NFC South: Raymond James Stadium

TAMPA, Fla. -- Take a look at the stat sheet from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 27-6 victory against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.

It will show you that the Bucs had seven sacks, four interceptions, nine tackles for loss and 13 quarterback hurries. It will show you that the Bucs played a dominant defensive game.

It might even have made you flash back to the Tony Dungy or Jon Gruden years, when Monte Kiffin still was running the defense. But this wasn't Dungy, Gruden or Kiffin football.

[+] EnlargeTampa Bay's Greg Schiano
AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackGreg Schiano said the Bucs "invented ways to lose some games" early in the season. They've now won four of five.
This, believe it or not, is what Greg Schiano football is supposed to be like.

"This game is really what the Bucs are about," rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks said.

Maybe, without knowing it, Tampa Bay fans would like to see a lot more Schiano-coached football games. Schiano is down to three games left to determine if he'll be back for a third season. When the Bucs were 0-8 at midseason, it seemed a certainty Schiano would be fired.

Now, and I'm just reading the tea leaves here, it seems like Schiano has at least a chance to stick around. He has won four of his past five games. Another win or two and maybe the Glazer family, which owns the team, will decide it wants to see more Schiano football.

By definition, Schiano football is supposed to be about playing aggressive defense, running the ball on offense and taking some deep shots in the passing game. The Bucs only had a few flashes of running and passing against the Bills, but the defense carried the day.

Go ahead and rain on the parade and point out that the Bills are pretty mediocre and this was a game the Bucs should have won. The difference is this is precisely the kind of game the Bucs would have lost early in the season. Why have things been going differently the second half of the season?

"I don't know if it's that much of a difference really," Schiano said. "I think we're finding ways to win the game. Against good football teams, we were in games and found ways to lose games. Literally, you look at it and you say we invented ways to lose some games."

There's no doubt about that. Just think about linebacker Lavonte David's late hit on Geno Smith in the season opener as one quick example. Maybe, in the end, the Glazers will decide that Schiano already has invented too many ways to lose.

Or maybe the Glazers, who also might factor in that Josh Freeman's repeated tardiness prompted his benching and eventual release, will keep their coach. For that to happen, the Bucs have to finish the season playing the way they did Sunday.

"We challenged each other, coaches and players alike, to really make sure that we had the details," Schiano said.

The Bucs host the 49ers next Sunday. Then they close the season by going on the road to St. Louis and New Orleans.

Play like they did against the Bills and the Bucs can finish this season with some positive momentum and, more importantly, some hope for the future.

"This week was just go play our game," safety Dashon Goldson said. "Make them one-dimensional. Stop the run and make them beat us with the pass and we knew we weren't going to do that."

The Bucs held Buffalo to 67 rushing yards and they harassed rookie quarterback EJ Manuel into a bunch of mistakes.

"I think it all comes down to making the quarterback just a little uncomfortable," Schiano said. "It's not always sacks. Sometimes it's just getting that hand in the quarterback's face so he has to alter his release just a little bit."

The Bucs did more than just make Manuel uncomfortable. They held the Bills to two field goals. And they got an 80-yard touchdown run from Bobby Rainey on the second play of the game and two touchdown passes from rookie quarterback Mike Glennon.

Rainey and Glennon didn't do much besides that. But each has had bright moments in recent weeks. Get Rainey and Glennon back to that and keep the defense playing the way it did against Buffalo, and Schiano's version of football could be enough for him to keep his job.

Upward swing could save Greg Schiano

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
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TAMPA, Fla. -- For weeks now, coach Greg Schiano steadfastly has said that once the Tampa Bay Buccaneers started winning football games, they wouldn't stop.

We all laughed.

As it turns out, maybe the man had a point. Maybe, just maybe, Schiano will have a job next year that many expected him to lose.

The Buccaneers defeated the Atlanta Falcons, 41-28, on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. That came six days after the Bucs got a Monday night win against the Miami Dolphins for their first victory of the season.

"It's something that we can build on, for sure," Schiano said.

[+] EnlargeGreg Schiano
AP Photo/Brian BlancoGreg Schiano had the Buccaneers playing hard despite an 0-8 start. The result? Two straight victories.
Let's make no mistake: The Bucs are 2-8 and Schiano remains very much on the hot seat. But that seat is a little cooler than it was a few weeks ago. It might seem hard to imagine, but maybe the billboards calling for Schiano's firing will come down, maybe fans will jump off his back and onto his bandwagon, and maybe he still will be the coach in 2014.

"We've got a lot of pride," left tackle Donald Penn said. "We've got to play for our coach. Everybody's doubting our coach. We're behind him 120 percent."

That's the very reason I've held off on joining the masses in calling for Schiano's job. I'm not saying Schiano is a great coach, and I still don't know if his ways will work in the NFL. But the fact is, he never lost the locker room during an 0-8 start. His players never stopped playing hard.

I saw Tampa Bay teams totally pack it in at the end of the Raheem Morris and Sam Wyche eras. That, along with dismal records, is why Morris and Wyche were fired.

"A lot of people could have just folded," Penn said. "We're still fighting. Hopefully, we can keep building. I'm happy. For once, I can say I'm happy."

Let's not get too carried away with the sudden happiness. Schiano's record (9-17 overall) is dismal. Schiano has lost a lot of games, but he hasn't lost his players.

That counts for a lot, in my eyes.

Schiano is still facing an uphill battle. But I can see a scenario in which he could end up sticking around. I don't know if the Glazer family, which owns the team, has some magic number of wins in mind for Schiano to keep his job. Maybe Schiano needs to run the table, win the next six games and finish 8-8. Or maybe something like winning six of the final eight games will be enough to bring Schiano back.

He does have three more years left on his contract, and ownership likely won't be eager to pay the salaries for two head coaches at once. Or maybe the Bucs lose their next six and Schiano follows the route of Bobby Petrino, Steve Spurrier and Nick Saban and goes back to coaching a college program.

But the point is Schiano still has a shot in the NFL, if he can win some more games down the stretch. That no longer seems as unfathomable as it did a few weeks ago.

If the Bucs can play the rest of the way like they did Sunday, they could win more than they lose in their remaining games. It could happen.

It could happen because Gerald McCoy (three sacks on Sunday) suddenly is playing as well as any defensive tackle in the league. It could happen because the Bucs appear to have found a hidden gem in running back Bobby Rainey (163 rushing yards). It could happen because rookie quarterback Mike Glennon (only three incompletions against the Falcons) continues to get better each week.

And let's not overlook the possibility that Schiano might be starting to catch onto what the NFL is all about. Did you see the onside kick, the tailback pass and Glennon's two deep throws to Vincent Jackson? This team isn't playing nearly as conservatively as it did early in the season. Maybe Schiano is changing -- for the better.

In recent weeks, it hasn't taken too much observation to see a difference in Schiano. On the practice field, he has been joking around more with his players. When talking to the media, Schiano has seemed more relaxed, even approaching humor at times.

Maybe Schiano realized he needed to be less stubborn and stern. Maybe changing his personality and his play calling is Schiano's way of fighting for his job.

And, as long has his team keeps fighting, maybe he'll get to keep it.

Locker Room Buzz: Tampa Bay

September, 29, 2013
9/29/13
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Observed in the locker room after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 13-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
  • McCoy
    McCoy
    Coach Greg Schiano defended the two play calls on which rookie quarterback Mike Glennon threw fourth-quarter interceptions by saying the Bucs had to throw the ball because the running game wasn’t working. It’s true that Doug Martin was bottled up almost all day. But putting the ball into the hands of a guy making his first start with the game on the line isn’t a great idea.
  • Schiano said it was a “mutual decision” to have former starting quarterback Josh Freeman sit in a suite instead of being on the sideline. I think the translation there is the Bucs didn’t want to have Freeman as a possible distraction. With the bye week coming up, I think Freeman will be traded or released before the Bucs play another game.
  • Schiano gave his usual spiel about the team sticking together through tough times. But we might have seen the first crack. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who had an outstanding day, said he didn’t want to talk about the offense. I'm not saying the defense is pointing fingers at the offense, but that would be justified.

Not all is right with Josh Freeman

September, 12, 2013
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TAMPA, Fla. -- On a sweltering May afternoon in 2011, Josh Freeman stood on a field at the University of South Florida and seemingly never broke a sweat.

This was during the NFL lockout, and I couldn't help but admire how firmly the 23-year-old quarterback had the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in his grasp. He was throwing passes with one hand and arranging the next day's practice with his cell phone in his other hand.

Freeman even fielded a phone call from LeGarrette Blount, who was having trouble finding USF. Blount, then a Buccaneers running back, was headed for the Howard Frankland Bridge, which is about as far away as you can get from USF and still be in Tampa. Freeman ordered Blount to stop before getting on the bridge and firmly told him to try using Interstate 275 North to Fowler Avenue the next day.

At the time, Freeman was coming off a 2010 season in which he threw for 25 touchdowns and six interceptions and led the Bucs to a 10-6 record. It appeared the Buccaneers had a franchise quarterback for the first time in franchise history.

That's why I can't help but wonder where that Freeman has gone.

[+] EnlargeJosh Freeman
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsJosh Freeman enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2010. Since then, he has thrown almost as many interceptions (40) and TD passes (44).
Let's flash forward to Thursday. Reports were flying that Freeman missed the team's annual photo; other players suspected coach Greg Schiano had manipulated the vote to keep the quarterback from being a captain; and the team had a players-only meeting to discuss the voting.

Two out of three were (somewhat) wrong. Schiano emphatically denied rigging the vote, and multiple players said topic did not come up in a meeting. But the players did have a meeting, which veteran long-snapper Andrew Economos said was basically a pep rally to start the season.

So the only smoke that came with fire was that Freeman missed the team photo. He said he overslept, which makes you wonder if the Bucs need to bring back the guy they used to pay to make sure Blount got to practice on time.

The Bucs and Freeman did their best to throw water on the situation.

They need more water, because not everything looks right with this picture.

"The position of quarterback is a position of leadership," Freeman said. "Obviously, missing the team photo is a big deal. ... It's something I feel badly about and it's obviously upsetting. But, at the same time, you've got to put it behind you and continue to play because, like it or not, the Saints are coming to town."

You can't ignore all the other signs that something is off kilter with a guy who once seemed to be the most balanced individual inside One Buccaneer Place. And I'm not just talking about Freeman's dismal performance in the season-opening loss to the New York Jets.

I'm talking about the fact that Freeman looked equally dismal throughout the preseason and late last season, when he had consecutive four-interception games in December. I'm talking about the fact the Bucs decided not to sign Freeman to a long-term contract extension. I'm talking about the repeated rumblings that Freeman and Schiano don't see eye to eye.

"I do trust Josh," Schiano said. "Josh and I share a lot of things together."

"I really like playing for Coach Schiano," Freeman said.

Yeah, that all sounds nice. But I couldn't help but notice the painting on the Himes Avenue corner of Raymond James Stadium as I drove by earlier in the day and pondered the irony.

The painting featured an action shot of Freeman, flanked by action shots of defensive linemen Adrian Clayborn and Gerald McCoy with a message on top: "Fear No Enemy."

Are Freeman and Schiano enemies? Are they at odds?

They say they're not.

"It may be an issue outside this building," Schiano said. "It's not an issue inside this building."

Freeman said basically the same thing.

But still I wonder what happened to that calm, cool quarterback from that day back at the University of South Florida.

As Freeman stood at a podium on Thursday and went through an interview session that was more like an interrogation, he, seemingly, was sweating.

Maybe Freeman puts it all together against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday and Freeman, Schiano and the Bucs live happily ever after.

Or maybe Freeman has another lackluster game and the smoke just continues to get thicker.

 
TAMPA, Fla. – Observations on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers30-12 loss to the Washington Redskins at Raymond James Stadium on Thursday night.

What it means: Not all that much, really. I can’t say it strongly enough that preseason games, especially the fourth one, have no meaning. I’ve seen teams go undefeated in the preseason and go on to struggle in the regular season, and I’ve seen teams go from dismal preseasons to great regular seasons. The Bucs finish with a 1-3 preseason record. It doesn’t matter. But still, it would have been nice to see Tampa Bay look like it was in sync for just a few minutes of the preseason. That never happened.

Very Goode: Tampa Bay’s highlight of the night came early in the second quarter when linebacker Najee Goode picked off a Pat White pass and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown.

Very bad: I think the Bucs would have preferred to go into the regular season with only two quarterbacks on the roster. But I no longer think they can afford to do that. After watching rookie Mike Glennon (7-of-16 for 63 yards with an interception and a lost fumble) struggle, I’m thinking the Bucs should keep veteran Dan Orlovsky around as insurance in case anything happens to Josh Freeman.

Not what they needed: Tight end already looked like a potential weak spot, with Luke Stocker and Tom Crabtree expected to share most of the playing time. But this might be more of a problem area than ever. Crabtree had to be carted off the field with an ankle injury midway through the first quarter. If Crabtree is out for a significant period of time, it could mean more work for Nate Byham, or the Bucs may look for a tight end off the waiver wire.

Not so special: Tampa Bay’s special teams haven’t had a great preseason, and the trend continued Thursday night. The Bucs allowed a punt to be returned 69 yards for a touchdown. Kicker Derek Dimke missed an extra-point attempt. And return man Eric Page had what would have been a 105-yard kickoff return nullified by a holding penalty.

What’s next: The Bucs will trim their roster to 53 players by Saturday evening and begin preparing for their Sept. 8 season opener on the road against the New York Jets.

Observations on the Buccaneers

August, 8, 2013
8/08/13
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TAMPA, Fla. -- When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers get back to work Saturday, the special teams meeting isn’t going to be much fun.

Three bad plays on special teams in the second quarter handed Baltimore 17 points as the Ravens defeated the Bucs 44-16 in the preseason opener for both teams on Thursday night at Raymond James Stadium.

The chaotic string started when Chris Owusu failed to catch a punt and the Ravens recovered at Tampa Bay’s 20-yard line with 10:42 left in the second quarter. One play later, the Ravens scored a touchdown to take a 7-6 lead.

The woes on special teams continued when Moe Lee returned a kickoff 58 yards and kicker Derek Dimke was flagged for making a horse-collar tackle. That led to a Baltimore field goal.

But the worst was yet to come. With 13 seconds left in the first half Chas Henry had a punt blocked and the Ravens recovered it for a touchdown to take a 24-13 lead into halftime.

Some other observations on the Bucs:
  • There is no quarterback controversy. Josh Freeman led the Bucs to one field goal in limited action and made no major mistakes. Mike Glennon might have gotten the hopes up of some fans when his first NFL pass (to Tom Crabtree) went for 61 yards. But Glennon wasn’t as effective the rest of the way. He completed 11 of 23 passes for 169 yards and one interception. Glennon is not a threat to unseat Freeman as the starter. In fact, Glennon needs to play better than he did to hold off veteran Dan Orlovsky for the backup job.
  • Owusu, who has been performing well in camp, had a tough night. In addition to the muffed punt, he also dropped a pass as a receiver and later left the game with an ankle injury.
  • Backup running back Brian Leonard had a nice 13-yard run in the first quarter. He appears to be ahead of veteran Peyton Hillis on the depth chart. Hillis had to leave the game with a knee injury.
  • Second-year linebacker Lavonte David had a sack on Baltimore’s first drive. David had a strong rookie year, but he can make himself into a Pro Bowl player if he can produce more big plays.
  • Cornerback Danny Gorrer made a nice play and came up with a first-quarter interception. But Gorrer had to leave the game with a groin injury.

Live from Raymond James Stadium

August, 8, 2013
8/08/13
5:23
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TAMPA, Fla. -- I’m in the press box at Raymond James Stadium, where I’ll be covering the exhibition opener between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Baltimore Ravens.

I also will be watching the game between the Atlanta Falcons and Cincinnati Bengals on my computer.

I’ll break in if there are any significant injuries or any other news out of either game. Otherwise, I’ll be back with observations on the Bucs and Falcons after their games end.

Around the NFC South

July, 27, 2013
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Let’s take a quick run through some news and notes from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Former Falcon Deion Sanders said it’s Super Bowl or bust for the team. I think that’s a pretty fair assessment and a lot of people in the organization feel the same way. In fact, there will be more on that theme in my Camp Confidential profile that will run later today.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Center Ryan Kalil, who missed most of last season with a foot injury, is optimistic that he’ll return to full health. That would be a big boost for the offensive line because Kalil and left tackle Jordan Gross are the only members of that unit with blue-chip talent.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Mike Triplett writes that Jimmy Graham should become the league’s highest-paid tight end whenever the team gets around to giving him a new contract. That probably will mean an average of at least $9 million a year. The Saints have salary-cap issues, but they have to find a way to lock up Graham. He already is one of the league’s top tight ends. He still is young and is only going to keep getting better.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

The Bucs will put their pads on for the first time for Saturday night’s practice, which will be held at Raymond James Stadium and is open to the public.
Doug Martin, Darrelle Revis and Josh FreemanGetty Images, AP Photo, USA TODAY SportsThree reasons Bucs fans can get excited: RB Doug Martin, CB Darrelle Revis and QB Josh Freeman.

TAMPA, Fla. – Of all places, the answer to a question I’d been pondering about four years came in a casual conversation over Memorial Day weekend.

Since about 2009, I’ve been wondering why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had trouble drawing big crowds to Raymond James Stadium and why there seems to be so much indifference about a franchise that used to be the darling of the region.

For four years, we have tossed out theories here that pointed at the team’s on-field performance, the economy and the transient nature of Florida. I have no doubt that all of those are contributing factors. But, all the while, I believed there was something more, something deeper, to the equation.

I just couldn’t put my finger on it.

Then, by chance, I ran into an old friend at a charity event Sunday. With one sentence, he started to put it all into perspective.

"I hope this is the year I can fall back in love with the Bucs," he said.

This is a guy who was as much of a die-hard Bucs fan as you could find when I lived here back in the late 1990s. Heck, he even sang the national anthem before a game and called it the proudest moment of his life.

So how, I asked, did he fall out of love with the Bucs?

His answer set off bells. He said that, in the 1970s and '80s, the Bucs were new and, no matter how bad they often were, he had to love them. Then, coach Tony Dungy came along in the mid-1990s and started winning games and, in the words of my friend, became part of "the fabric of the community."

Dungy left, but many of his players stayed and helped Jon Gruden win a Super Bowl, and things remained rosy for a while. But sometime toward the end of the Gruden era, my friend said, the Bucs stopped being lovable.

He has a point. For the past few years, the Bucs have been bland -- on and off the field. The team has lacked star power and hasn’t won a playoff game since it won the Super Bowl more than a decade ago. Even general manager Mark Dominik said soon after coach Greg Schiano was hired last year that one of the franchise’s goals was to give the fan base a team it could love again.

Maybe my friend and a lot of other disenchanted Bucs fans are about to get their wish. They’re far from a finished product, but I look at the Bucs and I see a lot of ingredients fans can fall in love with.

They can’t bring back Dungy, Derrick Brooks, John Lynch, Warren Sapp and Mike Alstott, but maybe the Bucs already have some parts in place that soon will be embraced all around Tampa Bay.

I see six prime candidates who could bring back the magic:

Doug Martin: The running back had a spectacular rookie season and should only be better with guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph at full health. Back in the day, Alstott, Warrick Dunn and Cadillac Williams were all runners who were loved by Tampa Bay fans. Each of them had some great moments. But, when I look at Martin, I see a guy who could be better than any of them on the field. I also see a guy with a magnetic personality and a great nickname ("The Muscle Hamster"). This region is waiting for a superstar, and I think Martin, partly because he plays an offensive skill position and partly because he has some charisma, is the first in line to fill that role.

Gerald McCoy: Now that I think more about this concept of falling out of love with the Bucs, I think McCoy’s biggest curse might have been that he came along at the worst possible time. Drafted third overall in 2010 and possessing a big personality, the defensive tackle instantly would have been loved under ordinary circumstances. But McCoy arrived at a time when fans were suspicious about everything involving the Bucs. He started his career under a microscope, and it didn’t help when injuries interrupted his first two seasons. There was talk of McCoy being a "bust." But he put a Pro Bowl season on the table last year, and maybe it’s time for fans to stop doubting and start accepting McCoy.

Darrelle Revis: When the Bucs traded for Revis before the draft, I was surprised by the reaction around town because it usually started with something like, "That’s a lot to give up for a guy with a bad knee." Yeah, it’s true that Revis is coming off major knee surgery. But the Bucs wouldn’t have made the trade or handed Revis a huge new contract if their medical people weren’t pretty certain the knee will be fine. If it is, the Bucs will have the best cornerback in football and perhaps the biggest superstar this franchise has ever had. When a cloud has been hanging over your favorite team for a long time, it’s tough to envision a best-case scenario. But maybe that’s what the Bucs got with Revis.

Lavonte David: At least with David, some fans started looking past the clouds last year. As a rookie, David drew some comparisons to Brooks. He stepped right, made plays and quickly was running the defense. Aside from Lee Roy Selmon, Brooks might be the most loved Tampa Bay player ever. If David ends up being even anything close to what Brooks was in the long term, the Bucs have a keeper.

Josh Freeman: Coming off a season in which he set numerous franchise records, Freeman still is a question mark in the eyes of fans and, apparently, his coach. That’s somewhat understandable because there were a few times when Freeman was really bad last year. Still, there were enough good moments last year, and throughout his career, that fans should be able to look at the potential and see the franchise quarterback Tampa Bay never has had. Can he firmly claim that role? That last part is up to Freeman. Schiano has danced around his feelings about Freeman, and he drafted quarterback Mike Glennon in the third round. If your coach isn’t sold on the quarterback, how can you expect your fans to be? If Freeman can put it all together this season, though, he’ll get a big new contract and everything will be fine in Tampa Bay.

Schiano: The sense I get is that fans don’t run hot or cold when it comes to Schiano because the coach remains a mystery. I’m still not sure that Schiano’s collegiate style will succeed in the NFL, but I’ve seen some encouraging signs. Like Dungy, Schiano doesn’t want guys who don’t fit his no-nonsense style (see Kellen Winslow, Aqib Talib and LeGarrette Blount). But Schiano doesn’t need to be exactly like Dungy. He just needs to deliver wins, and fans will warm to him. They’ll also fall back in love with the Bucs.

Ronde Barber's career is ending exactly the way it should. It’s ending on his terms.

The 38-year-old cornerback told Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer on Wednesday that he’s retiring after 16 seasons.

Considering that every one of those seasons was spent with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it’s hugely important that it was Barber who made the call. The Bucs haven’t always been graceful about parting ways with their icons.

They completely botched the ending of Derrick Brooks’ career by unceremoniously releasing him. In that instance, the Bucs didn’t have any dialogue with Brooks until two days after his release, when they were getting hit with tons of blowback from their fan base. Had the dialogue taken place before, Brooks could have slid into retirement regally.

[+] EnlargeRonde Barber
AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackRonde Barber will retire as the only NFL player to record 40 or more interceptions and 20 or more sacks in his career.
The Bucs also didn’t score any public relations points when they let John Lynch and Warren Sapp go. Those guys went on to finish their careers elsewhere, and the Bucs haven’t been quite as beloved in Tampa Bay since, partly because of the way they ran off the franchise’s royalty.

Barber is on a plane with Brooks, Sapp and Lynch. Along with them, he helped form the nucleus of a great defense that helped the Bucs win their only Super Bowl.

Barber deserves a better exit than Brooks, Sapp and Lynch got. He deserves what Mike Alstott got -- a spiffy news conference to formally announce his retirement. Presumably that will come in the next few days. In time, Barber deserves a spot in the team’s Ring of Honor.

Treat this guy right, because he always treated the franchise and the fans right. Barber is a fixture in the Tampa Bay area (and it goes beyond just what he did on the field), and the Bucs, who haven’t been packing Raymond James Stadium in recent years, don’t need to endure another ice age with another star from their glory years.

Maybe general manager Mark Dominik learned from the past. Or maybe coach Greg Schiano, who wasn’t around for the departures of Brooks, Sapp and Lynch, holds higher respect for elder players than his predecessors did.

Whatever the case, the Bucs got this one right by putting the ball in Barber’s hands. After last season, a year in which Barber smoothly made the transition from cornerback to free safety, the Bucs came out and publicly said they wanted Barber back.

Barber said he wanted some time to think about it, and the Bucs repeatedly said that was fine. They also repeatedly (even after the NFL draft) kept saying they wanted Barber back.

At one point during the saga, Barber said that he was hoping to wake up one day and the decision would be clear to him. In their own subtle way, the Bucs might have helped make that decision clear.

The whole time Barber was pondering his future, the Bucs were busy overhauling a secondary that was the main reason the Bucs ranked No. 32 in pass defense last season. They went out and signed free safety Dashon Goldson to a big contract in free agency.

Then, they traded for cornerback Darrelle Revis and drafted cornerback Johnthan Banks.

All of a sudden, there was no starting job available for a guy with 232 starts who is the only player in NFL history with 40 or more interceptions (47) and 20 or more sacks (28). But the door was still open for Barber to come back -- perhaps as a nickelback, a fourth cornerback or a backup safety.

Barber looked at his options and decided to call it a career.

That’s the best way to end it for everyone involved. Barber gets to go out on top. The Bucs get to move forward without isolating one of the best players in franchise history.

The Bucs were fortunate to have Barber for 16 years. By ending things gracefully, they at least get to keep him on their good side for the long term.

In an ideal world, that’s how every NFL career should end.

The night ahead in the NFC South

April, 25, 2013
4/25/13
3:44
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TAMPA, Fla. -- I’m getting ready to head out to One Buccaneer Place, where I’ll be covering the first round of tonight's NFL draft.

Yes, that decision was made before the Darrelle Revis trade took away Tampa Bay’s first-round pick. But barring some team trading up, the bosses in Bristol didn’t see any compelling reason for me to travel anywhere else. Heck, the Bucs still could become the big story if they trade back into the first round.

I may even swing by Raymond James Stadium to check out the atmosphere at the Buccaneers' fan draft party, where Revis and some other prominent players are scheduled to appear.

But I’ll be set up at One Buccaneer Place before the draft starts at 8 p.m. ET. As soon as I get settled in, I’ll join our live chat, which starts at 7 p.m. ET. A module for the chat will be posted on the blog later this afternoon or early this evening.

I’ll be chatting throughout the draft. As soon as each NFC South team makes its pick, I’ll post a quick analysis. Then, I’ll chose whatever the division’s biggest story of the night is and write a column on that.

Stay tuned for what should be a fun night.
Although they don’t currently have a first-round pick after trading it as part of the Darrelle Revis deal, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers still will hold their draft party at Raymond James Stadium on Thursday night.

According to the team, Revis, Dashon Goldson, Mark Barron, Doug Martin, Lavonte David, Josh Freeman, Gerald McCoy and Adrian Clayborn will attend. The team also says there will be an “on-field presentation’’ at 7 p.m. Other festivities also are planned.

But I wouldn’t be surprised if the biggest event comes very late in the night. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Buccaneers trade back into the latter stages of the first round.

One thing we’ve learned about general manager Mark Dominik is he’s a creature of habit. He drafted receivers Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn in the same year and took defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price in the same draft.

Dominik set a precedent for trading into the first round last year. After taking Barron with the seventh overall pick, he traded back into the first round to get Martin.

It could happen again. The Bucs currently have seven picks. If you look at the trade value chart, they could package their second-round pick (No. 43) and third-round pick (No. 73) and get to somewhere in the bottom five or six picks in the first round.

Dominik acknowledged Monday that he at least has thought about scenarios where he would consider getting back into the first round.

One other thing to keep in mind: When Dominik drafted Martin last year, he explained that part of the reason he made the deal was because players that are drafted in the first round can be given five-year deals, while anyone after the first round can’t get anything more than a four-year deal.

That’s important to Dominik.

That’s why I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes a trade to get back into the first round.
Darrelle RevisDoug Murray/Icon SMIDarrelle Revis brings star power and immense talent to the slumping Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Giving up a 2013 first-round draft pick (and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2014 that could become a third-round pick) and handing $16 million per year to one guy generally is the type of move reserved for a team that thinks it’s on the cusp of a Super Bowl.

Add just one more piece and you’re over the hump and on your way to winning it all, the thinking goes.

Despite the hefty price tag, Tampa Bay’s trade with the New York Jets for Darrelle Revis on Sunday doesn’t quite fit the profile of an “all-in" move. One player, even if he’s the best cornerback on the planet, doesn’t suddenly take a 7-9 team and put it in the Super Bowl.

Other things have to happen -- like quarterback Josh Freeman becoming more consistent, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and a young defensive line continuing to progress and running back Doug Martin avoiding a sophomore slump.

But Revis instantly makes the Bucs better, and he’s going to bring star power to a team that hasn’t been relevant on a national scale or won a playoff game in quite some time. The last two times the Bucs made national headlines were when they fired coach Jon Gruden and when they released Derrick Brooks.

This time, they’ll dominate the news cycle with an incoming player. That’s significant for a team that has struggled for several years to sell out Raymond James Stadium. Say what you want about Tampa Bay’s ownership, but I think the Glazer family had a heavy hand in this deal. Attendance issues are very much on their minds and they just brought star power to a fan base that needs something to get excited about.

But this move isn’t purely about selling tickets. It’s about football, and general manager Mark Dominik and coach Greg Schiano were as much on board as the Glazers.

Schiano needs a shutdown corner to improve a pass defense that was the worst in the league last season. When signing guys like safety Dashon Goldson, guard Carl Nicks and Vincent Jackson over the past year, Dominik frequently has cited “rare’’ and “unique’’ opportunities to get Pro Bowl players in their prime.

The fact that Revis was even available makes him even more rare and unique than Goldson, Nicks and Jackson.

Assuming Revis is fully recovered from a knee injury, he, Goldson and safety Mark Barron, a first-round pick from last year, suddenly make the secondary look like a strength.

Yeah, the Bucs are gambling a bit on their future by giving up the draft picks, but they’re not mortgaging it. The Bucs had been sitting there with $33 million in cap room, just waiting for this deal to go down. They’ve got the cap room in future years to give Revis a lengthy extension, something no other team in the NFL was willing to do. Let's be honest: If the Bucs held onto the No. 13 overall pick in this year's draft, they weren't going to get a cornerback anywhere as good as Revis.

This trade doesn’t come with the long-term implications the trades the Bucs made for Gruden (two first-round picks and two second-round picks) and receiver Keyshawn Johnson (two first-round picks) carried. Also, the Bucs pulled off the new contract for Revis without committing any guaranteed money.

Dominik and, to a lesser degree Schiano, are stepping out on a bit of a limb here. But even if they hadn’t made this deal, Dominik already was on a bit of a hot seat heading into his fifth year as general manager. Schiano is heading into his second season as the head coach, but patience no longer is a virtue in the modern NFL.

It’s a lost art. Teams need to win or else coaches and general managers will go quickly. Patience is especially thin in Tampa Bay because the Bucs haven’t made the playoffs since the 2007 season.

Adding Revis might not put the Bucs into the Super Bowl this season. But it might be enough to put them into the playoffs. Talk of a Super Bowl might come a year or two down the road.

Just making the playoffs would be a huge stride for this franchise. Just making the playoffs and selling out most of the home games would make the Revis deal worthwhile.

 
NFC schedule analysis: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Breakdown: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the NFC South’s easiest schedule based on the combined winning percentage (.500) of opponents in 2012, but this is no easy slate. The Bucs are going to be tested early with a trip to New England in Week 3, and other nondivision games include San Francisco and Seattle, who went to the playoffs last season. In a bit of a surprise, the Bucs will get two home games in prime time. They’ll host Carolina on Oct. 24 (a Thursday night game) and Miami on Nov. 11 (a Monday night game). That might be the NFL’s way of working with the Buccaneers to try to help get enough attendance at Raymond James Stadium to avoid local television blackouts. The Bucs also will find out how they stand compared to the rest of the NFC South early on. They'll play four of their six division games before December. The best news of all might be that the Bucs, who traditionally have struggled in cold weather, might not have to play in it this season. The only outdoor games with the potential for cold weather are at Seattle and at Carolina.

Complaint department: The Bucs caught a huge break by drawing the lengthy trip to Seattle in the week between their home Thursday and Monday games. But the league didn’t do the Bucs any favors in a few other ways. Their bye comes in Week 5. That’s much earlier than coaches and players like. The Bucs also have to play four of their last six games, including the final two, on the road. That could be a big challenge if the Bucs are in the playoff hunt.

Revis Bowl: The Bucs open their season on the road against the New York Jets. That could end up being much bigger than just a season opener. There has been speculation for weeks about a possible trade by the Bucs to get cornerback Darrelle Revis from the Jets. No deal has happened yet, but it could happen as the NFL draft gets closer. The stage is at least set for Revis to open the season playing against what could end up being his former team. This is also proof that the NFL has an eye for potential drama.

Buccaneers Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 8, at N.Y. Jets, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 15, New Orleans, 4:05 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 22, at New England, 1:00 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 29, Arizona, 1 p.m.
Week 5: BYE
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 13, Philadelphia, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 20, at Atlanta, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Thursday, Oct. 24, Carolina, 8:25 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 3, at Seattle, 4:05 p.m.
Week 10: Monday, Nov. 11, Miami, 8:40 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 17, Atlanta, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 24, at Detroit, 1 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 1, at Carolina, 1 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 8, Buffalo, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15, San Francisco, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22, at St. Louis, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, at New Orleans, 1 p.m.

Owner: Buccaneers not relocating

March, 20, 2013
3/20/13
9:57
AM ET
Low attendance has been an issue for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in recent years, but co-chairman Joel Glazer said there are no plans to relocate the team.

“That's not even an issue,’’ Glazer told The Tampa Tribune’s Ira Kaufman at the NFL owners meeting in Arizona on Tuesday. “We have worked as hard as anybody to get tickets sold. It's tough circumstances in Florida. The economy's not great and it's a changing world. We have to adapt to that changing world. I think we saw progress last year and fans are enthusiastic about the upcoming season.’’

The Bucs have had only four home games where the local television blackout was lifted in the last three seasons. Glazer expressed some optimism about avoiding blackouts in the future.

“It's early, but things have been positive,’’ Glazer said. “We're always optimistic about avoiding blackouts, but we've got some work to do. Blackouts are never ideal. You want to keep your fans engaged every week. That's why we're doing everything we can to avoid blackouts. Some hard times have hit, and we understand that. I don't think you reach a point where you've done everything you can. We need to do it on the field and I have great confidence in this team.’’

The Bucs haven’t won a playoff game since winning the Super Bowl more than 10 years ago.

“To me, one year without a playoff win is too long,’’ Glazer said. “Ten years is extremely disappointing. I have great confidence the people we have in place will reverse that trend. After Dan Marino was in his first Super Bowl, I don't think he ever dreamed he wouldn't be back. It's tough to win in this league, but it's within everyone's control to change the course of where they're headed.’’

Glazer said ownership deserves blame for the team’s lack of success in recent years.

“Ultimately, it falls on our shoulders,’’ Glazer said. “We're not going to hide from our responsibility. All we're going to do is commit to work our tails off to make sure it doesn't continue. Overall, I'm very excited about the direction we're headed. I sit today with great optimism about our future.’’

The Bucs should be optimistic. Guys like Doug Martin, Vincent Jackson, Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy had big seasons last year. The Bucs still have plenty of salary-cap room to add free agents and pursue the much-talked-about trade for cornerback Darrelle Revis.

Sure, the economy and other factors have played roles in the attendance situation. But I still say Raymond James Stadium will be packed if the Bucs put a consistent winner on the field.

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