TAMPA, Fla. -- Here’s the final price tag on Tampa Bay’s free-agent shopping spree: $141,055,554.
It’s tempting to say it’s a new day in Tampa Bay, but that slogan was used once (back when the Glazer family bought the team in the mid-1990s) and it doesn’t accurately portray what’s happened in the past 24 hours.
Yeah, the Bucs have spent way more than they did in salary to the entire team last season, but they really aren’t steering clear of the plan they’ve talked about since general manager Mark Dominik and coach Raheem Morris came to power in 2009. Morris is gone now and has been replaced by Greg Schiano, but the Bucs are still insisting they have been -- and will continue to be -- a team that builds primarily through the college draft.
This was not a sudden surge off course.
“It was the perfect time,’’ Schiano said. "It was the perfect storm. Everybody is new.’’
What the Bucs needed was a quick shot of energy into their building plan. That tends to happen when you go 4-12 and have sold out only two home games in the past two seasons. But that’s really not the main reason the Bucs are spending money this year after not spending a lot last year.
“We’ve stayed the course,’’ Dominik said. “When we talk about this football team and how it’s built, part of the reason we’re here today was we’ve built a nucleus of young players and we’re in a position now for those young players now to grow with some veterans from other organizations that can really help this team continue to grow as an entire unit.
“It’s not every day that Vincent Jackson, Eric Wright and Carl Nicks are going to hit the free-agent market. It’s a unique year. That’s kind of the way we projected back in 2010. A lot of people talked about why weren’t we more active in free agency last year. The way that the timing was, the CBA, the uncertainty and the lockout ... this felt like the time to add the players to this football team that could grow with us not only during the season, but in the offseason, and become a team together.’’
It might be hard to picture after watching the Bucs lose 10 straight games to end last season, but Dominik is serious (and perhaps right) when he talks about Tampa Bay’s young nucleus. Get defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price healthy and back on the field. Give defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers their first full NFL offseason, and get quarterback Josh Freeman back on the track he was on in 2010.
Then, throw in Nicks, Jackson and Wright, and it’s not that difficult to picture a bright future for the Buccaneers. We’re not talking about the kind of 30-something free agents who were common in the days of former coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen. We’re talking about three free agents still in their primes, with Jackson the oldest at 29. All three were wanted back by their former teams, which faced some salary-cap challenges. The Bucs, who entered free agency with almost $43 million in cap space, didn’t have the same constraints, and they capitalized.
They got the best receiver in free agency, perhaps the best guard in the NFL and a very solid cornerback.
“I’m a big believer in quality,’’ Dominik said.
But the shopping trip isn’t going to continue. Dominik said the Bucs will continue to monitor free agency and implied there could be some minor moves here and there, but the team’s focus now moves onto the NFL draft at the end of April.
The Bucs have the No. 5 overall pick and are likely to get a quality player there.
Take that guy and all the other young talent on the roster. Throw in Jackson, Wright and Nicks, and maybe the Bucs have figured out the formula for something they’ve been lacking for nearly a decade -- sustained success by a team that’s grown up together.