Continuity is key for the Bucs

Following the signing of the new collective bargaining agreement in March, many teams with fresh cap money hit the market salivating. Teams such as the Cowboys and the Vikings made huge splashes signing marquee players such as Terrell Owens from Philadelphia and Steve Hutchinson from the NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks.

But what about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?

Why have the Buccaneers, who have been known to stockpile free agents even when cap money is stringent, decided not to test the shark-infested waters?

The answer is continuity. It can be a good thing.

Look at New England. The Patriots have managed to win three of the last five Super Bowls by retaining the same quality players year after year. Even when decimated with injuries, the Patriots were able to maintain success because they had depth and continuity.

The Buccaneers are in the same boat. They overachieved last season, posting an 11-5 record en route to the NFC South crown. A disappointing loss to the Washington Redskins in the first round of the playoffs, even after the defense held the Redskins to a paltry 120 yards of offense, ended the 2005 campaign but left much room for growth.

With young players such as quarterback Chris Simms, running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams and wide receiver Michael Clayton in the fold along with veteran linebacker Derrick Brooks, defensive end Simeon Rice and cornerback Ronde Barber, the Buccaneers have an equal balance of youth and veteran leadership to get back to the playoffs and perhaps make a Super Bowl run.

During the off-season the Bucs managed to retain 20 of the 22 opening day starters from last year’s squad. Only starting free safety Dexter Jackson, who signed with the Bengals, and quarterback Brian Greise, who fled to Chicago to back up Rex Grossman, left the organization.

General manager Bruce Allen and coach Jon Gruden finally had adequate cap space to retain their key players thanks to contract restructures with Brooks, defensive lineman Anthony McFarland and linebacker Shelton Quarles. Rather than waste money on aging players such as Derrick Deese and Charlie Garner, the Bucs signed players such as tackle Torin Tucker and linebacker Jamie Winborn, players who would add depth – and youth – rather than challenge team chemistry.

Trying to win the NFC South for a second consecutive season will be difficult for Tampa Bay. All three divisional opponents made significant signing to improve their clubs and approached free agency more aggressively.

Carolina added depth to an already strong defense by adding Keith Adams and strengthened its receiving corps with former Buccaneer Keyshawn Johnson. New Orleans solidified its quarterback position by signing Drew Brees and holds the second pick in the upcoming NFL draft.

Perhaps the most improved team, however, is the Atlanta Falcons. Coming off a disappointing season, the Falcons hit the free agent market hard, making key additions to their defense by signing safety Lawyer Milloy away from the Patriots and acquiring Pro Bowl player John Abraham from the Jets via trade. Since the NFL re-aligned its divisions in 2002, a team from the NFC South has made it to the conference championship every year.

Another roadblock facing the Buccaneers is their difficult 2006 schedule. The Bucs play nine of their 16 games against teams that made the 2005 playoffs, including games against both teams represented in the Super Bowl: Seattle and Pittsburgh.

With a daunting schedule and a vastly improved NFC South, the Bucs will have to rely on continuity to win games and stay competitive. In the era of free agency, many teams try to fix needs by signing players to huge contracts.

The Bucs have played the quick-fix game in the past and failed. This upcoming season, they will only win if they play as a team with chemistry.

Without chemistry, you’d be better off watching videos of the 2003 and 2004 seasons.