Counting Character

January 12th, 2018

Ira heads to the locker room for today’s column.

Ira Kaufman is the most revered sports personality and writer in town. He has hung his hat at world headquarters since July 2016. Tampa Bay’s only Pro Football Hall of Fame voter, Ira busts out columns here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and his award winning podcasts fire Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can also hear Ira every Wednesday on SiriusXM Mad Dog Radio at 5 p.m., and see him Mondays and Fridays at 10:30 p.m. on Spectrum Sports 360.


NFL locker rooms are delicate creatures.

It doesn’t take much to tinker with a winning formula and mess with chemistry.

Every player in this league is talented, so I’m convinced more than ever that character is an indispensable ingredient for success.

Talking to Buc players after the final game, they swore to a man that this team stuck together through the tough times. They talked about playing for each other and the mutual respect that was evident within the walls of One Buc Place.

“This was a really fun team to be on, even though our record wasn’t what we wanted it to be,” said Brent Grimes. “This is a tight group and we have fun playing together. Obviously, we’ve got to fix some things, but a big key in football is people wanting to play together and I feel like we’ve got that part.”

If Grimes departs as a free agent, it won’t be because he doesn’t like the feel of the room. Money, of course, will always be a critical factor and Grimes might feel another club is closer to reaching a Super Bowl than Tampa Bay.

But just how tight is the locker room Grimes speaks so highly of?

For the most part, there is ample character in front of those stalls. Veterans like Clinton McDonald and Demar Dotson lead by example while relative youngsters like Kwon Alexander and Jameis Winston are competitors to their core.

But make no mistake — there was trouble in paradise.

Clown Show

How many times do we have to hear a Hall of Fame executive like Bill Polian warn us that free agency should be labeled: buyer beware?

Often, there are reasons beyond salary why a player is made available as a free agent. In 2014, Jason Licht’s first year as GM of the Bucs, he brought in a slew of free agents, including Anthony Collins.

What a clown.

Collins was targeted at left tackle to replace Donald Penn, who is still going strong in Oakland. In Cincinnati, Collins was a backup until he played well at left tackle in 2013, when injuries caused a shakeup.

“A lot of people get uncomfortable when they’re put in certain positions,” Collins said when introduced as a Buccaneer. “I’m very confident under pressure.”

Almost one year later to the day, the Bucs dumped Collins after trying to trade him. Now 32, Collins has never taken another NFL snap since his release.

Bad player, bad attitude.

Once Collins got paid, it was over. He kept generating yellow flags on the field and red flags in the locker room with his negative disposition.

And that brings us to a couple of current Bucs who may not be wearing pewter in 2018.

The travails of Swaggy Baker have been well documented on this growing website. Suffice it to say that his play was spotty and his work ethic wasn’t exactly spiffy, which I learned before his first practice.

It was no big surprise to learn that it was Baker who triggered a post-game altercation in the visiting locker room at Charlotte. And it was even less surprising to learn that the fiery Alexander finally had enough of Baker’s antics.


Another veteran free agent, T.J. Ward, also proved to be a problem. A stud in Denver, Ward made virtually no impact on the field. Even worse, he didn’t exactly give off good vibrations with teammates who could have benefited from his experience.

“There’s not a lot of turmoil in here,” said Lavonte David. “We’ve got a great locker room and everybody loves everybody like a brother.”

But there are issues within every family, and the Bucs are no exception.

When free agency rolls around in two months, with the Bucs flush with spending cash, let’s hope character counts.

Sometimes, how a new guy fits into a locker room can matter almost as much as how he fits into a scheme.

27 Responses to “Counting Character”

  1. SB Says:

    Ziggy is the Ansah!!!!!

  2. Hawaiian Buc Says:

    “Ziggy is the Ansah!!!!!”


    I love that, but do you really think Detroit is going to let him walk? I don’t.

  3. C eh N eh D eh Says:

    Imperative to keep McDonald and Grimes for next year, key free agents

  4. Bucsfanman Says:

    They need to do their homework a little better on FAs. I will not miss either of those yahoos!

  5. firethecannons Says:

    Right on Ira!

    we need to dump Baker and Ward and figure out someway to market Djax. I think it would be prudent to market GMC also, not quite sure exactly what happened with the crying episode he had but that sets a bad example also–somebody should of taken him to the locker room. We would benefit from some badass attitude.

  6. StPeteBucsFan Says:

    I think there is always a battle for the character of a locker room.

    I also think it takes time to get a locker room just right. As IRA suggests a few bad apples can really do some damage.

    The ability to damage is proportional to the tradition or lack thereof in the organization and their locker room.

    IE The Patriots may have the safest locker room in the entire league. Their tradition and Belichek keep them pretty much on an even keel.

    How about the Bucs’. Can you say tradition of LOSERS in the locker room…my favorite….Winslow!!!

    Notice how many coaches we’ve had in the same time the Patriots have had just one?

    I think we’re turning the corner…thought we had it turned after 16 but I guess we needed a refresher course in 17. Given the fact that the fans and the world quit on the Bucs pretty early…me included LOL….I do admire their effort at least through those final four.

  7. MadMax Says:

    Ziggy knows he’d have a better chance here than in Detroit….we’re getting close, but its ultimately up to him.

    Back on this character and wanting to win thing…..I was VERY impressed with that last game win against probably the SB Champs! Luckily we only dropped 2 spots in the draft order but that win did more for the future of this team than the draft pick placement. If we can pick up Chubb or Fitz, then land Vita or a great RB, that will do wonders for our team. This young talent coming up is good and thats whats needed. And I havent given up on VHIII, he’ll be fine. Just needs to play press more.

  8. LakeLand Says:

    Why would Ziggy choose the Bucs over the other 31 teams?

  9. Mike Johnson Says:

    Its not the locker room you Idiots… Its the coaching!!!

  10. SB Says:

    “Let;s make him an offa he can’t refuse”
    ____ Best Godfather voice.

  11. Hawaiian Buc Says:

    The Lions can franchise Ziggy, so it’s not actually up to him as to where he goes.

  12. Pickgrin Says:

    Another good piece Ira.

    Licht was trying to upgrade by replacing Akeem Spence with Swaggy Baker (and Wilcox with Ward). On paper (and film) – it looked like the right move.

    But free agency is such a crap shoot (literally) – especially recently with the salary cap going up substantially every year.

    Teams just aren’t letting good and even decent players walk very often anymore. If you are contributing well and your salary (demands) are not outrageous – most teams are not going to let you out the door.

    VERY few impact players make it to free agency these days and the majority of those very few that do are either over 30 and/or have some type of “issues” that did not sit well with their former team.

    Yet once again – the Bucs have multiple needs, not enough high draft picks to fill them all and a mountain of Glazer cash to spend coming into 2018. So we likely WILL be fairly active in FA this year. Buyer BEWARE.

    Jason Licht and his pro scouts/directors/coaches have some serious studying to do over the next 2 months.

    Dig deep on the free agents you are serious about trying to sign this year Jason. Very Deep!

  13. darin Says:

    What scheme? These clowns cant draw up a scheme. Same ones time after time. Of course its coaching mike johnson. All the “patience” preachers got another year. Another year set back. If dirk somehow ever gets to the playoffs I dont think theres ever a way he outcoaches a playoff coach. Its hard for bad coaches to get to the playoffs. A new dc would go a long way. Wheres our dick labeau or wade phillips. Need someone who knows you gota create plays not sit back n wait. All these zone coordinators are making me sick. Cmon glazers or licht or whoever is in charge over there. If we gota sit through dirk again at least fire smith! Give us some hope.

  14. Hawaiian Buc Says:


    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Mike Smith a playoff coach? Hasn’t he been there as both a coordinator and a head coach?

  15. MadMax Says:

    “other teams” Lakeland, I know that too. I wanted us to get Calais last year and we didnt. Maybe he didnt want to come here at all no matter how much $$ was thrown at him. Money is just money. Once you have enough to pay your basics and essentials, other factors become obvious.

  16. WutdaBucisthis Says:

    I agree with Darin…as a fan of the team. You MUST give me someone’s head lol Seriously if they don’t go Big in FA I’m going to lose it. Same staff AND no big pickups will leave this life long fan deflated. The draft alone isn’t the answer.

  17. rrsrq Says:

    I would say ask Justin Evans did he benefit from Ward, was he a mentor to the younger player, yeah Conte and Tandy are professionals, but skills wise, he had to listen to Ward. NowI’m not sure who Swaggy had an impact on to make better…

  18. StPeteBucsFan Says:

    “Its not the locker room you Idiots… Its the coaching!!!”

    So Mike and the others who believe this…Sean Payton is still in the playoffs. He once won a Super Bowl which made him a “genius”. He went 7-9 the preceding three years….three straight years of failure…LOSING record. So does that make Sean Payton a bad coach?

  19. MadMax Says:

    Thanks Hawaiian, wasnt thinking about that…..I figure thats more than they want to do at that position, we’ll see though.

  20. Rod Munch Says:

    For all the hero worship of Bill Polian in 2013 he had his top 50 FA’s list he published on ESPN and guess who didn’t make the list, Michael Bennett. Polian didn’t think anything of Bennett and listed him in the ‘other’ category.

  21. Lamarcus Says:

    I’m still questioning why the ” We are family” talk from the players died this year. Is this a factor?? Was this their mojo they lost?

  22. Not there yet Says:

    director of player personnel has done nothing except prevent Winston from going after the ref in that Carolina game. Other than that he’s been useless to Jason licht. What is the reason for the polar opposite effect on players coming into the NFL versus the ones already. It’s no fluke we’re so bad at choosing free agents

  23. Rod Munch Says:

    Looking at the FA market, the one that is to be expected after players are franchised or resigned, it’s a really really thin market this year so I’m not sure we’ll have to worry about big named FA’s very much this offseason.

    Instead the Bucs should look to trade for some guys to fill holes. I think the Bucs could find a young-ish starting center for say a 3rd round pick, that would mean Marpet could move back to guard and the offensive line would look a lot better. You could also absolutely find a starting corner with plenty of years left for a 2nd rounder pick, maybe a starting safety for a 4th, etc etc etc. Finally a DE, I wonder what the Bucs could get in terms of a proven edge guy for a 1st rounder – maybe a starting DE for a 1st and get back like a 3rd, which would then be flipped for another corner, etc etc etc. Yeah trading all your picks might not be the best thing, but I don’t understand why more teams don’t go after known starters instead of playing the lottery every year.

  24. gambelero Says:

    I’m not sure about the specific person Not There Yet Says is referring to, but he makes a good point. If we’re locked in on coaches, why not upgrade the backbone infrastructure? Let’s go out and hire some top notch scouts, analysts, analytics people. Imho one really great move Koetter made early on was to hire a game manager expert to help with time outs, fourth down math and other game management decisions. After the Rams game he admitted his analytics guy was yelling in his ear to call the timeout we didn’t call that cost us the game. After two or three other times when Koetter admitted that he did the opposite of what the guy recommended, the guy disappeared. Not sure if he was fired, reassigned, had his headset taken away, whatever. We sure could use someone that would tell the coach not to punt down on fourth and 4 from the opponents 39 down 14 points and fourth and 2 at the opponents 41 down two scores in the fourth quarter.

    After all, we saved 10-15 million a year just by not hiring Chucky and his cronies. Show the fans that you’re going to do something to give us hope. Do something.

  25. Rod Munch Says:

    gambelero – I really do wonder what the stats are for punting inside the opponents 45 on less than 4th and 3, I don’t see how Dirk wouldn’t lead the league in that. That’s not an analytics thing however, that is just a gut feeling – something Dirk apparently lacks. In that Atlanta game it was obvious if Dirk gave the ball back to the Falcons by punting it from the Falcon’s 40 on 4th and 3 that they’d march right down the field and get a TD, according to the coaching chart that is the “correct” thing to do, however you have to have a feel for the game and know your defense is spent. Ryan had missed a wide open guy for a big play on the prior series and generally was just off – the defense wasn’t doing anything well, they were flat out getting lucky. On the gameday thread I even said as much, if Dirk punts here the Falcons take it right down the field, get a TD and the game is over – which is exactly what happened. Dirk did the same thing during the Patriots again – the defense is spent and Dirk is still punting from the Pats 40 on 4th and short, and again the Pats took it right down the field and got the TD. Those are the two most obvious blatant examples of it off the top of my head, but I’m guessing there was more.

  26. SB Says:

    Maybe some of you should try ‘Snipe Hunting’

  27. Don Says:

    This –

    “Every player in this league is talented, so I’m convinced more than ever that character is an indispensable ingredient for success”