Maybe it’s something in the NFC South water.
But like their neighbors the Panthers, the Buccaneers are a team that it’s hard to find a consensus on this offseason.
On one hand, they aggressively addressed their biggest weakness from last year. At the same time, they’ve left the biggest question for the future of any franchise dangling awkwardly.
So as much as you want to like their chances based on adding legitimate stars such as cornerback Darrelle Revis and safety Dashon Goldson, everything they’re doing this year will hinge on the performance of quarterback Josh Freeman.
If they get Good Freeman, there’s no reason to think they can’t be a playoff team.
If they get Bad Freeman, they could sink, and be forced to start over with a new quarterback at a time when many of the other pieces are well in place, and match the style of their second-year coach, Greg Schiano.
The Bucs have the capability to be both balanced and explosive on offense.
Wide receiver Vincent Jackson averaged 19.2 yards per catch last year, and running back Doug Martin was nothing short of a revelation, with more than 1,900 yards from scrimmage.
Once they get Pro Bowl guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph back on the field, it should help create more opportunities for Martin.
But the most unlikely strength, considering they were last in the league in pass defense last year, is the secondary.
Making a trade with the Jets for Revis and signing former 49ers standout Goldson to yet another free agent splash deal should solidify things, and help second-year safety Mark Barron grow into the player he appeared close to turning into at times last year. They went from a disaster to good enough that there wasn’t room for Ronde Barber, so the improvement is clear.
If they apply the same approach next offseason, the Bucs will obviously be loading up on defensive linemen.
They let defensive end Michael Bennett and nose tackle Roy Miller walk away, without apparent (or at least established) replacements on hand.
Miller’s an easier fix, but Bennett led the team with 9.0 sacks last year, putting all the eggs in the broken baskets that are Da’Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn.
Both have shown flashes of being good pass-rushers, but neither has proven they can stay on the field, with Clayborn’s ACL and Bowers’ Achilles only the latest problems.
If they can’t stay well, the Bucs are dangerously thin up front.
Taking a wrecking ball to the secondary was the main one, unless you consider letting Freeman twist.
Letting him enter the final year of his rookie contract is a final prove-it play by the organization, and it’s either going to cost them time or money.
When Freeman is on (2010, first half of last year), he’s all the quarterback a good team needs.
When he’s not (2011, late last year), he’s well short of the guy you stake a franchise to.
If Freeman comes up with a good season, the Bucs will be forced to cough up the money or franchise him.
But the way coach Greg Schiano played word games this offseason — saying rookie Mike Glennon had a chance to start, then saying Freeman was his guy — makes it clear that it’s all just a motivational ploy.
It might be genius. It might cost them more money.
It better work.
The Bucs have a few slots that couldn’t be filled by big-ticket buys.
They have an odd cast of defensive tackles trying to replace Miller, and fourth-round rookie Akeem Spence has as good a chance as any. Otherwise, they have a group of Panthers cast-offs including Gary Gibson, Derek Landri and Andre Neblett.
There’s also a vacancy at strongside linebacker, after Quincy Black’s neck injury. Someone from the group including Adam Hayward, Jonathan Casillas and Dekoda Watson will need to emerge to round out an acceptable group.
They’re also looking for someone to make the tight end position his own, with either former Packer Tom Crabtree or Luke Stocker the leading candidates, though the offense isn’t such that they’re counting on either being a regular target.
The degree to which their entire season hinges on Freeman is fascinating, and layered.
Keeping the offensive system in place should help, but the pressure of knowing your own financial future and the direction of a franchise sits on your shoulders has to be a burden.
The Bucs have done a good job of putting parts in place around Freeman to make it easier to succeed, specifically by giving him a second year with offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan. That kind of stability is necessary for him to develop confidence.
At the same time, there are enough questions up front to make you wonder whether the big expenditures in the back will help.
As good as Revis is, if quarterbacks are never pressured, opponents will find cornerback Eric Wright’s guy more easily.
They’ve done an admirable job of addressing needs, but it’s still unclear if they’ve built on a stable foundation.