TAMPA — It is always about the money. That’s what free agency is all about. For some players, it is their only chance to cash in big during the course of their careers.
It is often about opportunity. For career backups such as quarterback Josh McCown and left tackle Anthony Collins, free agency offers a chance to be the every-game starter you always wanted to be.
It is seldom about the coach. You just don’t hear too many free-agent players join a new team and say it was the opportunity to play for the coach that drew them.
Except here in Tampa.
The Buccaneers have signed seven free agents from other teams, and almost every one said the opportunity to play for coach Lovie Smith factored heavily into his decision.
“He is the best recruiting tool that we have in this building,” general manager Jason Licht said of Smith. “He may be the best recruiting tool that anybody has in the NFL.”
Smith’s calm demeanor is part of the attraction, but more important than that, the players say, is his ability to make demands in a way that leaves players fearful of disappointing him.
“It’s because he cares,” said McCown, whose comments came during an introductory news conference at which Collins sat by his side nodding in agreement. “You spend five minutes with him and you feel like he cares about you as an individual and a person. And that matters to players. As long as I’ve played, if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that the relationships matter.
“And as much as we talk about this being a business, whenever an issue comes up, it’s resounding how (often) you can look at why it happened and how it’s because the relationship between the player and coach is fractured. It’s amazing how much the issue is because the player doesn’t feel cared for anymore. So I believe that more than anything, and I appreciate this so much from Lovie, he cares about you and the guys all believe that as well.”
QB or not QB?
One of the questions still being asked of the Bucs is whether they will draft a quarterback this year. The McCown signing, Smith said, doesn’t preclude them from doing that, but it probably reduced the chances of the team spending a premium pick on a quarterback.
The Bucs have only five draft picks, with not only depth but possibly some starting needs still to fill at offensive line, wide receiver and cornerback, to name a few.
Don’t be surprised if they pass on a quarterback or wait until the late rounds to take one. The Bucs think one of the best quarterbacks in this class could be flying below the radar — though they won’t give a name. But Jimmy Garoppolo of Eastern Illinois, Logan Thomas of Virginia Tech or even Aaron Murray of Georgia could be available in later rounds.
When Licht spoke earlier this year about shopping for value in the free-agent market, he wasn’t speaking solely about shopping for bargains. Licht and Smith wanted to obtain young players with experience and plenty of upside.
With the exception of McCown, who turns 35 in July, the average age of the other six free agents the Bucs added is 27.
“For me, the term value is about a return on the investment,” Licht said, “and I think we’re going to get a heck of a return on our investment with these guys.”