No Super Bowl champion has fallen further faster than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Since winning Super Bowl XXXVII, Tampa Bay is just 12-20. The Buccaneers have just 13 players and nine starters left from that January 2003 victory over Oakland.
And unlike his tumultuous offseason last year, general manager Bruce Allen acquired little veteran help while bidding farewell to quarterback Brad Johnson, tight end Ken Dilger and defensive tackle Chartric Darby. Receiver Ike Hilliard and defensive tackle Chris Hovan, both cut by their former teams, are over the hill and free agent tight end Anthony Becht is just average.
Allen believes the Bucs will be better simply because former New York Giants kicker Matt Bryant is an upgrade over Martin Gramatica, who posted the NFL’s worst field goal percentage the last two seasons before he was cut late last year.
Tampa Bay went 4-15 in games decided by a touchdown or less in 2003 and 2004.
The Bucs did receive surprisingly sturdy quarterbacking last year from Denver castoff Brian Griese, who supplanted Johnson and produced 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions and a 97.5 passer rating. Allen is counting on a similar renaissance from 33-year-old receiver Joey Galloway to help return Tampa Bay to contention in the NFC South, which includes 2003 NFC champion Carolina, 2004 NFC runner-up Atlanta and New Orleans, which finished last season on a 4-0 roll.
One area that doesn’t concern Allen and fourth-year coach Jon Gruden is the defensive line, led by Pro Bowl end Simeon Rice.
“Top to bottom, defensive line is the strength of our division and our line is right there with any of them,” Allen said of a group that also includes end Greg Spires and tackle Anthony McFarland.
The defense, tops against the pass and fifth overall last year, still has stars in linebacker Derrick Brooks and cornerback Ronde Barber. But unless Gruden can produce a more reliable offensive line after losing guards Cosey Coleman and Matt O’Dwyer to free agency, the Bucs figure to be stopped short of the playoffs yet again.
Jags on the move? — In a dispute with city officials over signage at Alltel Stadium, the Jacksonville Jaguars said they lost money in 2002 and 2004. Those losses mean the Jaguars can get out of their lease with a payment of between $32 million and $40 million.
It’s generally believed club owner Wayne Weaver, who brought the NFL to Jacksonville in 1995, wouldn’t leave. But even after covering up nearly 10,000 seats, the Jaguars are still about 7,000 shy of the 49,000 non-premium seats they need sold to lift the embarrassingly usual home television blackouts. They also have about 2,500 unsold club seats, in part because the corporate presence in Jacksonville is so much smaller than in most NFL markets.
Payback time — New Orleans safety Dwight Smith, who was arrested twice on weapons charges during four seasons in Tampa Bay, recently was robbed at gunpoint while visiting family in Detroit. Police said a car pulled up in front of the home at about 11 p.m. while Smith and several others, including children, were outside. A man exited the vehicle with an assault rifle and ordered Smith to remove his jewelry, which consisted of two necklaces, a watch and bracelet. The man and a female accomplice then fled with about $100,000 in jewelry and $4,000 in cash.
“Dwight’s OK,” Saints coach Jim Haslett said. “I told him he shouldn’t be wearing that kind of jewelry in a neighborhood like that, but he said he had just bought some new stuff, a fleur de lis necklace with his [jersey] number on it, and wanted to show it to his family.”
Smith was arrested March 1 in Tampa for purportedly brandishing a gun during an incident at a fast food drive-through. Those charges were dropped. He pleaded guilty in 2003 to a misdemeanor of improperly displaying a firearm during a road rage incident in Clearwater, Fla. Smith received a year’s probation, was fined $225 and told to perform 25 hours of community service and to take eight hours of anger management counseling. The NFL fined him $20,000.