TAMPA, Fla. - This is not normal. Statistically speaking, it's barely even possible.
Just two-thirds of the way through the NFL season, the Bucs are facing potential elimination in the NFC South today. By itself, that's not so astounding. The Bucs could also potentially end up all alone in last place in the division if they lose to the Falcons. And if this were a one-year snapshot, that would not be unusual either.
What's hard to grasp, and defies epic odds, is how commonplace this has all become.
No NFL, NBA, NHL or MLB team has finished in last place as frequently as Tampa Bay in the past decade. This could potentially be the seventh time the Bucs end up all alone at the bottom of the South since 2009. In two other seasons, they tied for the worst record.
Add it up, and that could make nine last-place finishes in 11 years in a league that zealously pushes parity. Everything the NFL does is designed to keep teams competitive, and the Bucs have stubbornly resisted. Salary cap? Yup. Reverse draft order? Yup. Softer schedule for a losing team? Yup.
And yet Tampa Bay is almost certain to miss the playoffs for the 12th year in a row.
Let's put that in perspective:
In just the past six seasons, every other team in the NFC has reached the playoffs at least once. If you go back to 2010, every team has made it at least twice. Go back to 2008, and more than half the teams in the conference have made the playoffs at least four times. The Bucs? Not once.
That isn't just a bad stretch, it's a cry for help.
And what's worse is they've given you so little hope.
When you're coming off back-to-back 5-11 seasons, you do not expect your defense to give up more points. You do not expect your quarterback to throw more interceptions. You do not expect to commit more penalties.
And yet that's where we're at in 2019. Every step forward is met with an equal stumble backward.
Can you blame it on coaching? Yeah, sure. But this streak of non-playoff appearances stretches all the way back to Jon Gruden's final season. That's six different head coaches who have had their hand in this mess.
Can you blame it on players? Well, of course. But the Bucs have one of the youngest rosters in the NFL, and nearly three-quarters of the team was acquired in the past two seasons.
Ultimately, this is a problem with ownership. And with a lack of direction.
The Bucs do not seem to operate with an organizational philosophy as much as an annual reassessment. You draft Jameis Winston and you desperately want that to work. So you overspend on weapons and an offensive line. But that leads to neglect on defense. So now you sign free agents and devote entire draft classes to the defense.
And, oh by the way, Winston is not progressing the way you'd expected. And attendance is falling. So now you start worrying about making moves that might appease the fan base. And the front office worries about justifying previous decisions.
Every team tweaks. Every team tinkers. It's the way the NFL is designed. Careers are too brief and annual turnover is inevitable.
The problem here seems to be a lack of leadership at the very top. Not just in the general manager's office, but from above.
If the Bucs have a mission plan to develop a quality on-field product year-in and year-out, it has not been readily apparent. At least not since the days when Rich McKay was running the front office. And if the Glazer family isn't up to the task, they need to find someone capable of being that steady, and commanding, voice.
Linebacker Lavonte David is second only to Demar Dotson in seniority in the Bucs locker room. This is a guy who won back-to-back state championships at Miami Northwestern High School, played in the junior college national championship game at Fort Scott Community College in Kansas and went 19-8 in his two seasons at Nebraska.
Since coming here, he's been stuck on teams with a combined record of 41-81. I asked him after last week's loss to New Orleans how he deals with the perpetual losing.
"I try not to let it drive me insane because I love the game of football," he said. "And there's always another opportunity out there."
Yes, there is.
But how much faith do you have in this organization to get it right?
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