1993 - A new defense but results stay the same
When the Buccaneers first took the field in the NFL, free agency was about as far off a dream for players as the SuperBowl was for those early Tampa Bay teams. The thought of moving from one team to another for huge signing bonuses and potentially guaranteed contracts were dismissed as wild dreams, yet by the time the Bucs came to their 18th season in the league, the raiding of other teams for new players was seen as being more important than the college draft for improving one's chances of making the play-offs.
The introduction of the new salary cap meant not only did the bigger-spending teams have to curtail their excessive attempts to sign all the best talent for huge money, but meant also that the perennially-frugal franchises were required to meet the spending limits laid down in the agreement between the owners and the NFLPA.
Hugh Culverhouse, now taking more of a back-seat role due to worsening health, entrusted the purse strings of the team to long-time General Manager Phil Kreuger, another man with a reputation for cheapness over the years of the franchise. It was his stubbornness that led to Paul Gruber missing the first two months of the season in a bitter battle over the latter being declared the Buccaneers' "franchise player" and thereby not being able to negotiate with other teams for a higher salary. Gruber eventually returned at mid-season for the highest basic salary on the team, but his absence hurt the team in more ways than simply having someone else less talented start each game at left tackle.
The Buccaneers went out in free agency however, determined to improve their defense from its lowly ranking of 1992. Hardy Nickerson, a linebacker who had spent much of the previous season embroiled in a dispute of his own with the Steelers' front office, signed a three-year deal with the Buccaneers to fill the middle linebacking position of Floyd Peters' 4-3 scheme, thereby signifying the end of Broderick Thomas' career with the team.
Thomas, a former first-round pick, had angered the team with his increasingly petulant and at times dangerous behaviour, and was allowed to start his tour around the NFL which has currently included Detroit, Minnesota and Dallas in recent seasons. To improve the cornerback position, Martin Mayhew returned to his home state of Florida after winning a SuperBowl ring with the Redskins, and to ensure the offense was not forgotten in the signing frenzy, former Packer back Vince Workman came in return for a fifth round draft pick.
But if Tampa Bay fans were happy over the influx of signings, there were many who were overjoyed about one player who was leaving, the much-maligned Vinny Testaverde. Despite being assured by Sam Wyche that his starting position with the Bucs was safe, Testaverde bolted Tampa and the boo-birds in the stands, to take a back-up role with the then-Cleveland Browns. Time has told that he still cannot read defenses and throws interceptions at the most inopportune moments, but it did leave the Buccaneer quarterbacking role in the hands of the veteran Steve DeBerg and the youthful Craig Erickson. Joining Vinny in Cleveland was the Bucs' all-time leading receiver, Mark Carrier, whose performance had been slowly diminishing since his amazing 1989 season.
Sam Wyche's first draft had been a resounding success, and his second exercise in name-calling with Phil Kreuger and the scouts produced more fruition for the team. Defensive help arrived in the form of the pass-rushing Eric Curry, solid linebacker Demetrius DuBose and the punishing secondary hitting of John Lynch, and fellow Miami Hurricane receivers Lamar Thomas and Horace Copeland arrived to catch the passes thrown by DeBerg and their former team-mate Erickson. Curry has been overshadowed somewhat by the hard working sixth round pick Chidi Ahanotu as an NFL lineman, while DuBose has sat and watched Hardy Nickerson dominate his entire professional career from the same position. Although this remains a profitable draft in terms of starting players for the Buccaneers, it did look at one point as though it would end up one of the best of all-time.
Unfortunately the 1993 Buccaneers did not make an impressive start to the season, mustering only one touchdown in their first two games, but making the permanent switch to Erickson as their starting quarterback. His gutsy play took over a lack-lustre running game that missed the absent Gruber, and he quickly formed a deep partnership with Horace Copeland that led to the latter producing his patented somersault four times in two games after long touchdown passes. Nickerson set the tone for his style of leadership by starting a fight with the under-producing Keith McCants in training camp, the latter being waived within a week after carrying on his lazy work habits. Other malcontents like Reggie Cobb and Gary Anderson found themselves firmly in Sam Wyche's doghouse, and the latter ended his Buccaneer and NFL career returning kicks and punts alone.
There were some good wins amongst the five that the team mustered during the season, a famous 17-10 triumph in Mile High Stadium against the seemingly-invincible Broncos being the best, but Wyche's second season was notable only for its lack of spark on either side of the ball, and the resulting lack of success on the field. The expected offensive explosion under the former Bengal coach had not materialised, and the blame could not be shouldered by the quarterback now Testaverde had gone.
Michael Husted kicked one of the longest fieldgoals in NFL history against the Raiders, but the most fight-filled game in team records saw Nickerson ejected for bumping an official, and Wyche starting one of his special-teams' head-hunters, Curtis Buckley, in an attempt to take down Torin Dorn in the Raider secondary. By the end of his second year, the cries of discontent with the Bucs' head coach were starting to emerge from the stands, and he desperately needed a winning season to quiet the critics who remembered his last Cincinnati team going 3-13 together with his two Bucs' disappointments.