Keepers Only

April 22nd, 2024


No one disputes that successful drafts are the key to sustained success in the National Football League.

No one, that is, except for George Allen. In building up the Rams and Redskins (now Commanders), Allen craved veterans. He had no hesitation trading draft picks for established players. He ended up with a bust in Canton and a .712 winning percentage that ranks fourth in league history.

But Allen remains an outlier. He turned things around in a hurry in Los Angeles and Washington back in the day, but those days have passed. In the modern-era NFL, you can’t overcome lousy drafts.

The Patriots are Exhibit A.

“Mark, Ira says I better have learned from my past, your past and Belichick’s implosion.”

Once Bill Belichick arrived in 2000, New England selected Tom Brady, Richard Seymour, Matt Light, Asante Samuel, Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins, Brandon Meriweather, Jerod Mayo, Matthew Slater, Julian Edelman, Devin McCourty and Rob Gronkowski over an 11-year span.

That’s how you reach the top … and stay on top.

Belichick didn’t forget how to coach toward the end of his tenure in Foxborough — he forgot how to draft.

How do these names grab you? Tyquan Thornton, Mac Jones, Christian Barmore, Kyle Duggar, Josh Uche, K’Neal Harry and Joejuan Williams.

Those are players taken by the Pats with premium picks in recent years.

The only Pro Bowlers drafted by New England since 2017 are punter Jake Bailey and Jones, who made it by default as a rookie when an array of AFC quarterbacks opted out of the game.
By the way, Jones and Bailey are no longer with the Patriots.

That leads us to the Buccaneers, whose dynamic draft hauls paved the way for their first Super Bowl victory. From 1993-99, Tampa Bay drafted John Lynch, Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Mike Alstott, Warrick Dunn, Ronde Barber, Brian Kelly and Martin Gramatica.

That’s a lot of star power, led by four Hall of Famers in an iconic defense.

But it can work the other way as well.

Two decades have passed since one of the worst draft classes in franchise history … and that’s saying a lot. When Bruce Allen and Jon Gruden collaborated for the 2004 draft, there were plenty of holes on an aging roster.

The Bucs needed fresh blood, but the transfusion was botched.

The first pick, Michael Clayton, enjoyed a splendid rookie year with 80 catches for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns. Then it all fell apart as he reached the end zone only three more times in his final seven seasons.

The Bucs lacked a second-round choice due to the 2002 trade to acquire Gruden, so next up was linebacker Marquis Cooper, whose body was never found after a fishing boat accident in 2009. Cooper never started an NFL game.

Defensive back Will Allen was chosen in Round 4. He played 12 years and excelled on special teams, but finished with just seven interceptions.

Guard Jeb Terry made one start in three years and was out of football by the age of 25. Tight end Nate Lowrie caught four passes in five years while wide receiver Mark Jones never caught a TD pass in six seasons.

Rounding out this rogue’s gallery were running back Casey Cramer, who never carried the ball at the pro level, and defensive back Lenny Williams, who didn’t make the 2004 Buc roster.

Bucs GM Jason Licht

And while the Bucs would go on to make the playoffs in 2005 and 2007, they didn’t win another postseason game until the 2020 championship run. Their drafting record was poor for more than a decade until Jason Licht arrived in 2014 and began adding key contributors.

Licht’s top picks in 2021 and 2022, Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and Logan Hall, haven’t made an impact.

That’s why the Bucs find themselves still looking for dynamic pass rushers that Todd Bowles can turn loose this fall. At the same time, Licht needs to be looking ahead toward eventually replacing stalwarts like Lavonte David and Mike Evans.

George Allen rode his “Future is Now” philosophy into the Pro Foootball Hall of Fame. He took a dangerous path, downplaying the draft in favor of veterans, but the past 50 years tells us you can’t flourish as an organization without consistent draft success.

With 10 drafts behind him as Bucs GM, Licht and his brain trust will tee it up again Thursday evening. George Allen did it his way. Let’s see if the Bucs can land some keepers their way.

Ira Kaufman Engages In Healthy (Unhealthy?) And Comprehensive Bucs Draft Debate, And More

15 Responses to “Keepers Only”

  1. Bucswin! Says:

    So what defensive players did we miss/pass on in 21 and 22?

  2. Proudbucsfan Says:

    Great writing Ira, I like JL and his staff, they do a good job. The draft is a crap shoot and this front office is more than efficient.

  3. Larrd Says:

    Great column. I looked and Allen’s R-words had a second rounder his first year and a fourth rounder in his final year. The other five years no pick higher than the fifth round. Not a lot of late round gems, either. OLs George Stark and Jon Keyworth were the only names I remember. And Keyworth was best known as a kicker for the Broncos, I think.


    The following decades have not shown us it can’t be done anymore, IMO. No one else has tried anything like it.

  4. Rod Munch Says:

    Bruce Allen was Jon Gruden’s stooge – and we’ve seen Gruden’s draft record when he’s calling the shots in Tampa and Vegas. Those two morons, in addition to terrible drafting, also make terrible personnel moves, like letting Sapp walk and cutting John Lynch, so Gruden could sign Tim Brown and Charlie Garner and every injured 35-year offensive lineman in free agency. But salary cap – the salary cap… anyone who ever said about that era should be disqualified from ever talking economics in football.

  5. Crickett Baker Says:

    It’s a very interesting article! GO BUCS! I can hardly wait for this draft to end, even though there’ll be boring pages and pages evaluating it before anyone gets to play.

  6. Larrd Says:

    I wonder who the Bucs could get for their first five picks this year? Maybe a superstar and five or sixth good but cheap guys?

  7. Pickgrin Says:

    Fix the OLine Jason Licht!

    No draft move (short of moving up for Verse or Latu) will boost this team’s chances of having a good year and competing for a Super Bowl more than drafting high end talent for the interior OLine.

    And if we do burn a 3rd rd pick trading up for a pass rusher – then the two remaining picks in the 2nd and 3rd rd need to be for Center and LG.

  8. Jay Molina Says:

    There wasn’t a salary cap back then, so you could go after veterans.

  9. Alanbucsfan Says:

    George Allen recruited alot of veterans who were key to Redskins’ success in early ’70’s- Diron Talbert, Verlon Biggs, Roy Jefferson, Billy Kilmer, Jack Pardee.
    But Redskins had a pretty strong foundation from their previous draft picks-
    Charley Taylor, Chris Hanburger, Larry Brown, Manny Sistrunk, Jerry Smith and more…
    The 2020 Bucs had a similar success story- adding key veterans to a strong draft foundation. The difference being Brady was the main veteran recruiter instead of the Head Coach.

  10. Larrd Says:

    I am trying to think a little out of the box. I don’t think Allen ever had more star players than the Cowboys, who were very much build-through-the-draft, yet they competed pretty well.

    How would a team consisting of 50 average salaried 28-30 year olds do against rosters consisting of 25 high paid stars and 25 young developmental and backup types? Would they be a stronger and maybe smarter team, overall? Could it be an advantage to be an Over the Hill Gang as long as you avoid overpaying?

    I have zero doubt the draft is overrated. Four or five players a year, two who might be better than average at some point down the road.

  11. stpetebucfan Says:


    I always enjoy thinking “outside the box”. The box gets cramped and boring.

    I think the truth is somewhere between all this “devotion” the “draft day” and the selections and realizing the draft is just ONE of the talent contributors. Talent comes from FA and occasionally even a trade just as much as the draft IMHO.

    I think the overemphasis on the draft is not so much using it to fill needs as it is hoping for miracles. JW was always a man child who would never mature. The “Fameis” mistake wasn’t nearly as bad as The Colts who were so convinced Jeff George’s incredible arm would translate to success, they traded Pro Bowl offensive tackle Chris Hinton, promising wide receiver Andre Rison and two draft choices including a 1991 first-rounder to Atlanta to get the No. 1 pick. And of course recently John Lynch wasted a boatload of picks on Trey Lance.

    Obviously neither Brady nor Brad Johnson were high picks who won the SB’s for the Bucs. There is more than one way to build a great team.

    I’m not saying the draft isn’t a CRITICAL component. But it’s not an exact science!!! The results aren’t particularly good- even among first-round draft picks. For example, among first-round draft picks selected between 2010-2017, only 31% signed a second contract with the team that drafted them.

    So since George Allen started this convo lets go to his successor another HOF member GM Bobby Beathard who followed Allen…discovered Joe Gibbs and then proceeded to trade down everytime a decent opportunity presented itself.

    TWO second rounders may actually give a better chance at success when one of the them busts instead of the single 1st rounder who busted.

    Bottom line is how much talent the Bucs can haul in. Last year was a great example. Nobody was doing cartwheels right after the draft…many held out hope for Calijah but the overall talent infusion was better than in many years.

    I trust Licht and his guys to match other NFL minds and deliver the goods…with some chaff tossed in as well. It’s the freaking NFL draft nobody gets it right more than half the time.

    Jeff George was

  12. BucBucBucs!! Says:

    O- Line!!! Center, Guard, Then, Edge rusher, Cb and A bruiser RB as a pairing with White.

  13. SlyPirate Says:

    If the season started today the Bucs would win the division. It’s important to have a solid draft to plug our holes and stretch our lead over the NFCS.

  14. Larrd Says:

    Good points SPBF. Belichick also seemed to have a more rational draft system and traded down. He also let a lot of stars go while signing veteran free agents on the cheap. Maybe a salary cap version of Allen.

  15. It's Corn Says:

    If I recall correctly, you didn’t have the same kind of free agent market when Allen was doing it.