Thursday, 4 a.m.
The shopping is done. The groceries are in the cart. The cashier has taken the money.
And the Tampa Bay Bucs did well.
Didn't they? Deshaun Jackson is a shiny new toy whose face should immediately go on the side of the stadium. Chris Baker seems like a solid player for the Bucs' defensive line. J.J. Howell has a chance. Nick Folk should make the kicker competition interesting.
And what else?
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That's the problem with free agency when you aren't a playoff team. There are far too many holes than there are solutions on the market. I know what you're thinking. You'd have loved a great safety, wouldn't you? Maybe a running back, although the pickings were slim. Maybe an offensive lineman, although the Bucs seem to like their linemen a lot better than anyone else on the outside.
Still, you have to be happy … as long as you forget about chunks of the past.
You see, as little as we like to admit it, free agency is a lot of throwing money into a giant hole. Sure, we all love the concept of what Jackson can do for Jameis Winston...and what he can do for the rest of the Bucs' offense. But haven't we been here before? Wasn't Alvin Harper supposed to be a player? Wasn't Bert Emmanuel supposed be the anti-Harper? Even in a trade for Keyshawn Johnson, the Bucs didn't get full value before Jon Gruden chased him away.
So what makes Jackson better? Well, the Bucs aren't counting on him being a better player that he was in Dallas, where he was a complementary player to Michael Irvin. They aren't counting on him growing into a No. 1 role like Emmanuel. Jackson has the one thing Keyshawn lacked … speed.
If you're comparing Jackson with any free agent receiver the Bucs have had, how about Vincent Jackson. Again, DeShaun has better top-end speed (Vincent used to specialize in length-of-the-field catches where he was brought down from behind inside the 5, only to see the Bucs denied the end zone.) But Vincent had three straight 1,000-yard seasons. That'll do.
Of course, that's rare. The Bucs' history is filled with free agents like Anthony Collins, Michael Johnson, Josh McCown, Byron Leftwich, Dashon Goldson, Derrick Ward, Cato June, Todd Steussie, Darrell Russell, David Boston and Jerramy Stevens. It's like throwing darts at a board in a hurricane.
So, again, why is this better?
You trust in Jackson because he has that special quality. Speed. You count on Baker because he's been the Redskins' best defensive lineman. It's as if someone has finally received the message that there is only so much real help in free agency. Hire the best, and take your chances.
Hey, no one is fooling anyone. Give another team's player a load of money, and no one can be quite sure what you'll get. But Jackson seems like a solid bet. Baker seems like one worth taking. Howell. Who knows? Folk? He'll be a better kicker, or he'll make Aguayo become one.
I liked the Bucs approach here. Sure, you wish an outstanding back was available. Maybe a guard who can be what J.R. Sweezy was supposed to be. Maybe a pass rusher.
But it is the history of this team that it has always signed and then hoped.
This time, the chances of a good return are better. Aren't they?
Top 10 Bucs free agents.
1. Hardy Nickerson, 1993: Nickerson made five Pro Bowls for the Bucs and helped foster an attitude that the Bucs were a serious football team
2. Simeon Rice, 2001: Rice had five seasons of double-digit sacks for Tampa Bay, and the truth be told, he should have been MVP of his Super Bowl. For his career, he had 122 sacks.
3. Brad Johnson, 2001: Johnson wrongly gets lumped in with a lot of average quarterbacks to win Super Bowls, but he outperformed his opposite every week in the playoffs.
4. Joe Jurevicius, 2002: Jurevicius started onliy eight games as a Buc over three years, but he had some of the most essential catches in Tampa Bay history, including a 71-yarder in the NFC title game that helped set the tone.
5. Deshaun Jackson, 2017: How about taking one on faith? Sure, the Bucs have missed on receivers before, but never one who had the resume of Jackson. If the Bucs do their jobs, then Jackson will make a major impact this season.
6. Vincent Jackson, 2012: In his first three seasons in Tampa Bay, Jackson caught 220 balls for more than 3,500 yards.
7. Jeff Garcia, 2007: Garcia had a career resurgance in Tampa Bay, winning 14 gams over two years and reaching the playoffs once. He had a 25-10 touchdown to interception ratio.
8. Jeff Christy, 2000: In three seasons, Christy started 47 games and made a Pro Bowl.
9. Jackie Harris, 1994: Harris caught 137 passes in four years, not a bad total for a tight end. Not an essential Buc, but not bad.
10. Chris Hovan, 2005: Hovan started 79 games in a five-year period for the Bucs. Not much of a pass-rusher, but a grinder inside.
And the worst:
1. Alvin Harper, 1995: A drop machine as a wide receiver. He started only 19 games after coming in as the answer.
2. Anthony Collins, 2014: Wasn't even allowed to finish the season after the Bucs paid him millions
3. Michael Johnson, 2014: If Collins was Bonnie, then Johnson was Clyde. An awful signing. Simply dreadful.
4. Jerramy Stevans, 2007: A terrible ballplayer and an even worst human being.
5. Todd Steussie, 2005: Too many players were leaving the franchise. Steussie didn't replace any of them.
6. Josh McCown, 2014: Lovie Smith's hand-picked quarterback, he won only one game for the Bucs. He's still getting paid.
7. Byron Leftwich, 2009: He was supposed to be good enough so Josh Freeman could develop. He never won a game here (0-3).
8. Darrell Russell, 2004: One of the wedges between former general manager Rich McKay and ex-coach Jon Gruden. Russell never played a down for the Bucs.
9. David Boston, 2005: The Bucs thought they had a find in the former Cardinal receiver. Instead, they should have told him to get lost
10. J.R. Sweezy, 2016: We're still waiting to see him.