Mark Dominik is borrowing a 15-year-old blueprint for the NFL draft that netted two potential Hall of Fame players and turned around the Bucs franchise.
In 1995, after trading down five spots with the Philadelphia Eagles to pick up an extra second-round choice, Tampa Bay selected Miami defensive tackle Warren Sapp with the 12th overall pick.
As general manager Rich McKay sat on the back porch of One Buc Place about 11:30 p.m. that night with player personnel director Jerry Angelo, they had a sense of what their largesse would mean to the franchise.
"We really felt like we were very fortunate to walk out of their having drafted Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks," said McKay, now the president of the Atlanta Falcons. "Nothing was lost on us that night."
But how could they have predicted this? Both Sapp and Brooks would transform a moribund franchise and combine for 18 Pro Bowls in 23 seasons in Tampa Bay, be named NFL Defensive Players of the Year and fill resumes that will put them on the steps of the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day in Canton, Ohio.
More importantly, they anchored a defense that dominated for more than a decade and made the Bucs perennial playoff contenders and Super Bowl XXXVII champions.
"I firmly believe that the 2010 draft is as critical as the '95 draft for the Bucs," said general manager Mark Dominik, who had just been hired as a 22-year-old scout a few months after that fabled draft.
"Just from the standpoint how talent-rich the draft is. In '95, it turned out to be a good draft but no one took advantage of it in the first round better than the Bucs did. This (2010) draft class to me has more talent throughout. So in a way, it's view as two-fold. It's why we've spent an exorbitant about of time on preparing for this class because that was the direction we decided to go. When I got this opportunity, it was going to be to build through the draft and it was going to be doing it the right way with your guys."
It's probably unrealistic to believe the Bucs could catch lightning in a bottle again in the NFL draft the way they did in '95. But Dominik's point is well taken.
Tampa Bay's franchise is at a crossroads, so they reached deep into their vault and dusted of a familiar blueprint.
The Bucs own the No. 3 overall pick, where either Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh or Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy should be available. But they also have lots of ammunition to move back into the first round if they choose two with a pair of second-rounders, giving them three of the top 42 selections.
Like McKay, Dominik has worked hard to change the way the Bucs have approached the draft.
"The Bucs were in a place where the focus seemed to be the same in the draft: measurables and potential, because the franchise needed to turn around," McKay said. "Those two words are the biggest problems the franchise had faced. What you saw is 'Let's focus on production and not get too concerned with measureables and not worry about potential.'"
Dominik's challenge is a little different. Where the Bucs have been so deficient in the draft is during the middle rounds. (Not that first-rounders Michael Clayton, Gaines Adams or second-rounder Dexter Jackson hit it big). The last player drafted by the Bucs after the first round to be selected to a Pro Bowl was place-kicker Martin Gramatica in '99.
"We've got to do a better job of finding guys like Ronde Barber in the third round and the fourth round," Dominik said.
The Bucs have selected 37 players in rounds three through five since '97, but only nine have held starting jobs for more than one season. So Dominik told Bucs scouts to focus on uncovering prospects in the middle and late rounds.
"That's great you know who the top two defensive tackles are and it's important to do the homework, but let's make sure when you're out there you're really trying to uncover the fourth, fifth and sixth-rounders," Dominik said.
Dominik also did a better job of soliciting input from the coaching staff regarding the type of player each position coach is looking for and communicating that to the scouting staff.
Former Bucs general manager Bruce Allen rarely watched much film of draft prospects, and when he did, it was never with college scouting director Dennis Hickey. So hopefully, disconnects have been fixed.
Fans also relate better to players who were drafted and developed. It also helps to have some luck.
Draft day reports of Sapp's positive drug test at the NFL combine caused him to drop in the draft. Even the Bucs passed on him at No. 7, but they'd done their homework and knew he'd be motivated and competitive.
McKay said the Bucs' focus was getting Brooks and they worried that Jacksonville, an expansion team with multiple picks atop each round, would take the FSU star in the second round. So they found a trading partner in Dallas at 28. One pick earlier, the Falcons pondered taking Brooks before selecting Seminoles safety Devin Bush.
Dominik and the Bucs can only hope for such good fortune next week.
--The Bucs were well aware of receivers Santonio Holmes' and Brandon Marshall's availability by trade this week, but general manager Mark Dominik said the team opted not to pursue either player after investigating their situations.
"I think the role of a general manager in any football team is to have a pulse of what's going on around the National Football League," Dominik said today. "Did we have a pulse of what was going on? Absolutely. I know there was a report out there that we were one of the four finalists for Brandon Marshall. That's not true.
"All I know is we evaluate each person individually. We dig into it just like we would a college prospect because you're giving up what you consider is value -- draft choices. You make a determination from there. We certainly were aware of both situations... I'd say we evaluated it internally and we made a decision. Receiver is a position that we're going to continue to look at and monitor on this football team. But you've got to look at what you think is best long term for this football team and that's how we looked at both of them."
--The Bucs hired former scout Bill Rees as a consultant for the NFL draft. Rees also evaluated the talent on the team's current roster.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Money is not an issue for anything that we are doing in this draft -- at all. I hope that answers that." -- Bucs GM Mark Dominik.
Defensive Line: Many of their 2009 starters may not return. DE Jimmy Wilkerson is an unrestricted free agent and coming off a torn ACL. Chris Hovan is likely to be replaced by second-year pro Roy Miller and the Bucs traded Gaines Adams to the Bears for a second-round pick. Fortunately, the draft is deep at all defensive line positions.
Wide Receiver: The Bucs need some targets for second-year QB Josh Freeman. The team decided not to re-sign free agent Antonio Bryant. That leaves Sammie Stroughter, Maurice Stovall and underachieving Michael Clayton. Tampa Bay should come out of the draft with at least two receivers and Dez Bryant is a possibility if they trade down.
Offensive Tackle: If you're going to have a franchise QB, you need a franchise LT. Both starting tackles Donald Penn and Jeremy Trueblood are RFAs. Penn was miffed because the Bucs did not offer him a contract extension. Don't discount the Bucs using the No. 3 overall pick on a LT.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--S Jermaine Phillips broke his hand and finished the year on injured reserve.
--DE Jimmy Wilkerson has started at left defensive end is recovering from a torn ACL. He proved he's not an every down player.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--FB Byron Storer (not tendered as RFA) spent the year rehabbing his knee. He could be done.
--LB Rod Wilson (not tendered as RFA) is a special-teams player and backup middle linebacker.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (*indicates restricted because of uncapped year)
--*OT Donald Penn (tendered at $3.168M with first- and third-round picks as compensation) is a very capable left tackle and did his best the first weeks of 2009. But then he seemed to shut it down and gained weight.
--*LB Barrett Ruud (tendered at $3.268M with first- and third-round picks as compensation) is a solid, if not flashy middle linebacker who thrives in the current system. The Bucs would like to see more nasty in his game.
--*OT Jeremy Trueblood (tendered at $1.759M with second-round pick as compensation), as the starting right tackle, led the Bucs in penalties against last season.
--*RB Cadillac Williams (tendered at $2.299M with first-round picks as compensation) was the Bucs' most inspirational player who played in all 16 games despite tearing previously the patellar tendon in both knees.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
--WR Mark Bradley: RFA; (tendered at $1.809M with second-round pick as compensation); $1.809M/1 yr.
--LB Angelo Crowell: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--*WR Maurice Stovall (tendered at $1.176M with third-round pick as compensation) came on late in 2009 after injuries were experienced by Michael Clayton. He's a tall, rangy receiver.
-*LB Jon Alston: Not tendered as RFA by Raiders; terms unknown.
--WR Reggie Brown (trade Eagles).
--S Sean Jones: UFA Eagles; terms unknown.
--S Will Allen: UFA Steelers; $4.4M/3 yrs, $950,000 SB.
--P Josh Bidwell (released).
--WR Antonio Bryant: UFA Bengals; $28M/4 yrs.
--WR Brian Clark: Not tendered as RFA/Lions; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--CB Torrie Cox (released).
--P Dirk Johnson (released).
--LB Matt McCoy: Not tendered as RFA/Seahawks; terms unknown.