hitting safety tandem on the backend. By far their biggest transaction last year was the pickup of All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis via trade (although he was rehabbing from a torn ACL). The defense was middle of the road placing 17th overall. The offense took a vast step backwards as they plummeted toward the bottom of the NFL in multiple categories. Tampa Bay closed the season with a 4-12 record and missed the playoffs again.
This Spring, the Buccaneers free agency class featured Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson ($5-yr/$43.98M), Tennessee Titans Pro Bowl cornerback Alterraun Verner (4-yr/$26.5M) and Chicago Bears quarterback Josh McCown (2-yr/$10M). Bringing in Johnson will help the pass rush and take pressure off of defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. Coming off a breakout 2013 season, Verner will replace Revis on the perimeter since he is a better fit for Tampa’s “Cover 2” zone scheme than Revis, who is widely known as a press-coverage corner—not to mention that Verner came at a significantly cheaper price. McCown enjoyed a stellar season taking over the job in Chicago; he will now be expected to excel under center right away to help the Bucs to make that playoff push.
As mentioned earlier, much criticism and skepticism surrounds a team filled with big-name, high-priced free agents. The NFL’s most recent and popular example is the Philadelphia Eagles “Dream Team” squad of 2011 that featured sought-after cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. Granted, it is much easier to compose a 12-man basketball team than a 53-man football roster and playing in the same division as the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints is tough, Tampa Bay holds one of the league’s most talented rosters.
Now granted, any professional team in any league should do whatever it takes to build a contender, whether through free agency or the draft. The downside for Tampa is that the National Football League has witnessed a plethora of free agent flops. Will their talented—yet extravagant— roster compete in January? The football world will have to wait until next offseason to see if the Buccaneers will break their banks furthermore.
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