PRIORITY FIVE: IDENTIFY A YOUNG WIDE RECEIVER, EITHER IN FREE AGENCY OR IN THE DRAFT, TO GROOM TO REPLACE JOEY GALLOWAY
WHAT I SAID THEN:
The Buccaneers have two types of receivers — Joey Galloway and everyone else. Galloway is the speed freak. The rest of them are big receivers with functional speed.
Galloway is the only game breaker. And he's getting old. He'll be 36 next season. He may play at the level he's playing at now for three more years. But if he suddenly breaks down — and he has several times during his career — the Bucs are in deep trouble. With no one to stretch the defense, the offense could stagnate.
Michael Clayton's inability to live up to his rookie production, plus Maurice Stovall's lack of progress his sophomore season, will force the Bucs to make a move at receiver. But which one? Free agency or the Draft?
In free agency, Randy Moss might be the big ticket item, assuming the New England Patriots let him get away. It's likely they won't. With no Moss, then the best pure deep threat is Chicago's Bernard Berrian. He can match Galloway's speed and yards per catch average. Plus he's improved his ability to shine in the intermediate passing game. The Bucs could sign him to a similar deal as they did Cato June, who will eventually slide over to replace Derrick Brooks at weak side linebacker. Berrian could be Galloway's heir and still help the offense now by providing another deep threat opposite Galloway. Imagine defenses scheming for that?
If the Bucs fail in free agency, they'll have to spend a high pick, perhaps their first-rounder, on a wide receiver. Some mocks already have them taking Oregon's DeSean Jackson, another speedy threat that can add value as a return specialist (another area the Bucs are in need of a game-breaker). Beyond that, most of the first-round talent at that position fits the personnel the Bucs already have. How many 6-foot-5 receivers can one team have?
It's clear the Bucs need a jolt in the passing game. And they're going to have to make finding that jolt a priority this offseason.
WHAT I SAY NOW?
The Buccaneers completely and utterly failed in this regard during the offseason. There's no question about it.
Consider the receivers the Bucs brought in through free agency. Antonio Bryant does not have a good reputation — on or off the field — and he did not play in 2007. Cortez Hankton, a fifth-year pro who has done a nice job of holding onto a career, has 34 career catches.
The NFL Draft brought second-round pick Dexter Jackson, a player I like — but not in the second round and certainly not as a player that can contribute heavily in the passing game in 2008. He'll have too much to learn coming from Division I-AA (or whatever they're calling it now).
So the Buccaneers are looking at very little turnover at the position. In fact, it would be little surprise if last year's opening-day starters — Galloway and Hilliard — were in there again for the first snap against New Orleans.
The Bucs are putting an awful lot of faith in Clayton, Stovall, Paris Warren, Jackson, Bryant and Hankton to produce something that will take the heat off of Galloway and Hilliard. The fact is, only Clayton and Bryant have had 1,000-yard seasons receiving, and each has had just one.
This may end up being the Bucs' worst miscalculation of the offseason. Granted the wide receiving pickings weren't great in free agency, but a Bryant Johnson (now in San Francisco) or a D.J. Hackett (now in Carolina) would have made a lot more sense than bringing in a Bryant or Hankton. And when you have the kind of money the Bucs had this offseason, it's difficult to muster an excuse for defending them in that regard.
Should any one of those third-string receivers have a breakthrough, then the Bucs will look like geniuses. But that's a stretch, if you ask me. By putting their faith in a group of receivers that have done little to prove themselves in the NFL, they've consigned Galloway to another season of double coverage. They also may have significantly hurt their chances of a productive offense down the road. Does anyone believe any of these guys could be Galloway's replacement?
Right now, my Magic 8-Ball says "no way."
Did you miss our previous editions of "Buccaneers Rewind? Just click below to read more about how the Bucs did this offseason:
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for Bucsblitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald.