Bucs learned hard lesson on free agency

TAMPA, Fla. -- If you're wondering why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been so quiet in free agency this year, all you have to do is look at last year.

That's when the Bucs splurged on free agents in the first year with coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht. They made some decent moves, such as signing Alterraun Verner and Clinton McDonald. But the team made three moves that turned out to be disastrous.

They signed defensive end Michael Johnson, offensive tackle Anthony Collins and quarterback Josh McCown to contracts that were worth a combined $83 million.

So what did the Bucs get out of all that?

Virtually nothing. Johnson recorded just four sacks. Collins was benched by the end of the season. And McCown led the Bucs to precisely one win (Mike Glennon led the other victory).

One year later, all three of those players are gone. Johnson's release Wednesday completed the trifecta.

There's a lesson to be learned here. Championships aren't won in March. The Bucs found that out the hard way during a 2-14 season.

It's pretty obvious the Bucs are using last year as a cautionary tale. Their approach to free agency this year has been totally different. They've stayed out of the bidding for high-priced players and focused more on midlevel free agents.

That's the smart approach. This team has a lot of holes. Filling them without overspending is crucial. The Bucs have a long road ahead of them as they try to reverse course.

They have the first pick in the draft and likely will use it on a quarterback, either Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota. The draft is where good teams form their nucleus. Free agency should be used to add complementary players.

The experience has been painful, but at least the Bucs are getting it right this time around.