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John Romano: A Bucs decline was inevitable, but someone will still have to pay

John Romano, Tampa Bay Times on

Published in Football

TAMPA, Fla. — Hey, remember when the Bucs traded for Rob Gronkowski a month after signing Tom Brady for $25 million a year? Wild, wild times.

And remember when they signed Leonard Fournette in September 2020 because Brady needed a more versatile running back? And remember when they signed Antonio Brown in October of that year even while he was under NFL suspension and even though they had Mike Evans and Chris Godwin? So cool.

You may also remember that was the same year the Bucs re-signed Ndamukong Suh and Jason Pierre-Paul when they were both free agents in the spring, and put a $15.8 million franchise tag on Shaquil Barrett. Man, that was some crazy stuff. But, what the heck, when you have a shot at a ring, you take your biggest swing.

Those seven players took up about 35% of the $198 million salary cap in 2020. They filled the bleachers at Raymond James Stadium, had networks fighting over prime-time spots, brought TMZ to Tampa Bay and won a Super Bowl that season.

In a roundabout way, they may also cost Todd Bowles his job in 2023.

We are all paying for the excesses of the 2020-21 Buccaneers when the Glazer family splurged on whatever Bruce Arians and Brady wanted. When you manipulate the salary cap beyond recognition, eventually the bookkeepers will have their say. And when you invest in defensive linemen in their 30s, a tight end coming out of retirement and a 43-year-old quarterback, you have to know the party will not last forever.

 

That’s what we’re seeing today. This is the Super Bowl reckoning.

And no one feels it more than Bowles.

He’s trying to be the good soldier. He’s not complaining about the roster, and he’s not pointing fingers at rookies or underachieving millionaires on defense. He’s attempting to keep the ship steady because even a jayvee team can win the NFC South.

But expecting Bowles to win 10 games with this team was always an unrealistic ask. Think back to August. When NFL.com did its preseason power rankings, the Bucs were No. 30 out of 32 teams. ESPN had Tampa Bay at No. 31 and Sports Illustrated did, too. After the draft, BetMGM put Tampa Bay’s over/under for wins at 6.5.

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