When 2007 began most people expected the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to improve, but not to the extent that they did by the end of the year. A division championship was an unexpected gift to Buccaneers fans and the franchise. How did it happen?
In hindsight, there are signposts to a successful season. Here is No. 4 in our series of the most significant moments of the 2007 season and how they impacted Tampa Bay's run to a division championship.
4. TAMPA BAY RELEASES DE SIMEON RICE, JULY 26
Most of the Tampa press corps had just settled in for a night of writing about Gaines Adams' new contract when we received a phone call from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers P.R. department.
Come back to Celebration, they said, there's going to be an announcement.
By the time most of the media returned, the secret was out — the Bucs were releasing Simeon Rice.
The defensive end had one of the top sack totals in the NFL among active players. But when he failed his camp physical and the Bucs asked him to take a pay cut, he refused. So the Bucs released him.
The Bucs said it wasn't about the money. But they still chose not to keep him.
The move caused a firestorm of criticism of the organization for releasing Rice, as it seemed he was released more for his past clashes with management than his play. And as the Bucs reassured everyone that Rice would play in 2007, many openly wondered why the team didn't put him on the Physically Unable to Perform List.
As the season went on, the truth came out.
Rice was hurt far more severely than anyone let on. He signed with the Broncos, who later released him. He signed with the Colts, and not even Tony Dungy could get strong play out of him. The Colts released him, too. Rice's NFL career may well be over.
The Bucs, meanwhile, moved on. And without Rice, other players had room to flourish. Adams eventually caught onto the NFL game and finished the season with six sacks. Early in the season, the Bucs were able to use Greg Spires and Kevin Carter on the ends. And, if Rice had been around, the Bucs might not have felt the need to take a chance on Greg White, who led the team in sacks with eight, during training camp.
And without Rice around, the team eliminated what could have been a distraction the entire season.
Like many of the moves the Bucs made in 2007, it worked out. But it was by far the riskiest.
Next: Everyone in Tampa learns a new word.
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. An award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he appears frequently on Scot Brantley Show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1470-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.