Touting a roster with half its players home-grown and with four or fewer years of service, Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Bruce Allen told reporters on Thursday that he felt the team was poised much better to improve on its 9-7 finish in 2008.
He also said he did not fear a fallout such as 2006, when the Buccaneers went 11-5 and won the NFC South in 2005 and followed that with a 4-12 finish.
"I'm looking forward to 2008," Allen said. "We have the chance to acquire more players than we did in 2005. We can play better. But we need to improve talent-wise and that's the best bet to improve.
"The infrastructure is set. It starts with the best facility in the country, without a doubt. It starts with the leadership in coaching and with a core of players that have tasted some victories. We still have some champions on this team who can lead this team. There's no reason we can't compete in the future at all."
The Buccaneers enter the offseason with about $23 million in room under the 2008 salary cap, which Allen said puts them among the top quarter of teams in the NFL.
Last year the Buccaneers were flush with cap space but did not sign what some experts considered a "big-ticket" item. With needs at wide receiver, defensive line, secondary and running back, Allen said more will go into determining who to sign in free agency than money.
"The best way to improve is by addition," Allen said. "Would I like to sign a Tiger Woods at every position? Absolutely.
"We have the opportunity to go after anyone we want to. But we have values that we put on players that may be different from other teams. Cato June probably could have gone other places and made more money, but he wanted to come here and play with the linebackers we already had. So he became a perfect fit."
The Buccaneers finished the season with 14 players on injured reserve, and like head coach Jon Gruden on Monday, Allen said that one of the big keys for 2008 would be to get those players back healthy.
He said he viewed it almost like another free-agent class. Viewed in that manner, that class would include four former starters ¬— QB Chris Simms, RB Carnell Williams, FB Mike Alstott and LT Luke Petitgout.
"One of the best ways to improve is to get those 14 guys healthy," Allen said. "That would be a big boost to get many of them back."
As for the season just past, Allen enjoyed watching the Bucs reclaim their winning form. He said he took pride in the way the team came together during the season and was invigorated by the fact that the coaches and players were excited about the progress they made in 2007.
Aside from the injuries, there were few negatives this season.
"There's a great deal we can be proud of," Allen said. "We completed a lot of our objectives this season."
Allen would have liked it to end a little better, though.
"I credit Eli Manning with a good performance, but I wish we could have bothered him a little bit more," Allen said.
Allen said the Bucs would finish their player evaluations of their current roster this weekend. The staff would then travel to the East-West All-Star game in Houston and then the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
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Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for Bucsblitz.com and the Charlotte (Fla.) Sun-Herald. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and his coverage of the Buccaneers has won numerous state and national awards.