This Christmas it’s fitting that ownership and management be visited by the ghosts of Buccaneers past, present and future. With so much uncertainty as the season runs down, we are left wondering what was, what is, and what will become of this young team.
The Ghost of Christmas Past: DERRICK BROOKS
Brooks is one of the all time greats in Bucs history and in NFL history at his position. Brooks’ career spanned 14 seasons with 11 Pro Bowls, Defensive Player of the Year in 2002 and a Super Bowl championship. He was the heartbeat of the defense, a Captain in the best defensive squad this team has known. Yet in 2009, the Buccaneers decided to release the future Hall of Famer, just as they were preparing for a “youth movement.” The release of Brooks left the defense without a veteran presence to lead a new regime of young talent and marked the steady decline of a unit which was consistently among the best in the NFL. Brooks had slowed a step and was not producing at the high level when released, but could have been effective in a specialty role. To add insult to injury, Brooks was forced to hear of his release via the media and friends. The front office decided not to extend the courtesy of even a phone call, thus leaving an all time great jaded and thrown to the curb like a practice squad player. The woes in the Buccaneers run game can be attributed directly to Brooks’ departure. Instead of a transitional period where the veteran could mentor a new crop of line backers, those young men were left with coaches as inexperienced as themselves. As good as Mason Foster has performed this season, the fact remains that the Bucs are starting a rookie at one of the most important positions on the field. This is a trend which seems to be the new normal at One Buc. Youth is a positive in the competitive NFL, but youth whose mentors are as green as they are is exactly why the Buccaneers are in their current predicament.
The Ghost of Christmas Present: AQIB TALIB
No other player in recent Buccaneer history has caused so much drama as Talib has since day one. Though he was a pick from the Jon Gruden regime, the front office and ownership has stuck with him throughout his troubled career. Taken with the 20th overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, Talib wasted no time getting himself into trouble. A fight with teammate Cory Boyd in 2008 was followed with allegedly punching a taxi driver in the grill during 2009. In May of this year, Talib was indicted on aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after allegedly firing a gun at his sister’s boyfriend. The outcome to the current issue is yet to be determined but his future with the organization is in jeopardy. Coach Raheem Morris even indicated this week that he hopes to have Talib available next season, refusing to give up on a player which has been a black eye for this organization. On the field, Talib is as talented as they get but his baggage outweighs his strengths. Instead of having a corner just getting ready to hit his prime, the Bucs are now faced with the prospect of drafting not one, but two Defensive Backs early in this year’s draft. The age of Ronde Barber and Talib’s issues couldn’t have been timed worse. Instead of focusing on other areas of need the Bucs will be wasting a pick because of Talib’s immaturity. He is a cautionary tale for all organizations not to pursue talent without character. Placed on the I.R. this week, Talib will not only haunt this organization in the future, but his present situation is not helping either.
The Ghost of Christmas Future: JOSH FREEMAN
Josh Freeman stands for everything this organization can be. Passed up on because of perceived accuracy issues, Raheem Morris was adamant Freeman was worth a first round pick. Knowing the quarterback well from his coaching days atKansasState, Morris’ foresight proved correct. Despite having a frustrated season, Freeman possesses all the tools to lead this team well into the future. At 23, he is still as young as most rookies but will have three seasons under his belt at year’s end. His 25 touchdown 6 interception campaign last season is just a glimpse of what the young quarterback is capable of. He is as mature and astute as they come, known for his hard work ethic and quick mind. While ownership is sure to make every effort imaginable to keep him over the years, they will need to prove their willingness to build a winner. Freeman’s ultimate goal like all other players is to win a Super Bowl. If he does not see a continued commitment by ownership to build a championship caliber team, their future will be gone once Free Agency arrives. It will be interesting to what role Freeman chooses to play in keeping or allowing Raheem Morris to part ways with the Buccaneers. His vocal support could be the last word on saving his coaches future as well.