Tampa Bay Buccaneers have legitimate claim to NFC South title in 2012

By Adrian Mojica

It may be brash to say so, but the Buccaneers have a legitimate chance to win the NFC South this season. While it’s hard to rationalize that concept for a team with a 4-12 record just a season ago, it’s a realistic prognostication. Since 2002, the Buccaneers have had back to back losing seasons only once (2003-2004). Since 2002, no team has won the division consecutively and the Bucs are  actually tied with the Saints for most divisional championships with three a piece. Given the Saints have already started on the wrong foot and will be losing some significant players to free agency, the likelihood for the trend to continue is significant. That leaves the Buccaneers, Panthers and Falcons as the likely teams to be crowned winners of the NFC South in 2012. So why the Buccaneers?

Coach Greg Schiano has made it clear he values accountability, trust and work ethic among all else. Mohamed Sanu, the stand out Rutgers wide receiver has made statements to the fact Schiano is a stickler for ensuring players give 100% at all times, be it practice or game time. As we now know, 100% was not something the Raheem Morris regime made a part of their focus. With a new regime in town, we can expect players to be on edge and that is a good thing. Where as Raheem took the approach of being close with his players, Schiano is by all accounts a person who will have an open door policy but will shut that door if you do not take his vision seriously. The addition of Butch Davis, Jimmy Raye, Bob Bostad and Mike Sullivan also adds a contingent of the coaching staff which have been successful as coaches. These coaches did not gain success due to weak leadership skills. Their leadership and ability to teach are exactly what a young team needs. That youth also means nearly every player’s job is not secure. The combination of a new staff and youth means you will see both players and coaches working as hard as we’ve seen in recent years.

As if coaches were not all the players had to worry about, money will be a factor as well. Michael Bennett was just given a first round tender and both Legarrette Blount and Preston Parker were tendered at $540,000 dollars each. Each of them will be playing for contracts, as will Sammie Stroughter, Roy Miller, Aqib Talib, Jeremy Trublood, Tanard Jackson, and E.J. Biggers whom are all set to be free agents in 2013. When it all boils down to it, players need to feed their families and that starts by producing on the field. All of the above mentioned players performances this season will directly affect their wallets. Nothing motivates like a contract year, especially when you are young and in search of that first big payday.

There is also the advantage of having the most salary cap room in the NFC South. We know the Buccaneers will draft a top tier player in either Morris Claiborne or Trent Richardson. Though Claiborne is the better option, either player will likely step in from day one and help significantly improve at their position. The Bucs will build young talent through the draft and also have the money to add some top level talent. Be it at wide receiver with a player like Vincent Jackson, defensive back Cortland Finnegan, linebacker Curtis Lofton or at guard with a player like Carl Nicks, the Bucs will get better. In terms of teams with the least amount to spend, Carolina is already $128 million committed to the 2012 cap, the Saints are running a close second with roughly $106 million, and the Falcons are in good shape with only $96 million committed but are losing standout defensive end John Abraham and possibly linebacker Curtis Lofton. The Buccaneers on the other hand, stand to lose only Ronde Barber. Between the draft and free agency, his position can be filled. That means with a boat load of money and only additions in talent to be made, the Bucs will be significantly better than what we’ve seen the last few years.

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