Yardbarker Horiz

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009 Week 16: Draft Position Scenarios

Heading into the last week of the season with a two game win streak -- so here are the scenarios for the Buccaneers first round draft pick:

Buccaneers pick #3 if Bucs lose and Detroit wins (even though tied with Detroit)
Buccaneers pick #3 if Bucs lose and Chiefs win (regardless of Detriot)
Buccaneers pick #4 if Bucs lose, Detroit wins and Kansas City loses (tied with Detroit and Kansas City)
Buccaneers pick #4 if Bucs win and Washington wins and Cleveland wins (regardless of Kansas City)
Buccaneers pick #5 if Bucs win and Washington wins and Cleveland loses or Cleveland wins and Washington loses (regardless of Kansas City)
Buccaneers pick #6 if Bucs win and both Washington and Cleveland lose (regardless of Kansas City)

Tampa Bay loses all tie breakers due to strength of schedule.

2009 Jacksonville Draft Class

On Roster

Round 1, Pick 8 (8) Eugene Monroe     OT    6'5"      309      Virginia
Round 2, Pick 7 (39)     Eben Britton     OT     6'6"     309     Arizona
Round 3, Pick 8 (72)     Terrance Knighton     DT     6'3"     321     Temple
Round 3, Pick 9 (73) (From Packers through Patriots)     Derek Cox     CB     6'1"     189     William & Mary
Round 4, Pick 7 (107)     Mike Thomas     WR     5'8"     195     Arizona
Round 5, Pick 8 (144)     Jarett Dillard     WR     5'10"     191     Rice
Round 6, Pick 7 (180)     Zach Miller     TE     6'4"     233     Nebraska-Omaha
Round 7, Pick 41 (250) (Compensatory selection)     Rashad Jennings     RB     6'1"     231     Liberty
Round 7, Pick 44 (253) (Compensatory selection)     Tiquan Underwood     WR     6'1"     184     Rutgers

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Experience vs. Talent

I had planned to use the following table to contrast where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers stand versus where the NFC South Champion New Orleans Saints stand:

TeamAverage Age
Redskins28.02
Saints27.99
Cardinals27.74
Patriots27.74
Lions27.62
49ers27.51
Steelers27.50
Vikings27.48
Seahawks27.41
Falcons27.39
Titans27.29
Browns27.18
Jets27.16
Broncos27.16
Bears27.02
Cowboys26.93
Bills26.93
Chargers26.93
Texans26.89
Giants26.88
Ravens26.83
Raiders26.82
Eagles26.81
Rams26.73
Jaguars26.61
Bengals26.60
Dolphins26.47
Buccaneers26.46
Panthers26.39
Chiefs26.36
Colts26.34
Packers26.16
(Data from:  ESPN South Blog around the 2009 opening weekend)

However, after a fun-to-watch come-from-behind 20-17 victory in overtime against those same Saints, the analysis changes:  what are the forward-looking prospects for the Saints and Buccaneers?

The Saints are the top of the NFC South at 13-2, are still in the driver's seat for having all their playoff games at home, and feature a high-powered offense along with an aggressive defense.  Clearly, 2009 was their year.  But as you can see from the chart above, they have the 2nd oldest team in the NFL with an average age of 27.99 years old.  How much longer can they keep their salary-heavy veterans?  Will age catch up to them in the next few years in the form of declining production and more injuries?

Meanwhile, the upstart Bucs have their first winning streak in over a year as well as an average age of 26.46 -- younger by a full year and a half per player versus the Saints -- and are the 5th youngest team in the NFL.
It is a typical scenario for the NF:.  If you look at the top of the list you see many playoff teams (excepting, of course, the rudderless and aged Washington Redskins).  Yet if you look at the bottom of the list it's not just the teams with the worst records.  You see an assortment of teams having a wide variety of seasons.  The Colts are 14-1 and are the 2nd youngest team.  The Chiefs, who nearly match the age of the Colts on average, are 3-12.  So youth is erratic, but age seems to be consistant.  Why?

I do not have the numbers, but the common sense answer is "game experience".  Obviously the Colts have done a much better job of getting their younger players ready to contribute.  On the other end of the spectrum, the Chiefs have rolled a huge chunk of their roster from the beginning of the year to players with less than 2 years experience.

This tells us something about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:  waiving age during the 2009 Free Agent preiod resulted in younger players reaching the field to develop experience. The prior GM and coach preferred to keep youth on the sideline and bring in veteran after veteran.  In fact, the prior coach really has no player development story to hang his hat on (nor does the prior GM).  In contrast, many young players have reached the field under Coach Raheem Morris, including Josh Freeman, Geno Hayes, and Sammy Straughter (to name a few).  These players have shown talent and improvement in their play during the course of the 2009 season.

All this demonstrates that if you do not have experienced youth then you have no choice but to wait for it to develop -- and I'm not taling about on the practice field.  This is the state of the Buccaneers in 2009:  serving youth a heaping spoonful of experience.  During the upcoming offseason, the Buccaneers will possibly add 10 new players to the roster, and those players will need experience as well and so time will be served.  Nonetheless, as the first ever 2-12 team to defeat a 13 game winner, Tampa Bay has shown their time on the field gaining needed experience will pay off.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

2009 Week 15 vs. 2010 Season

Fresh off a win against the Seahawks where the Buccaneers showed a running game and bend-not-break defense may not be the time to look toward next season, but we have to get started.  So much to research!  So first, some groundwork, in the form of two predictions and two statements along the lines of what do we know, for sure, right now?

Prediction:  The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Will Win More Games in 2010 than in 2009
OK, so that's not something I know, for sure, right now.  It sure sounds bold, doesn't it?  I encourage you to join me in my optimism because with the results from Week 15 in the books, the 2010 opposition is determined.  Here are the teams the Buccaneers will play in 2010:

New Orleans (twice)
Atlanta (twice)
Carolina (twice)
Arizona
San Francisco
Seattle
St. Louis
Pittsburgh
Cincinnati
Baltimore
Cleveland
Detroit
Washington

I believe, home or away, next year's team (actually, this year's also) stacks up favorably against Detroit, Washington, St Louis, Seattle, and Cleveland.  Granted, all these teams will have some top-flight draft choices joining their rosters, but I believe Tampa Bay has the strongest core to build on.  Depending on how the draft falls and free agents move I may not be scared by San Francisco, Carolina (twice) and Atlanta (twice) either.  The Buccaneers will undoubtedly still be young next year.  So, for now, I'll call "the floor" five wins next year.  And thus, my "bold" prediction.

The Buccaneers Will Draft No Lower Than Sixth in 2010
With two games remaining Tampa Bay can finish with no more than four wins.  A quick look at the overall league standings shows the best four wins can get is tied with the Washington Redskins for fifth-lowest win total.  The Redskins have played St Louis, Detroit, Kansas City, Carolina, and Tampa Bay this year, so the Bucs would "win" the opponent strength tiebreaker and draft after Washington.

Underclassmen and the Draft
We know that January 15th is the deadline for underclassmen to declare, and with three picks in the first two rounds, it's a major event for the Buccaneers this coming offseason.  Some have already thrown their hat into the ring while others are still ponding their options.   General Manager Mark Dominik has already indicated his belief that there will be a strong push of underclassmen coming to the NFL for this draft due to the prospect of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) containing a structured rookie salary schedule (old link, but a good rundown of the pros and cons).  If a lot of talented underclassmen declare then the best move for Tampa Bay could be to trade down -- a position I'll revisit after the full list of underclassmen declare. 

Raheem will be back
OK, again, I don't know this for sure.  But it would extremely disruptive to change coaches after 16 games, plus the players have not quit on him, plus there are flashes that his vision for this team is correct.  Last offseason, the front office was able to secure more talent to help the offense than help the defense.  If they can reverse that focus this offseason Coach Morris will have more and better tools to work with on defense -- and the defense has been improving.  Besides, having a coach for only one season would make the Buccaneers no better than the Redskins or Raiders, and we all know we're better than that!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tampa Sports Media: Screaming For Vengeance in 2009, Part 1

Former General Manager Bruce Allen did not get along with everyone in the Tampa Sports Media.  It appears current General Manager Mark Dominik is paying the price.

Part 1:  Kickers are too valuable to cut?

One sad but humorous aspect of the reporting on the Buccaneers this year has been the fascination with kickers.

Let me recap:  General Manager Mark Dominik brought in Mike Nugent to compete with incumbent Matt Bryant during the preseason.  This is consistent with the message Dominik and Head Coach Raheem Morris have been dishing out since they were appointed:  there will be competition every year for every position on the team.  Unexpectedly, Matt Bryant hurt his hamstring during the first week of the preseason which should have been a feather in first year GM Mark Dominik's cap.  Certainly a job well done for being prepared for unforseen circumstances, right?

Oh, no.  None of that for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Later in the preseason (while still injured) Bryant showed he was not up to the challenge of the every-sport-is-50%-mental aspect of the game with a radio rant.  Unable to kick for the entire preseason, Bryant was cut in favor of Nugent.  So the new GM got it right -- kudos to him, right?

Oh, no.  Certainly not for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Unexpectedly, some sports media reported this as blasphemy instead of a kick-save by the Buccaneers GM (pun intended).  Some reported with glee when Bryant was lined up by the NY Giants for a tryout but then mysteriously (not!) dropped the storyline when he didn't get signed. 

Back in the real world Nugent got off to a horrible start and was released in favor of Shane Andrus.

Andrus was inconsistant in practice and missed his only field goal attempt during game action, so he also was released.

Since then, the Buccaneers have had the services of Connor Barth.

So I ask, what should the General Manager have done?  Kept two kickers on the roster, preventing some wiggle room for getting waiver wire pickups in addition to double-kicker-salary?  Kept Nugent and let him kick his way out of the slump?  Keep Andrus and give up field position on every kick?  Bring back Matt Bryant who couldn't handle competition, wasn't good enough for the Giants, and could only find work in the UFL?

Wouldn't the correct move be to do everything possible to correct this issue this year?  And that is exactly what Dominik has been trying to do.  It's exactly the philosophy which has been utilized since Dominik reached the GM chair -- fix the problem and move on.  Barth may not be the final answer and he can certainly expect an open competition during the 2010 offseason.  Just like every other player on the team.

Against this backdrop begins the odd, strange comedy (folly?) driven by some in the Tampa sports media:
--  The first chuckle comes from the conspiracy theory about how the radio show comments really matter.  Really??  Some athletes get in trouble, serious trouble, and the team works it out.  Why would a radio show matter since it's just an entertainment medium in the first place?
--  The second chuckle comes from how some in the Tampa area sports media believe the money given up for Nugent was a mistake ($2 million), yet none of them predicted his poor performance.  It also appears several are willing to publicly demonstrate that they have no idea how NFL teams work.  There are many cases of players who are signed and cut in the same season and leave "dead salary cap" behind.  One instance is Joey Galloway ($1.7 million) and the New England Patriots.  Another is Jason Elam ($3.3 million guaranteed) and the Atlanta Falcons.   This seems to be a surprise to them when in reality this is business as usual.  So why the negative press?
--  The final chuckle comes from those who on one hand complain because the Buccaneers have cap room and on the other hand (same person in at least one case) complain because the Buccaneers used thier cap space to try to solidify the kicking game.  Maybe they don't realize that two million is less than 1.6% of this year's cap? I would think that people who are paid to understand the NFL would understand this common, league-wide situation, but it seems I am asking too much? 

And now the puchline:  in late November, the 2008 NFC Super Bowl representative Arizona Cardinals held kicker tryouts . . . (c'mon, click the link for full effect!)

(Note that neither got the job -- wow the Buccaneers did know what they were doing -- now why wouldn't something like that be reported in Tampa after all that early season drama?)

To top it all off Atlanta signed Matt Bryant just after the Buccaneers played at Atlanta.  That will add some extra fun to the Buccaneer's last (home) game of the season (don't boo him -- remember what happened to his family).  The media coverage around that last home game should be the final test of who in the Tampa Sports media "gets it" and who's trying to make themselves feel better.

You would think that by halfway through the season the rampage would be over, but, sadly, this article is titled "Part One".  More to come.

Cato June: Where is he now?

Recap:  Cato June was cut during the 2009 offseason as the Buccaneers started a youth movement.

June was picked up by the Texans and appeared in the first two preseason games.  However, he did not make regualr season roster.

June was acquired by Chicago after a string of linebacker injuries and has been with them since 2009 Week 13 but has not produced any game stats.

2009 Cleveland Draft Class

On Roster
Round 1, 21st: Alex Mack, C (Overall 21st)
Round 2, 4th: Brian Robiskie, WR (Overall 36th)
Round 2, 18th: Mohamed Massaquoi, WR  (Overall 18th)
Round 2, 20th: David Veikune, DE  (Overall 52nd)
Round 4, 4th: Kaluka MaiavaI, LB (Overall 104th)
Round 6, 4th: Don Carey, CB (Overall 177)
Round 6, 18th: Coye Francies, CB (Overall 191)
Round 6, 22nd: James Davis, RB (Overall 195)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What Is The Game Plan?

The plan before the 2009 season was for new offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski to to install a running game using a zone blocking scheme.  This new scheme would take advantage of the young offensive line and talented running backs on the Buccaneers roster to create a powerful rushing attack.  This philosophy was detailed by Head Coach Raheem Morris during his first offseason (Apr 2, 2008):
"'When you talk about the violent football teams, the physical football teams, the Pittsburgh Steelers, you think about downhill running and people smashing,' said Morris. 'That's just what it is. When you talk about violent football teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars, you talk about people smashing you and running the ball downhill. We want to become those guys.'" -- Head Coach Raheem Morris
Unfortunately, Coach Jagodzinski was released during the preseason due to prolonged attention-to-details issues which I interpret as poor performance under game time conditions (such as play calling or working with assistants to get the right personnel on the field, etc).  This interpretation of these events makes sense since game day trouble would not be detectable during a normal interview or during training camp.  Coach Jagodzinski had been a head coach at Boston College.  The focus of a head coach on game day is strategy.  A coordinator must focus on tactics.  The only other offensive coordinator duties that Jagodzinski had previously had was "passing game coordinator" at Green Bay.  As such he had never flown solo as an offensive coordinator before and therefore may have been an ineffective tactician.

But the lure of what Coach Jagodzinski brought to the interview table is obvious.  He was fresh from dealing with college players.  His program at Boston College had just graduated the (arguably) top rookie QB the year before (Atlanta's Matt Ryan).  In the context of an upcoming draft with plans to grab a young signal caller, the fit is natural and too good to pass up.  Protect that new young quarterback with a solid running game and have a proven coach in place to groom him into the passing game.

Ah, but the best laid plans . . . .

Before the 2009 season a zone-blocking run system was installed to replace the assignment blocking system of the prior coaching staff.  During the preseason players gushed about how they could tell it would work and they liked it.   Then, just before the last preseason game, Coach Jagodzinski was dismissed and Coach Greg Olson was promoted to Offensive Coordinator.

Suddenly, Tampa Bay came out throwing.  And throwing.  And the Buccaneers have rarely stopped since.  What was to be a powerful rushing offense finds itself throwing 57.5% of the time through Week 14.  In only 3 of 13 games so far in the 2009 season have the Buccaneers rushed the ball more than pass the ball.  Those run-focused games were against Washington, at Carolina, and Miami -- three of the four narrowest losses this season.  While there have been games when the run/pass count was different by less than 5 attempts (Miami, Atlanta, New England), there have been four games with 15+ more passing attempts than running attempts (Carolina, Philadelphia, NY Giants, and Buffalo).  In contrast, the widest margin for the run game so far this season has been 8 more rushes than passes (Washington, at Carolina).  The win against Green Bay was fairly balanced with only 6 more passing attempts than rushing attempts.  In raw numbers, the most rushing attempts in a single game this year has been 31 twice (Dallas, Miami) and the most passing attempts in a single game this year has been fifty (50!) twice (Buffalo, Philadelphia).

There is no discernible pattern -- the high pass attempts are not specifically in games where the Buccaneers were far behind and playing catch-up football (for example, the Buccaneers were down by only 6 points at the start of the fourth quarter at Buffalo, one of the 50 pass attempt games).  And it was not a matter of which quarterback was playing:  games with Byron Leftwich averaged 20 rushes and 39 passes, games with Josh Johnson averaged 26 rushes and 30 passes, and games with Josh Freeman have averaged 25 rushes and 33 passes (Leftwich and Johnson each had a 50 pass game, Freeman's high attempt mark was 44 in his game against Carolina).

So very clearly we see that Coach Olson is a pass-first type of offensive coordinator.  This is not entirely surprising as his background includes time at Purdue as quarterbacks coach with Joe Tiller and time in Detroit as quarterbacks coach with Steve Mariucci.  As the season has progressed the offense has lost more and more of the zone blocking schemes and returned to the rather West Coast look of the past few years (just as the defense has also returned to what has previously been utilized).

While the debate about having a rookie quarterback and using a run game to remove the game from his shoulders is valid, it is not the subject here.

The change from the Jagodinski-run system to the Olson-pass system has severe consequences for the upcoming offseason.  During the 2009 offseason, the offense was tooled to be a running football team with good, young size up front, blocking wide recievers, versatile tight ends, a fullback, and a multiheaded tailback.  Several of these facets of the offense were established in free agency last year.  By addressing these things last offseason the Buccaneers are primed to be aggressive on the defensive side of the ball this year.

However, if the Buccaneers are going to be a pass-system team then it's not so clear that the offensive side of the ball is where it needs to be.  In fact, several positions on offense may need to be addressed during the 2010 offseason (free agency and draft).  Wide receiver is underproductive for the number of pass attempts -- perhaps the Buccaneers need to give up some downfield blocking ability for speed, route precision, or hands/physical size.  Offensive linemen need to be evaluated on pass-blocking ability and changes made if needed.  You could also assert that the multiple back scheme is not necessary and replace tailbacks with more wide receivers.  Perhaps the fullback position is not necessary and can be used for a defensive player instead.

The downside of all this is that it will detract from adding more young talent to the defense which is clearly in need.

While currently there is no clear sign that the direction will be anything different from what we've already seen, three games remain in the 2009 season.  It is possible to establish an identity in these games different from the prior 14 games, though unlikely.

It will be intersting to watch how this plays out.  The issue of the Tampa Bay offensive identity will most likely be the single most important driver of the 2010 offseason.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

New Buccaneer QB Rudy Carpenter Video

Have a look at the Buccaneers newest QB Rudy Carpenter directing his first TD drive in the NFL (it's preseason so there is a lot of talking but not much commentary!).  Then read why he's so important to the 2009 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Is Quarterback Solved for 2010?

Could it be that next year there will finally NOT be a QB controversy for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?  Is the position already set for the next several years barring a you-can't-pass-that-up draft pick?

On Nov 24th 2009 the Buccaneers acquired Rudy Carpenter from the Dallas Cowboys practice squad.  Carpenter is an undrafted rookie from Arizona State.  There is a draft perspective analysis and overview at the CBS NFL Draft Scout site.  No need to repeat that information here -- it's not really the topic.  However, this says a lot:

Carpenter started the final 43 games of his career and threw 1,309 passes with only 35 interceptions. He set an NCAA record for interception avoidance as a freshman with just two in 228 passes. As a senior, he threw 131 consecutive passes without an interception. "In the NFL and any other level of football it's hard to score points when you don't have the football," Carpenter said. "You can't turn the ball over at quarterback. One of my biggest assets is my decision making. That's going to help me out at the next level."- Rick Gosselin, The Dallas Morning News

Carpenter was not rated particularly high on most draft boards (for example:  #19 in the CBS QB Draft Prospect list for 2009).  However, with 12 Quarterbacks being drafted last year Carpenter became a worthwhile free agent,  The Dallas Cowboys liked what they saw enough to play him in two of four preseason games.  He appears to be what you want in a 3rd quarterback:  smart, efficient, and does not turn over the ball.  These same qualities make him valuable as the scout team QB.  Carptenter replaces former starter and previous #3 Byron Leftwich who moved to the IR.

The Bucs signed Leftwich last April to a two year deal.  If Leftwich heals what ails him, Carpenter assures the bucs go into the offseason with four QBs. While the situation was the same last year (Griese, Johnson, Leftwich, McCown) it was hardly stable as the incumbent starter Jeff Garcia had already become a free agent and Brian Griese (essentially replaced by Leftwich) seemed convinced that his starting opportunities in Tampa Bay were over.  This year the story is different:  rookie and 2009 #1 pick Josh Freeman has been impressive.  Josh Johnson was able to get valuable game experience and show flashes of what he can be.  And the 7th year veteran Leftwich anchored the position for the first four games of the season.  With the addition of Carpenter, the Bucs assure the youth they have been driving for at the QB position.  Keeping Leftwich for the second year is cap-friendly and adds stability and a veteran offseason presence to the position.

Most importantly, with this free agent pick-up, GM Mark Dominik has assured Tampa Bay fans that there will be no speculation on the QB position this offseason.  For the first time in quite some time there is not an aging veteran leading the QB position (or two, or three .  .).  There are no worries about a whether a free agent QB has just one more great season to give.  In fact, the Buccaneers will have the luxury on draft day of selecting a QB if and only if the player is the best player on the board, or, if the opportunity presents itself, taking the option to trade out to gather additional picks.  With a high draft pick looming and all signs pointing to an extremely deep talent pool in the 2010 draft the Buccaneers are in an enviable position -- quarterbacks are trade-up material (see Mark Sanchez from 2009; Tampa also moved up two spots to assure getting Freeman) and Tampa Bay is a team which would prosper from trading down.  The same situation applies to the two second round picks if Tampa retains them until draft day.

By putting the finishing touches on the quarterback position now Dominik has opened up many options for the Buccaneers later. A Very Good Move.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Digging Into Schedules: Tampa, Jacksonville On Opposite Ends

NFL General Managers spend a lot of time on risk mitigation.  Usually, the best way to limit risk is to control the factors you have influence over to create the best outcome for your team.  Unfortunately, one thing that cannot be influenced in the NFL is your schedule.

NFL teams play a rigidly defined schedule determined by where teams finish in their division the previous year.  For 2009, the Tampa Bay Buccanners opponent list was determined as follows:
- Two games each (home and away) against the other three teams in your own division (6 Games).  For the Buccaneers its two games each against Atlanta, Carolina, and New Orleans each year.
-  Play all teams in another division in your conference (4 Games) on a 3 year repeating cycle.  For Tampa Bay in 2009, that would be the NFC East teams:  Dallas, New York (Giants), Philadelphia, and Washington.
- Play the teams in the remaining two divisions in your conference who finished in the same position as you did in your division (2 Games).  This added Green Bay and Seattle to the Buccaneers schedule for 2009.
- Play all teams in a division in the other conference (4 Games) on a 4 year repeating cycle.  This added the AFC East to the Bucs schedule for 2009:  Buffalo, Miami, New England, and New York (Jets).

     There you have it -- your full 16 game schedule.  Game times and exactly which week is which game is (also) determined by the NFL based on TV contracts, the new Flex Scheduling for Sunday Night Football, etc.  So a GM cannot schedule weaker teams when rebuilding/reloading nor schedule better teams to exert dominance with a strong team.

    The eight new NFL General Managers in the Rookie Class of 2009 have now played 11 of the 16 games on their respective schedules.  Since the formula is rigid some teams may have the benefit of a weaker schedule or the struggles of a stronger schedule.  Since Bye weeks are over and teams have played an odd number of games, this is a great time to evaluate the current season schedules and see who caught a break.

    Here are the cumulative games won and lost by the team's opponents for the full season based on standings after Week 12, 2009:
    • (1-10) Tampa Bay: 98-78 (.5568 Win Pct) with 9 games against winning teams
    • (1-10) Saint Louis: 95-81 (.5398) with 7 games against winning teams
    • (2-9) Detroit:  94-82 (.5341) with 9 games against winning teams
    • (1-10) Cleveland:  94-82 (.5341) with 11 games against winning teams
    • (7-4) Denver:  91-85 (.5170) with 10 games against winning teams
    • (3-8) Kansas City:  91-85 (.5170) with 11 games against winning teams
    • (7-4) New England:  90-86 (.5114) with 6 games against winning teams
    • (6-5) Jacksonville:  84-92 (.4773) with 4 games against winning teams
     As you can see, the NFL GM Rookie class is having a rough time getting things going (which, of course, is why these teams have new General Managers in the first place).  2009 Rookie GMs own five of the 7 worst records in the NFL so far this year.  The other three teams are still in the playoff hunt.

    GM Gene Smith of the Jacksonville Jaguars landed a bit of a break with their schedule this year (even in the same division as the 11-0 Indianapolis Colts).  As such, the Jaguars have assured themselves of improving on their 2008 record of 5-11.  This is the only schedule of the eight with a losing record and also has the lowest number of games against winning teams (4 at this point in the season).

    On the other end of the spectrum, GM Mark Dominik was awarded the strongest schedule of the bunch in Tampa Bay (including division rival and 11-0 New Orleans Saints).  With most of the 9 teams with winning records behind them there is a chance Tampa Bay could finish the season strong if the team continues to improve.

    A couple other interesting notes:
    • Saint Louis and New England have the privilage of having both undefeated teams on their schedule (New Orleans and Indianapolis as of Week 12).
    • Tampa Bay had their only game against another of the 2009 Rookie GMs when they played New England in London in Week 7.
    • 2009 Rookie GMs went head-to-head four times on the schedules of Jacksonville (against Saint Louis, Kansas City, New England, and Cleveland) and Cleveland (against Denver, Detroit, Kansas City, and Jacksonville).
    The rigid scheduling formula used in the NFL allows for rebuilding teams to match up with other down-on-their-luck teams.  This can give rise to the occasional worst-to-first team one year after a team finishes last in their divison.

    For the Buccaneers of 2009 the schedule is both a blessing and curse.  The curse is being a youthful team playing against a strong schedule.  The blessing is a chance to see the youth on the team compete against some of the stronger teams in the NFL.  While the blessing does not seem so to fans, it does provide the coaches and personnel decision-makers with a very clear picture of where the team stands.  Hopefully that picture will become a map of the shortest route possible to get the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back to the playoffs.

    Tuesday, December 1, 2009

    GM Challenges: The Salary Cap Rocket

    Clearly the largest part of the modern NFL GM's job is to manage the salary cap.  The salary cap has been escalating rapidly for the past five years.

    In 2005, the salary cap was $85.5 million.
      
    In 2006 the cap was originally set to be approximately $94.5 million.  An extension of the CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement -- between NFL player and owners) that year included a change in the formula used to determine the cap.  The new formula jolted the cap to $108 million.


    In 2007 the cap barely nudged up to $109 million.

    In 2008 it escalated to $116.7 million.
     

    For 2009, the cap is approximately $127 million (an increase of 50% over the 2005 cap in just five years).  This rapid rise in cap dollars means small market teams are getting more and more money to meet the cap from the "league" and not from their own revenue sources.  This will likely be a testy topic among the owners when the current CBA expires in 2011.


    Where does that leave the modern GM?  They are stuck between owners which must have profitable franchises and players who are getting a larger and larger fraction of revenue.  Also, the current CBA contains language which affects existing player contracts ("poison pills" to motivate both sides to the negotiating table) which makes decisions on handling veterans a gamble.  Finally, the threat of a player lockout in 2011 looms on the horizon.


    Oh, yea, and don't forget to win a bunch of games, too!!







    Monday, November 30, 2009

    Where Is He Now: Joey Galloway

    A quick recap on Joey Galloway:  He was cut by Tampa Bay in the veteran purge during the 2009 offseason.  On March 14th, 2009, Galloway was signed by the New England Patriots.

    According to published reports, the contract was a one-year, $1.75 million contract with a base salary of $1.15 million and a $600,000 signing bonus.  This exceeds the veteran minimum -- not surprising as it was rumored that the Pittsburgh Steelers were also interested in Galloway as a stretch 3rd receiver. 

    The results?  Galloway played in 3 games (starting 2) and produced 7 catches for 67 total yards and no touchdowns.  He was a healthy inactive for week 4 through week 6 and then was cut on October 20, 2009.  He has not been signed to another roster.


    In his last full season with the Bucs (2008), Galloway played in 9 games (starting 4) producing 13 catches for 138 yards and no touchdowns.  The stats for 2008 and 2009 clearly demonstrate that cutting Galloway from the Buccaneers was the right move.  In addition to eliminating Galloway's reduced production the vacated roster spot has allowed young receivers more opportunities (as examples: 2009 7th rounder Sammie Straughter, free agent Brian Clark, and returning player Maurice Stovall).

    By releasing Joey Galloway sooner than later, the Buccaneers avoided dead cap money, got younger, and were able to give promising young players more time to show and develop their skills.  It was not only the right move at the right time, it was a Very Good Move.

    Wednesday, November 11, 2009

    Kansas City: Pioli Dealing With Unrest

    Chiefs running back Larry Johnson is not subtle.  Nor does he conduct himself at all times as a perfect gentleman.  Nevertheless, it appeared that somehow Coach Todd Haley had reached an understanding with Johnson which put LJ on the path of a model teammate.  That is, until Larry blew up his career with Twitter.

    Pioli spent his 2009 bye week suspending, then reaching a settlement with Johnson and his agent regarding the one-game-but-two-paychecks suspension (settlement was that only one paycheck would be lost -- a little weak for Pioli considering the player called his coach "unqualified" and used derogatory slurs publicly).

    The Chiefs came out of the bye to lose at Jacksonville, dropping the Chiefs to 1-7.

    The next day, Larry Johnson was cut from the Chiefs roster.   

    Johnson was 75 yards away from becoming the all-time yardage leader among Chiefs running backs.  Is this the only scourge on the roster?  Is more bloodletting needed to bring order in Kansas City?

    The Chiefs are a non-factor in the NFC West as well as the NFL in general having not won a playoff game in over 15 years (how long? . . . since Joe Montana was QB!).  With apathy having set in long ago, the Chiefs fan base is angry but exhausted.

    Pioli still has years of work ahead of him to shake off the cobwebs in the Chiefs organization.  And then will have to win back a fanbase which is more tuned in to college sports than pro sports. Only Cleveland and Jacksonville appear to be bigger challenges.  Which franchise will win a playoff game first?  Answer:  get to .500 and then we'll talk.

    Donald Penn: Guess Who Found Him?

    Notes from the Audio Archive at Buccaneers.com reminded me of this nugget:

    Guess who brought in Donald Penn?

    The story is in this interview starting 8 minutes in

    Enjoy!!

    Thursday, November 5, 2009

    2009 Denver Draft Class

    Round 1, #12: Knowshon Moreno, RB (Overall 12), Georgia
    Round 1, #18: Robert Ayers, LB (Overall 18), Tennessee (From Bears)
    Round 2, #5: Alphonso Smith, CB (Overall 37) ,Wake Forest  (From Seahawks)
    Round 2, #16: Darcel McBath, CB (Overall 48), Texas Tech
    Round 2, #32: Richard Quinn, TE (Overall 64), North Carolina  (From Steelers) 
    Round 4, #14: David Bruton, FS (Overall 114) , Notre Dame
    Round 4, #32: Seth Olsen, OG (Overall 132), Iowa  (From Steelers)
    Round 5, #5: Kenny McKinley, WR (Overall 141), South Carolina (From Browns through Eagles through Patriots and Ravens)
    Round 6, #1:  Tom Brandstater, QB (Overall 174)Fresno State  (From Lions)
    Round 7, #16: Blake Schlueter, C, (Overall 225) TCU

    Trade Analysis: Gaines Adams to Chicago

    Why would a winless team trade away a former first round draft pick starting at Defensive End?  Is an unknown draft pick really that valuable?  Is it worth leaving a hole in the starting lineup for the rest of the season?

    It would only be a smart move if there was a capable replacement already on the roster.  In this case the replacement would be Stylez White.  Good move.  However, what made this A Great Move was a free agent picked up during the first week of the 2009 season.

    Tim Crowder was signed by the Buccaneers on Sept 14th, 2009, the opening weekend of the 2009 NFL Season.  He had been released less than two weeks earlier by the Denver Broncos.  The week after his signing, Crowder hit the playing field against the Buffalo Bills.  And that was just the start of the impact Crowder would make on the 2009 Buccaneers.

    When Gaines Adams was released after five games in 2009 he had season totals of 8 tackles, 2 assists, and no sacks.  Crowder played in his fifth game of 2009 in Week 6.  By then, Crowder had amassed 15 tackles, 2 assists, and no sacks.  This production obviously was noted by GM Mark Dominik.  Dominik must have believed White and Crowder could support the Right Defensive End position.  This allowed Dominik to shop Adams as a trade candidate.  Credit goes to Coach Nunn (DL), Coach Bates (DC), and Coach Morris (HC) for giving Crowder a chance to show his productivity.

    The message since Dominik and Morris took over has been to get younger, get productive players, and improve through competition.  While adding Crowder and trading Adams does not fit the "get younger" part of the plan, it certainly meets the "more productive" part of the plan based on the first few games of 2009.  The trade also shows commitment by Dominik to make players accountable plus it's a strong statement to the rest of the youth on the roster:  Underperform and you are replaceable whether you are a first or final draft pick.  Dominik has quickly shown a willingness to make bold changes to move the roster forward as rapidly as possible.

    The second part of the story is what the Bucs were able to get for Adams.  Gaines Adams was drafted for a coach who ran the Tampa 2.  Chicago Head Coach Lovie Smith uses the Tampa 2.  It's the perfect match -- a player who can be traded and a team which should covet his skills.  The result was Tampa Bay getting a 2nd round draft choice for Adams -- a brilliant move from the Bay side, and another crafty move by GM Mark Dominik.

    And still there is a third part to this story:  through Week 8 Crowder has more solo tackles than the man he backs up on the depth chart, Stylez White (15 vs. 13).  But White has 1.5 sacks to Crowder's zero.  Certainly these two men will continue to compete for playing time for the rest of the season, pushing each other to improve, meeting the third goal laid out by the new Bucs leadership -- "competition at all positions".

    For clarity, consider the sum of these moves:  a swap of Gaines Adams for Tim Crowder (who appears to be more productive in the new defense) plus an extra second round pick in 2010.  Certainly an excellent step towards improving the team.

    By watching the waiver wire and sticking to his core philosophy, Dominik has continued to force his philosophy on the roster and find ways to improve the talent of the team week in and week out.  And that is exactly what a GM with an underperforming team should do.

    Tuesday, November 3, 2009

    2009 Kansas City Draft Class

    Round 1, 3rd: Tyson Jackson, DE (Overall 3), LSU
    Round 3, 3rd: Alex Magee, DT (Overall 63), Purdue
    Round 4, 2nd: Donald Washington, CB (Overall 102) Ohio State
    Round 5, 3rd: Colin Brown, OL (Overall 139), Missouri
    Round 6, 2nd: Quinten Lawrence, WR (Overall 175), McNeese State
    Round 7, 28th: Jake O'Connell, WR (Overall 237), Miami (Ohio) (From Panthers through Dolphins)
    Round 7, 47th: Ryan Succop, K (Overall 256) (Compensatory selection), South Carolina
    Round 7, 3rd Javarris Williams, RB (212), Tennessee State

    Kokinis Fired

    A member of the GM class of 2009 has been fired.


    Cleveland has fired their GM George Kokinis.  Media reports that Kokinis and coach Eric Mangini have not worked well together.  The Browns now find themselves 1-7 with upheaval in the front office and the coach who wanted Kokinis in trouble.



    Friday, October 30, 2009

    2009 Detroit Draft Class


    Round 1, #1:  Matthew Stafford, QB  (Overall #1)
    Round 1, #20:  Brandon Pettigrew, TE  (Overall #20) (From Cowboys)
    Round 2, #1: Louis Delmas, S (Overall #33) 
    Round 3, #12: DeAndre Levy, OLB (Overall #76) (From Saints through Jets)
    Round 3, #18: Derrick Williams, WR(Overall #82) (From Cowboys)
    Round 4, #15: Sammie Lee Hill, DT(Overall #115) (From Redskins through Jets)
    Round 6, #19: Aaron Brown, RB(Overall #192) (From Cowboys)
    Round 7, #19: Lydon Murtha, OT(Overall #228) (From Jets)
    Round 7, #26: Zack FollettOLB(Overall #235) (From Falcons through Broncos)
    Round 7, #46: Dan GronkowskiTE (Overall #255) (Compensatory selection)


    2009 Tampa Bay Draft Class

    Round 1, 17th: Josh Freeman, QB (Overall 17) (From Jets through Browns)
    Round 3, 17th: Roy Miller, T (Overall 81)
    Round 4, 17th: Kyle Moore, DE (Overall 117) (From Dallas)
    Round 5, 19th: Xavier Fulton, T (Overall 155)
    Round 7, 8th: E.J. Biggers, CB (Overall 217) (From Jaguars)
    Round 7, 24th: Sammie Stroughter, WR (Overall 233) (From Ravens)

    Wednesday, October 28, 2009

    Preseason Coordinator Firings: No Hangover

    (2009 Week 7)


    The Tampa Bay media has had it's fun running line after line regarding the firing of Offensive Coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski during the preseason.  Coach Jagodzinski was one of three coordinators released during the 2009 preseason, the others being Chan Gailey (released by Kansas City) and Turk Schonert (released by Buffalo). 


    So how's it working out?


    Kansas City is now 1-6 with their only win coming against the 2-win Washington Redskins who, by the way, recently stripped head coach Jim Zorn of his offensive coordinator duties (and brought in a fresh face).  The Chiefs also recently fired their Wide Recievers coach for good measure.  The Chiefs average 15 points per game (NFL rank of 26th) and have started two different quarterbacks during the season.


    Buffalo is 3-4 and just two games out of first place in their division.  They have averaged 16.7 points per game (NFL rank of 24th).  Buffalo has started Trent Edwards each game this season.


    Tampa Bay is 0-7 and has averaged 13.7 points per game (NFL rank of 28th).  The Bucs have started two different quarterbacks this season.


    The bottom line question is, however, did any of these teams seriously damage the season they might have had by changing offensive coordinators so late in the preseason?  Kansas City and Tampa Bay were not highly considered coming into the season as both had made significant roster changes.  Buffalo plays in a very competitive division and was not generally considered a playoff team.  However, Buffalo is still in the hunt.  


    The point that the media (in the Tampa Bay area specifically) appears to have missed is:  Would it have been worse to retain these coaches?  Certainly the General Managers, Head Coaches, and perhaps even Ownership played a role in considering these moves so close to the opening of the regular season.  It is an extremely uncommon move and so it follows that these were extremely unusual circumstances.  


    Obviously each team thought it would be worse to just keep going as opposed to making the hard choice and moving on.  So each team pulled the trigger, avoiding a midseason coaching shuffle which would could potentially be much more disruptive.  It shows leadership, an eye for the long term, and an unwillingness to compromise on a problem which can be promptly fixed.


    For some reason, however, the media in Tampa Bay keeps bringing this up as a negative.


    Would you keep a coach that you didn't believe in because the preseason had already started?


    Me neither.  Good call.

    Wednesday, September 23, 2009

    Tampa Bay Buccaneer Roster Changes between 2008 and 2009: Defense





    Strictly based on who's gone and who's new (and disregarding returning players), here is a brief rundown of roster changes from opening day 2008 to opening day 2009.


    Linebacker
    Here: Angelo Crowell, Niko Koutouvides, Rod Wilson
    Gone: Cato June, Derrick Brooks

    • Two long-time pros out.  Brooks could be the best Buccaneer player -- EVER.  It's a big change but the tank could be empty for June and Brooks.  Crowell played in Buffalo last year but was injured.  He starts the year on IR.  This position is not improved.



    Defensive End
    Here: Kyle Moore
    Gone: Jovan Haye, Kevin Carter

    • Carter's top years are behind him.  Haye was an impact player and worked well inside and out.  Moore is a rookie.  This position is not improved.



    Defensive Tackle
    Here: Roy Miller, Dre Moore
    Gone: Chris Bradwell, Greg Peterson

    • Miller and Moore are the 300 pounders the new defense needs.  Miller showed glimpses during the preseason of the player he can become.  This position is slightly improved.



    Cornerback
    Here:  E.J. Biggers
    Gone:  Phillip Buchanon

    • Buchanon was not the impact player the team had hoped for and was even worse in one-on-one tackling.  Biggers is a draft choice with potential.  This position is slightly improved.



    Safety
    Here:  Torrie Cox
    Gone:  None

    • If Cox provides depth or even reliable special teams play, this position is improved.



    Punter
    Here:  None
    Gone: None
    • No change for 2009

    Sunday, September 13, 2009

    Tampa Bay Buccaneer Roster Changes between 2008 and 2009: Offense

    Strictly based on who's gone and who's new (and disregarding returning players), here is a brief rundown of roster changes from opening day 2008 to opening day 2009.


    Quarterback
    Here: Josh Freeman, Byron Leftwich
    Gone: Jeff Garcia, Brian Griese, Luke McCown
    • Garcia and Griese were cut and have not been picked up.  McCown was traded for a future draft pick.  Freeman has been designated as the future franchise QB that never appeared during the Second Era.  This position can finally be considered upgraded.



    Running Back
    Here: Clifton Smith, Derrick Ward
    Gone: Warrick Dunn, Jameel Cook
    • That's a lot of experience gone by the wayside.  Smith did contribute in 2008 but was an undrafted, mid-year pickup which went to the Pro Bowl.  Ward was integral to an excellent Giants running back group in 2008.  The only loss is experience, but considering Dunn was not picked up by another team it appears it was the right time to move on.  This position is neutral but certainly younger.



    Wide Reciever
    Here: Kelly Campbell, Brian Clark, Sammie Stroughter
    Gone: Ike Hilliard, Dexter Jackson, Joey Galloway
    • The Jackson experiment only lasted a year.  Hilliard was Mr. 3rd Down.  Galloway appeared to take a step back as far as wear and tear.  Campbell is a CFL free agent, Clark a youngster, and Stroughter a 7th round pick.  While the new WR group is certainly younger, they are also unproven in the NFL.  This position was unimproved.



    Tight End
    Here: Jerramy Stevens, Kellen Winslow
    Gone: Alex Smith
    • Are you kidding me?  Normally the loss of Smith would be reason to declare a downgrade, but the replacements are top level performers and respectable run blockers.  If the Bucs can make this talent work defenses will be scratching their heads each and every week.  This position was upgraded.



    Guard
    Here: Jonathan Compas, Marcus Johnson, Arron Sears
    Gone: None
    • Arron Sears remains on the roster but will not play in 2009.  Compas and Johnson are for depth (at least for now).  While Sears was a starter in 2008 it appears a capable replacement was already on the roster -- but in that case the depth suffers.  This position was unimproved.



    Tackle
    Here: Marc Dile, Demar Dotson, Xavier Fulton
    Gone: None
    • Xavier Fulton (2009 5th round) is on IR and will not play in 2009.  Dotson could be the college free agent find of the year for the Buccaneers.  This was already a position of strength and experience on the team, so no shiny new pieces were needed.  Nonetheless, this position is slightly improved.



    Center
    Here: None
    Gone: None
    • This position is unchanged.



    Place Kicker
    Here: Mike Nugent
    Gone: Matt Bryant
    • Bryant lacked some leg strength but was reliable.  Nugent is only a couple years younger (5th year vs. 8 years for Bryant).  This move was dictated by injury, but it was fortunate to have already had Nugent in camp for competition before the injury occurred.  This position is slightly improved.


    Saturday, September 12, 2009

    Grading Draft Classes

    Draft classes are an important measure of the organization of the front office. There are thousands of college players and coaches need players that fit their system, demeanor, or personality. The successful GM constructs an organization that can find the right talent for their team.

    To grade drafts across multiple teams the following criteria will be used to track individual draft classes:

    Starting point:

    • One point for each player chosen.
    • Adjust draft rating each year until no players from that draft are on the squad.
    • Accumulate points year over year.
    • Free agents and other additions to the roster are not graded.
    • -4 first time player does not make the roster; never counted again even if they rejoin team.
    • 3 year "target case" totals allow for a player to miss two games per year for injury

    Round by Round Expectations:

    Round 1 guys should start the next fall or before the 6th game of the season.

    • Before game 6, +1 if played, -1 if DNP.
    • After game 6, +1 if starter, -1 if DNP.
    • Over three years an excellent score would be 42 points.


    Round 2 guys should get playing time all year, maybe start.

    • Each Game: +1 if played, -1 if DNP
    • Over three years an excellent score would be 42 points.



    Round 3 guys should get playing time all year, maybe start.

    • Each Game: +1 if played, -1 if DNP
    • Over three years an excellent score would be 42 points.



    Round 4 guys should get playing time next year, start in year 2-3

    • Each Game: +1 if played
    • Year 2: +1 if start
    • Year 3+: +1 if start, -1 if DNP
    • Over three years an excellent score would be 42 points.



    Round 5 guys should get playing time next year, start in year 2-3

    • Each Game: +1 if played
    • Year 2: +1 if start
    • Year 3+: +1 if start, -1 if DNP
    • Over three years an excellent score would be 42 points.



    Round 6 guys are special teamers or project players probably destined for some practice squad time

    • Each Game: +2 if contributed in non-special teams role
    • Over three years an excellent score would be 22 points.



    Round 7 guys are special teamers or project players probably destined for some practice squad time

    • Each Game: +2 if contributed in non-special teams role
    • Over three years an excellent score would be 18 points.



    Using these criteria, a "Got What They Should Have Gotten" Draft Class Score would be in the 250 point range after three years.
    There was an error in this gadget