So what next for the Bucs?
A lot of speculation, and rightly so, is being made on the future of our favourite team. "There's Always Next Year" and all that, but at 3-8, you do not have much to look forward to for the rest of the season. People talk about the Bucs winning the last five on the bounce to even their record at .500 - OK, and a squadron of flying pigs has just gone past my window.
But it is a long off-season so you have to enjoy the remaining five games as it will be another eight months before the Buccaneers take the field again. But, in no particular order, here are some of the good and bad points you might want to consider before the 2007 Bucs kick off.
Good - the 2007 schedule
We can already work out most of the Bucs' opponents for next season. Aside from the six games with Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans, the Bucs will play each of the four teams in the NFC West (Arizona, St.Louis, San Francisco and Seattle). They will play the bottom placed team in the NFC East (Washington) and NFC North (Detroit). And their four inter-conference games will be with the AFC South (Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville and Tennessee). This is a lot better than the first-place schedule they played in 2006 and the severe lack of cold weather opponents is a bonus too.
Bad - another defensive coach will leave
Joe Barry, linebackers coach, would have left at the end of 2005 but was held to the remainder of his two-year contract. The reason? His father-in-law is Rod Marinelli, head coach of the Lions, and a defensive co-ordinator's job is waiting for him in Detroit when he completes his contract. Barry is one of the best assistant coaches the Buccaneers have ever had, but you cannot stand in the way of such a promotion, nor the family ties that will greet him there.
Good - draft picks
The Bucs seem destined to a top-six draft position which means picks around 6 and 38 next spring. Remember when we lost the 2004 season finale in Arizona? That meant we drafted Cadillac Williams and the Cardinals got JJ Arrington. So even losing a late-season game is not that bad. We also have the Colts' 2nd round pick although this is likely to be a very late-round selection. But you cannot knock having four of the top 70 picks in the 2007 draft.
Bad - quarterbacks
Outside of Chris Simms, there is nothing out there worth looking at in free agency, and drafting a franchise quarterback means throwing away the 2007 season now. We need to re-sign Simms and go into next season with the trio of Simms, Gradkowski and Luke McCown. People are quickly forgetting that Bruce is a 6th round rookie - he has done everything anyone could expect of him and more but he is not a long-term peg to hang your coat on.
Good - salary cap position
No longer are the Bucs tight against the salary cap. Big base salary numbers for the likes of Anthony McFarland and possibly Simeon Rice can come off the books, and the cost of releasing such players would no longer prove prohibitive. The only problem is that the new collective bargaining agreement has led to pretty much every other team having plenty of room under the salary cap going into the 2007 off-season too.
Bad - the defense
Look two years down the road - who do you see remaining on the Buccaneer defense from the current names? Derrick Brooks will have retired and Ronde Barber will probably be in a commentary booth somewhere. Shelton Quarles, Simeon Rice and Brian Kelly will all have gone too. So to be brutally honest, you are left with Dewayne White, Barrett Ruud and possibly one of the safeties, Will Allen. Not a promising prospect.
And then consider that Dewayne White is a free agent at the end of this season too. The likes of Charles Bennett and Julian Jenkins have done OK the last few weeks but they are second day draft picks - anything you get from them long-term is gravy. The Bucs need two, maybe three defensive linemen, another linebacker or two and two cornerbacks. There is a serious re-building exercise required here.
Good - offensive youth
The experience that the likes of Davin Joseph, Jeremy Trueblood, Alex Smith et al have gained is invaluable. Many of these young players are keepers but an influx of veteran help such as another guard with a few years under his belt would not hurt. Cadillac is the real deal at running back but the jury remains out at receiver with Michael Clayton's continued struggles.
And the moral of the story
This will be a very different Tampa Bay team that takes the field in 2007 and then 2008. All of the Super Bowl heroes will have gone but the franchise will remain. Players come and go but the name continues as does our support. The real $64,000 question right now, is whether Jon Gruden is the man to lead the re-building exercise. The NFL has proven over the past decade that teams can turn things around very quickly. Can the Bucs be the next to prove that adage?
Paul Stewart, November 2006