The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made plenty of noise with their atypical full-bore splash into this offseason's free-agent pool back in March.
Their moves that followed may have sent an even louder message to the rest of the NFL.
Monday's trade of Kellen Winslow to the Seattle Seahawks for a conditional 2013 seventh-round draft pick hardly ranks as one of this year's tide-turning transactions, but the refurbished Buccaneers' decision to part ways with the broken-down tight end and his two bum knees was the latest strong statement the team has made about its overhaul stretching far beyond just the playing field.
In some ways, Winslow's injury-marred three-year run in Tampa was the epitome of the Raheem Morris regime that nearly took the league by storm with a 10-win barrage in 2010 and quickly flamed out during a 4-12 nightmare this past season -- brash, impulsive and not as good as originally advertised. His relatively swift jettisoning by the organization, no doubt expedited by Winslow skipping the Bucs' voluntary offseason workouts than began last week, was also a not-so-subtle reminder of the outright reversal of philosophy that's being instilled under new head coach Greg Schiano.
Morris' surprise hire as a still wet-behind-the-ears 32-year-old in 2009 looked at first like a stroke of genius by general manager Mark Dominik, with Tampa Bay unexpectedly rising to playoff contention in his second season, but the exuberant fast-riser's uncommon knack for relating to his young roster ultimately turned out to be his most fatal flaw. The 2011 Buccaneers were woefully undisciplined and eventually indifferent to a coach they viewed as more of a peer than a boss, losing their final 10 games in sinking back to the bottom of the NFC South.
Though Morris made a belated attempt to play the bad cop, most notably removing defensive tackle Brian Price during an early December loss to Carolina after he drew a needless personal foul penalty, the damage caused by his buddy approach was already irreparable.
That doesn't seem to be an issue any longer now that Schiano, a noted detail- oriented taskmaster whose old-school leanings were fostered while an up-and- coming assistant under Joe Paterno in the early 1990s, is the captain of the Buccaneers' ship. The departure of Winslow and his potentially combative persona is proof of the no-bull mentality that's being cultivated, and a quick glance at Dominik's recent draft class offers more evidence that the new-look Bucs are emphasizing character as much as talent.
Dominik's shrewd maneuvering up and down the board in the first two rounds of the draft not only resulted in landing three likely rookie starters, but ones who possess solid intangibles. Safety Mark Barron was a two-time captain on an Alabama squad that won multiple BCS national championships during his collegiate career, while running back Doug Martin and outside linebacker Lavonte David both drew high marks from scouts for their work ethic and leadership in addition to their next-level abilities.
That's a stark departure from the previous era, in which Morris routinely coddled troublesome cornerback Aqib Talib, pushed for the addition of infamous malcontent Albert Haynesworth last season and advocated keeping safety Tanard Jackson on the roster even after two lengthy league suspensions for failing drug tests. Jackson, incidentally, was released in April and signed by Washington, where Morris is now employed as a defensive backs coach.
Winslow's place was immediately taken by veteran Dallas Clark, who's four years older and has been less productive than his predecessor over the last two seasons, but brings a far less divisive presence to the locker room.
"What's important to us as an organization is the growth of our football players and how they handle, on and off the field, becoming the best Buccaneer possible," said Dominik following Jackson's release. "That's what we're looking for. To us, 'growth' means becoming the best Buccaneer you can possibly be, and we want the growth of this football team to accelerate. That's what it's about."
While things are definitely looking up in Tampa, the Detroit Lions continue to have one soap opera of an offseason. Wide receiver Titus Young provided the latest episode of bad publicity with his absence from this week's organized training activities, with several outlets circulating that the second-year pro was barred by the team from attending following a recent fight with teammate Louis Delmas. The Lions have publicly denied Young has been issued any type of suspension, though the team acknowledged an altercation with Delmas did take place. The incident comes after two other 2011 draft choices, running back Mikel Leshoure and defensive tackle Nick Fairley, were both arrested for marijuana possession earlier in the spring. Perhaps HBO should more seriously consider the Lions as this year's entry for its "Hard Knocks" series. And if so, maybe the network could change the show's name to "The Young and the Restless."
The five-year, $45 million extension Eagles running back LeSean McCoy signed this past week has drawn a mostly euphoric response in Philadelphia, and likely made the powers that be in Baltimore, Chicago and Jacksonville a little nervous as well. McCoy's deal, slightly greater than the five-year pact Houston agreed to with standout Arian Foster in March, has cemented the market for a young top-level player at the position, while thereby increasing the chances of an uncomfortable summer for the Ravens and Bears as those teams attempt to negotiate long-term contracts with Ray Rice and Matt Forte, respectively. The Jaguars could also have a looming distraction on their hands as well, with Maurice Jones-Drew having no-showed the club's voluntary workouts as a display of disapproval over his current deal. Rice, who is 18 months older than McCoy, is reportedly seeking a contract in the range of $10 million annually.
The word out of Seattle is that coach Pete Caroll is going to give rookie Russell Wilson every opportunity to try to unseat veterans Matt Flynn and Tarvaris Jackson for the starting quarterback job. If the athletic former Wisconsin star manages to win the battle, he'd be the first third-round pick to start Week 1 of his debut season since Buffalo's Joe Ferguson in 1973.
One final note on Wilson: Much has been made of the fact that he's less than 5 feet, 11 inches tall, but the National Football Post's Dan Pompei pointed out that only two of his 309 pass attempts during his senior year at Wisconsin were batted down at the line of scrimmage. In comparison, Ryan Tannehill, who stands 6-4 and was taken eighth overall by Miami, had 19 throws deflected by linemen last season.