The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have only been around 45 seasons, even though the franchise has a tremendous history of dominant defensive players. A franchise that has endured rough times over the past decade still has one of greatest defenses ever assembled, as the Super Bowl championship unit finished No. 1 in points and yards allowed.
Tampa has just nine winning seasons in franchise history, compiling a 267-424-1 record (.386 win percentage), but better times are ahead with Tom Brady and company heading into town. Just because the Buccaneers had plenty of rough seasons, doesn’t mean the franchise lacked great players, which is why we present to you the team’s Franchise Five.
CBSSports.com’s Franchise Five dives into five most impactful people in each NFL‘s team history. Our rules here bind us to pick just one quarterback, three non-quarterback players and one head coach.
We took a look back at the greatest to ever represent the franchise, representing the best generation of Buccaneers football — along with an all-time great from the early years. Tampa Bay Buccaneers senior writer Scott Smith, who has been with the team for over two decades, assisted in the selection of these players.
QB Brad Johnson
Buccaneers career: 2001-04
The Buccaneers don’t have a history of great quarterbacks (perhaps Tom Brady changes that narrative), and Doug Williams is their only quarterback in the team’s Ring of Honor. Johnson gets the edge because he was the signal-caller that brought Tampa its lone NFL title.
Tampa Bay’s defense was the backbone behind the Super Bowl XXXVII championship, but Johnson had a quietly good season with the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay was 10-3 in Johnson’s 13 starts as he completed 62.3% of his passes for 3,049 yards and 22 touchdowns to just six interceptions (92.9 rating), earning a Pro Bowl berth at the age of 34. Johnson wasn’t spectacular during Tampa Bay’s postseason run (54.1% completion rate, 670 yards, five TD, three INT), but managed the game well enough to get the Buccaneers their Super Bowl title. Johnson led the NFC in passer rating, set a team record for consecutive passes without an interception (187), and delivered the lowest interception percentage in team history (1.3%).
Johnson spent four years in Tampa and completed 61.8% of his passes for 10,940 yards, with 64 touchdowns to 41 interceptions (83.2 rating). He’s first in franchise history in completion percentage and second in passer rating (min. 1,000 attempts). After years of futility with Trent Dilfer and Shaun King, Johnson was the stabilizing force at quarterback Tampa Bay needed to win a Super Bowl.
Coach Jon Gruden
Buccaneers career: 2002-08
The Buccaneers actually have three head coaches in their Ring of Honor, but Gruden is the one that brought the franchise’s only title. Sure, Dungy built the defense of that Super Bowl championship team, but Dungy lost in the wild-card round in the two seasons before the Super Bowl run (going just 2-4 in the playoffs and scoring less than 10 points in each of the four playoff losses).
Gruden was traded to the Buccaneers for two first-round picks, two second-round picks and $8 million to deliver a Super Bowl title. Not only did Gruden accomplish the feat in his first year with Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers’ average margin of victory of 23 points in the postseason was tied for the highest in the free agency era.
Tampa Bay won three NFC South titles under Gruden, who finished with just a 57-55 record in seven seasons. Gruden’s three playoff wins are the most in Buccaneers history (he didn’t win any after the Super Bowl), and his 57 wins are the most in team history. His four winning seasons are tied for the most in team history with Dungy, and the team hasn’t made the playoffs since he was fired.
The Super Bowl championship gives Gruden the edge over Dungy and John McKay for top honors.
LB Derrick Brooks
Buccaneers career: 1995-2008
Brooks is one of the greatest linebackers in NFL history, plain and simple. The NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2002, Brooks was selected to the Pro Bowl 11 times and as a first-team All-Pro five times. He’s one of just three Buccaneers to have their number retired by the franchise.
The Buccaneers traded both their second-round picks to jump back into the first round and select Brooks in 1995, arguably the best trade in franchise history. Brooks started 221 of 224 games in his 14-year career, recording 1,698 tackles, 13.5 sacks, 25 interceptions and six touchdowns (which is tied for the most in league history by a linebacker).
Brooks was incredible during the Buccaneers’ Super Bowl championship season, finishing with 118 tackles, five interceptions, and a sack. He had four defensive touchdowns, which led the league (three via interceptions and one from a fumble recovery). He also had the clinching touchdown in Super Bowl XXXVII with a 44-yard interception return for a score with 1:18 to play.
Brooks’ 11 Pro Bowl selections are the second most for a linebacker in NFL history and he led the league in solo tackles three times. He was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2014, his first year of eligibility.
DE Lee Roy Selmon
Buccaneers career: 1976-84
The first Buccaneers player to have his number retired, Selmon is one of the forgotten great pass rushers in NFL history. The first pick in Tampa Bay’s history (and the No. 1 overall pick in 1976). Selmon was the driving force behind a Tampa Bay defense that finished No. 1 in the NFL in points and yards allowed in 1979, earning Defensive Player of the Year honors while finishing with 117 tackles and 11 sacks.
Selmon was named the NFC Defensive Lineman of the Year by the NFL Players Association four times and earned six Pro Bowl selections. He was a first-or second-team All-Pro four times, and he’s credited by the Pro Football Hall of Fame with 78.5 sacks (sacks didn’t become an official stat until 1982) and 29 forced fumbles (recovering 10). He had five Buccaneers team records by the time of his retirement and was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995.
DT Warren Sapp
Buccaneers career: 1995-2003
Sapp was arguably the best defensive tackle in the NFL during his nine seasons with the Buccaneers, earning seven consecutive Pro Bowl appearances and four first-team All-Pro selections. Sapp had three double-digit sack seasons with the Buccaneers, including 12.5 sacks, 41 tackles, four forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries in 1999 — when he captured Defensive Player of the Year honors and led the Buccaneers to their first division title since 1981.
A member of the 1990s and 2000s Pro Football Hall of Fame All-Decade teams, Sapp is credited with the most sacks in team history (77), even though the Hall of Fame lists Lee Roy Selmon as finishing with more (78.5). His 311 tackles and 15 forced fumbles are the most for a defensive tackle in team history. Sapp’s 96.5 sacks are the second most for a defensive tackle since sacks became an official stat in 1982 (John Randle).
Sapp recorded 7.5 sacks, two interceptions, and 52 tackles during the Buccaneers’ Super Bowl championship season in 2002. He finished with two tackles, one sack, two passes defensed and one forced fumble in Super Bowl XXXVII.
One of just three players by the franchise to have their number retired, Sapp was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013, his first year of eligibility. When Sapp retired, he was just one of only 12 defensive players in NFL history to make the Pro Bowl, be named Defensive Player of the Year, and win a NFL title.
- Ronde Barber. Barber holds Buccaneers franchise records for interceptions (47), starts (232), non-offensive touchdowns (14) and sacks by a defensive back (28). A five-time Pro Bowl selection and three-time first-team All-Pro, Barber is arguably one of the greatest defensive backs of his era.
- Mike Alstott. A six-time Pro Bowl selection and three-time first-team All-Pro, Alstott is second in franchise history in rush yards (5,088) and first in rush touchdowns (58). The fullback finished with 7,372 yards and 71 touchdowns in 11 seasons.
- John Lynch. Lynch finished with 788 tackles and 23 interceptions in 11 seasons in Tampa. He earned five Pro Bowl selections and was a first-team All-Pro two times. Dubbed “The Closer” by defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, Lynch was the linchpin toward the Buccaneers turnaround in the late-1990s.