To all those Tampa Bay fans screaming about how the Bucs haven’t spent any money in free agency, it might be time for a history lesson.
Let’s go back to 2003. That’s the season the Bucs were defending their only Super Bowl title. Expectations were high and the team was loaded with star power – Keyshawn Johnson, Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Mike Alstott, Simeon Rice, Ronde Barber and John Lynch.
The only thing higher than the expectations was the spending. I just went back and looked at 2003 salary-cap figures on the Bucs and there’s a very clear story here. In addition to the guys mentioned above, this team had high-priced contracts with veterans like Rickey Dudley, Keenan McCardell, Ken Dilger and we can’t leave out Tom Tupa.
Records from that season show the Bucs actually spent over the salary cap. Their adjusted cap for that year was $75.443 million. They exceeded it by $1,104.58 -- a figure that would be shaved from their 2004 cap.
So what did all that spending get the Bucs? An incredibly-disappointing 7-9 record that was good for third place in the NFC South. It also marked the first time since 1998 that Tampa Bay didn’t make the playoffs. And the season was filled with all sorts of controversy.
You might remember some lowlights from that season.
Johnson, with a cap figure more than $5 million, was deactivated for 10 games as he feuded with coach Jon Gruden.
A rift between Gruden and general manager Rich McKay that was so bad that McKay fled to the Atlanta Falcons before the season ended.
A 38-35 overtime loss to Indianapolis that wouldn’t have been nearly as painful if it wasn’t Tony Dungy’s first game back in Tampa. And it would have been even less painful if the Bucs hadn’t squandered a 35-14 lead with just over five minutes left in regulation.
And don’t forget that Week 13 loss to Jacksonville. The mighty Jaguars entered that game with a 2-9 record.
So what if the current Bucs have $108.5 million (or 88 percent) committed toward this year’s cap if you count all their contracts? If you only count the top 51 figures, which is the rule in the preseason, they’re at $93 million, which is just about 76 percent of their cap.
The moral of the story is spending big money doesn’t guarantee success. The 2003 Bucs showed us you can spend to the cap -- and even a little above it -- and still lose. Ever think ownership and the front office might look back at that kind of thing and maybe that's at least part of the reason the Bucs are taking their current approach?