TAMPA — The Buccaneers have undergone a major makeover since the start of the free-agency signing period two weeks ago.
They have signed 11 new players, including eight projected starters, released three former starters and let three more regulars sign with other clubs.
However, don't call what the Bucs are doing this offseason rebuilding. At least, not around cornerback Alterraun Verner.
Verner, who joined the Bucs after signing a four-year, $26.5 million contract on the second day of free agency, sees the Bucs a little differently than most.
In fact, the 2013 Pro Bowl corner who left the Titans for Tampa, has seen the Bucs a little differently than most for a while.
“I remember looking at these guys last year and thinking, 'This is not a 4-12 team,' ” Verner said, referring to the Bucs' 2013 record. “And then I looked at some of the things they did this year, and I thought, 'This is a good team.'
“I mean, you already had coach Lovie Smith here, and then I saw that they signed (defensive end) Michael Johnson right away (in free agency), and I looked at the roster and I thought, 'This can be a winning team.'
“So no, I don't think we're rebuilding at all. I think what's happened here is just geared more toward winning, and I feel that we have a chance to do some real damage here.”
Been there, done that
Johnson has experienced the kind of turnaround the Bucs are hoping to make this year.
He entered the league as a third-round draft pick of the Bengals in 2009, a year when Cincinnati went 10-6 and won the AFC North before bowing out of the playoffs following a loss to the Jets in a wild-card game.
The Bengals slipped to 4-12 the next year, but they quickly rebounded and reached the playoffs each of the next three years, and Johnson believes what he learned during those years can help the Bucs rebound, as well.
“I think my experience with all that will help Tampa Bay coming off a 4-12 season, because I understand the work that you have to put in to make that kind of success happen,” Johnson said.
“Everybody is 0-0 now, and you don't get to start off 12-4 or whatever you were last season. You all start at the bottom, and it's going to take a lot of hard work and dedication to get to the top.”
Johnson, isn't the only newcomer who has experienced a run to the top. His new coach has, as well, guiding the Bears to the Super Bowl in 2006, and so has defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, who came from Seattle.
“We have a lot of guys here that have been around, that have done it, and so I think there's a perfect mix here of coaches and players who have had that success, so I wouldn't sleep on Tampa,” Johnson said. “We've got a lot of talent here, and we're excited to maximize it.”
It is not a coincidence that several of the Bucs newcomers, including Johnson, Verner and McDonald, signed their second NFL contract when they joined the Bucs.
Players good enough to earn a second contract usually have at least a little bit of experience and a lot of upside, and that is precisely what the Bucs were looking for in free agency this year.
“In an ideal world, you don't want to go through the growing pains with a player, and we've signed a lot of guys that have already gone through those growing pains,” Smith said. “That's a good thing, because that second contract should come when guys are hitting their prime, and we're getting a lot of guys who are right there.”