Linemen Santana Dotson, the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1992, and Mark Wheeler left as free agents from a unit that had only 25 sacks last season. As a result, both first-round draft picks were spent on defensive linemen Regan Upshaw and Marcus Jones. So were last year's top pick ( Warren Sapp, a starter at tackle) and the first pick two years before that ( Eric Curry, a starter at end). If Upshaw and Jones eventually start, and they're close now, the Bucs could field a front four of No. 1s. They can club opponents to death with their wallets.
Owner Malcolm Glazer is cash-poor, at least when the discussion turns to free agents. The Bucs did little in the free-agent market this off-season because Glazer relies on season-ticket sales to provide the money to pay those big signing bonuses. A Tampa Bay season ticket is hardly the hottest one in town. Contracts for veterans are regularly back-loaded. It has been a sticking point in the long and bitter holdout of third-year tailback Errict Rhett, who as of Monday remained unsigned. Rhett feels that two straight 1,000-yard seasons should be rewarded by more than the $336,000 he's signed for, a lot of which Rhett has returned in daily $5,000 holdout fines.
Glazer is another owner who's holding up a community for a new stadium by threatening to move his team. The fans deserve better. Average attendance last year was at a 13-year high. But early indications are that it will decline this season. A disappointing year looms—on the field and at the gate—for the Buccaneers.