Yardbarker Horiz

Monday, March 22, 2010

General Manager Dominik's Plan, Year 2

Tampa Bay General Manager Mark Dominik has stated his intent since taking over at the top of the Buccaneers was to mold the Buccaneers into a powerful, fast team and build through the draft for the long term, not through free agency for the short term.  Let's see if that is indeed the approach he has been taking so far.

Getting Younger
As documented here many times before Dominik has made the hard (and, in retrospect, dead on right) moves in this area.  The intent behind the veteran purge during the 2009 offseason was to provide opportunities for young players to step up and demonstrate they are capable of competing at the NFL level.  Although the team did not put up many wins, players like Geno Hayes and Maurice Stovall demonstrated skills that the team can build around.  In addition, those moves helped the Buccaneers to reduce payroll from $104 million in 2008 to $94 million in 2009, generating room to retain young talent as they become free agents.  While the CBA has changed free agency into a chess match this year, the Buccaneers nonetheless have ample resources to play the game.

Stability at Quarterback
After the selection of Josh Freeman with the #17 pick in the 2009 NFL Draft GM Dominik stated his intent was to make the quarterback position a source of strength and stability for the franchise instead of the revolving door it had been during the previous regime.  And not just the Freeman pick -- during the season Dominik picked a young quarterback off the Dallas Cowboys practice squad.   This foresight removes the Buccaneers from the QB drama of the 2010 NFL Draft and allows the team to take the best available player with the #3 pick.  New Cleveland Browns GM Mike Holmgren is fighting the same battle, first year GM Bruce Allen may be looking to get a young QB with the #4 pick for the Redskins, and the Rams are looking at that quarterback at the top of the draft with pick #1.

By settling the quarterback position last year, the Buccaneers will have plenty of great choices during the 2010 draft to address other positions on the team.   How confident was Dominik that this part of his plan was working as he wanted?  Rumor has it he attended the Oklahoma @ Nebraska fooball game on November 7th, 2009, in Lincoln, Nebraska (for the record, that was the Buccaneers Bye week in 2009).  If so, looks like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers draft preparation for 2010 was right on the mark long ago as the top two non-quarterback prospects played in that game in the persons of Ndamukong Sun (DL, Nebraska) and Gerald McCoy (DL, Oklahoma).  In 2008 Dominik attended a college game which involved 2009 first round pick Josh Freeman -- seems a pattern could be developing!

Moving foward

For 2010, the workings of the next phase of the plan could not be clearer.  During the offseason the NFL roster limit is 80 players.  Just prior to free agency, the Bucs trimmed their roster to 70 (anticipating 10 draft picks) by cutting Josh Bidwell (P), Dirk Johnson (P), and Torrie Cox (DB). 

Nine men were then tendered free agent offers:
- Rod Wilson (LB)
- Byron Storer (RB)
- Matt McCoy (LB)
- Brian Clark (WR)
- Jimmy Wilkerson (DE)
- Jermaine Phillips (S)
- Angelo Crowell (LB)
- Antonio Bryant (WR)
- Will Allen (S)

Here is what has transpired since:
Lost:  3/8/2010:  Brian Clark (WR, 4th season) signed by Detroit
Lost:  3/8/2010:  Will Allen (S, 7th season) signed by Pittsburgh
Added:  3/10/2010:  Reggie Brown (WR, 6th season, 6' 1", 197); Tampa Bay also gave up a 2011 6th round pick.
Lost: 3/10/2010:  Antonio Bryant (WR, 8th season) signed by Cincinnati
Added:  3/12/2010:  Jon Alston (LB, 5th season, 6' 0", 235 lbs)
Added:  3/16/2010:  Sean Jones (S, 7th season, 6' 1", 220 lbs)
Lost:  3/17/2010:  Matt McCoy (LB, 6th season) signed by Seattle

The pattern here is clear if you consider these transactions as sets of swap-outs:  one with wide receivers (Antonio Bryant for Reggie Brown), one with safeties (Will Allen for Sean Jones), one with linebackers (Jon Alston for Matt McCoy), and one without a match (WR Brian Clark).  These transactions are a good look into the thinking of the General Manager.

From the point of youth, the safety swap was a push, the wide receiver swap goes younger by two years, and the lineback swap goes younger by a year. These all fit the plan for getting young talent to create competition at all positions.

From the point of position these three swaps do not change the team composition.  This, to me, is a glimpse into the head of the GM.  There is a certain mix of players which is preferred, and the cuts before free agency landed the team at that mix.  The obvious intent with tendering the nine free agents is to get them back at market value (playing the expiring CBA to his own advantage) or release them to a team which places a higher value on the player.  When a free agent is hired away, a suitable replacement is signed.  This shows that the organization does not feel a need to change the internal chemistry of the team.  Put another way -- the Buccaneers are committing to their young players and not grabbing free agents which would reduce the minutes of the key players in the young core offense or defense.  This is exactly what we've been told time and time again by General Manager Mark Dominik -- this team will be built around young player development and not around a crop of veteran free agents.

Now the interesting part:  The team is "down" one wide receiver.  Going by the trend this offseason, we should expect the Buccaneers to sign a wide receiver soon with somewhere between 3 and 5 years of experience.  If Tampa Bay does not make such a move in the near future it tells me that the Buccaneers are anticipating drafting more than one wide receiver to bring the numbers into balance or the spot is staying open for a possible post-draft move later in free agency.  I think both options are equally good and equally likely.  UPDATE:  This unbalanced free agency loss has been offset by the award of a compensatory 7th round pick for the Buccaneers in the 2010 NFL Draft.  Expect at least one pick in the draft at WR because of the pattern outlined in this paragraph!

Barring another signing, the following players would rejoin the team at their tendered offer sometime in the near future:
- Rod Wilson (LB)
- Byron Storer (RB)
- Jimmy Wilkerson (DE)
- Jermaine Phillips (S)
- Angelo Crowell (LB)

These actions performed by General Manager Mark Dominik show that he is running this team with a steady hand, sticking to the principals he has stated he wants to build the team around, and keeping an eye open for young talent.  These are tried and true philosophies teams like Pittsburgh and Indianapolis have used to stay at a highly competitive level for many years.  I expect it will do the same for Tampa Bay.

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