Tucked away inside his desk at One Buc Place, Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik has a journal in which he has scribbled dozens of franchise-building tips picked up through nearly 20 years as an NFL scout and executive.
One of those tips, shared with him by a rival executive and one former Bucs coach — Tony Dungy — suggests it's good practice to supplement your defensive backfield each year by spending at least one draft pick on a cornerback.
Dominik didn't completely ignore that advice during the 2012 draft, but he didn't necessarily follow it, either, spending only a sixth-round selection on cornerback Keith Tandy, who was quickly moved to safety.
Coupled with the subsequent trade of Aqib Talib and suspension of Eric Wright, Dominik's decision has left the Bucs dangerously thin at what is easily one of the most difficult positions to fill. It's no wonder, then, with the 2013 draft still five months away, every draftnik- from the so-called experts to bloggers have the Bucs spending their 2013 first-round pick on a cornerback.
At least one has the Bucs taking Alabama corner Dee Milliner, the top-rated corner on most draft boards. Another has them taking Florida State corner Xavier Rhodes. Still another has them taking Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks in the first round and University of Washington corner Desmond Trufant in the second.
The predictions are similar to a year ago, when everyone from Mel Kiper to Mel Brooks had the Bucs taking LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne in the first round. Some even had them taking a corner in the second round.
Dominik fooled them all. He traded down, passing on Claiborne, and opted for Alabama safety Mark Barron. The Bucs needed help at safety as much as at corner, and Barron looks like a keeper.
But Dominik never accounted for passing on Claiborne. Maybe he didn't think he had to. He had Talib, who was showing signs at the time of buying into new coach Greg Schiano's program, and had brought in Wright through free agency.
But now Talib is gone and Wright might be on his way out. Reports indicate his four-game suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances — he acknowledged taking Adderall and losing an appeal — triggered a clause in his contract that nullifies the guaranteed 2013 salary of $7.75 million.
If the Bucs don't have to pay Wright, they might opt not to pay him at all.
Amid talk the team overpaid for Wright in free agency, the question the Bucs have to ask is whether they can afford to not pay him. Though inconsistent, he still might be the best corner on the roster. At the very least, he is the most experienced.
Others are gaining on him, though. And fast. The losses of Talib and Wright forced the Bucs to test their paper-thin depth at cornerback. So, at a critical juncture in their development, the Bucs are finding out whether E.J. Biggers and Myron Lewis can play in this league and whether Leonard Johnson, LeQuan Lewis and Danny Gorrer have a future.
If you're really wondering why veteran Ronde Barber hasn't been moved from safety back to corner, there's your answer. The Bucs need to find out right now what they have at corner, because that is not their only area of need.
Come draft day 2013, they'll also be looking for offensive linemen, an upgrade on their tight end of the future and more depth at linebacker. No matter the needs, though, they'd be well advised to grab a cornerback or two.
Chances are they're going to need them.