Cheapskates? No, Bucs actually have a plan

Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas

TAMPA, Fla. -– You can call the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a bad football team. Right now, there’s no evidence to the contrary.

Just don’t go calling them cheap.

I live in Tampa and I hear the accusations every day. The Bucs don’t care about winning and that’s why they’re not spending money, the theory goes.

That’s the problem with theories. All you need is an idea to throw around and it can catch on and spread, even if there’s absolutely nothing to back it up.

The Bucs have their flaws, sure, but being frugal isn’t one of them. Fact is, Malcolm Glazer and his sons who run the team are throwing money around.

Right now, they’re paying Jon Gruden, Bruce Allen and Jeff Jagodzinski $6 million to stay away from their football team. They’re operating out of the palatial One Buccaneer Place, which cost millions to build and I wouldn’t even want to guess what the daily light bill is.

But disgruntled fans are having a field day with the fact that the Buccaneers are roughly $30 million under the NFL’s salary cap. That’s a fact and it’s not disputed. It just needs some clarification.

Allen, the former general manager, came into salary-cap hell when he took over from Rich McKay. The best way to get out of that predicament is to not spend any money and, for four or five seasons, that’s what the Bucs did.

It became habit and unused cap money kept rolling over. The Glazers quietly could have pocketed that money, but they didn’t. They let it build and when new general manager Mark Dominik and coach Raheem Morris entered their first free-agency period in February, the Bucs were on an uneven playing field.

The rest of the league started with a cap floor of $123 million. Tampa Bay’s floor was about $150 million.

When free agency started, the Bucs didn’t stand still. They went out and signed Derrick Ward to the biggest contract for any free-agent running back. They traded for tight end Kellen Winslow and turned around and handed him a monstrous contract. They re-signed wide receiver Michael Clayton to a deal many thought was too big.

They made legitimate runs at Albert Haynesworth and Matt Cassel and not getting them might have been a blessing because those high-priced guys aren’t exactly lighting it up. But this isn’t about the virtues of caution.

There’s a wrong perception out there the Glazers are skimping on the Bucs to take care of their Manchester United soccer team. If they were so concerned about pinching pennies, why wouldn’t they have saved a few million and used their first-round pick on a defensive player instead of taking quarterback Josh Freeman as the franchise player for the next decade?

No, the Bucs aren’t being cheap because you really can’t do that in a day and age when there’s a cap floor. You want cheap? Go back to the early days of the Buccaneers when the NFL didn’t have a cap or a floor and owner Hugh Culverhouse wouldn’t pay anybody anything, so he could pocket his television money.

Back in those days, Tampa Bay’s scouts weren’t allowed to travel west of the Mississippi River. Seriously. Back in those days, Culverhouse wouldn’t pay big cash to his players, but he did offer quarterback Doug Williams an ownership stake in a construction project that never even started.

Speaking of the history of the Buccaneers, let’s take a look back to what the Glazers did when they first bought this team. They had McKay and coach Tony Dungy and they asked them to build a team for the long haul. A philosophy was developed in which the Bucs identified their young core players and locked them up with long-term contracts. They did that with guys like Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp and John Lynch and the system worked quite nicely for a decade or so.

Gruden’s Bucs got away from that philosophy in recent years and that’s part of the reason the coach was fired after last season. There was no long-term plan. There was no future, just more quick fixes.

It might be a little hard to see right now with the losses piling up and the Bucs looking in total disarray on the field. But the Glazers and Morris and Dominik have a plan.

You have to give it a little thought, but it’s there. Much like the Atlanta Falcons, who were in a similar situation last year, the Bucs already have put their emphasis on one side of the ball. They already have spent big money on their offense.

The next step will be a venture back to the Dungy/McKay days. That $30 million is sitting there for a reason. What’s happening now -- and spare me the conspiracy theories that Morris and Dominik are just a one-year fix until the Bucs can hire Mike Shanahan or Bill Cowher -- is the Bucs are looking hard at their own roster.

They’re going to spend some huge money in the coming months, but Dominik and Morris have to make some decisions first.

Is middle linebacker Barrett Ruud the player they want to build their defense around and is he ready to be a leader? If so, it’s going to cost about $6 million a year to keep him. Is left tackle Donald Penn, who’s been surprisingly solid, really the guy you want in the most important position on your offensive line? If so, you’re looking at $7 million a season. What about guard Davin Joseph? He’s a Pro Bowler, but is guard a position where you want to tie up about $6 million a season? Can safety Tanard Jackson, who’s suspended the first four games, stay clean and be the centerpiece of your secondary?

Those questions still need to be answered. But let’s say the Bucs re-sign those four players we just mentioned -- and we haven’t even gotten to the likes of Antonio Bryant and Cadillac Williams. Those four alone would probably cost the Bucs about $22 million a year in cap space.

See, that $30 million isn’t just sitting there wasting away. It’s part of a budget, part of a plan. No, the early returns haven’t been pretty and the current plan may not turn out to be a wise one.

But let’s just say Freeman comes on in the second half of the season and shows a little bit of promise. Let’s say the Bucs re-sign those guys we talked about.

All of the sudden, they’re sitting there with a decent amount of cap room to go out and address the defense in free agency. All of the sudden, you can see the Bucs actually have a plan.

Maybe it works. Maybe it doesn’t.

Recognize what it is and what it isn’t. It's about at least having a plan for a change. It’s not about being cheap.