This year the Bucs hold the number three overall pick in the draft, and the team has a great opportunity to pick up one of the draft-expert favorites. The promise of drafting a player who might help turn the team around is exciting--frankly, it's the only exciting thing that has happened to the team in months. But before the big day, it's also important to remember that not all draft picks work out exactly as planned. That was the case three years ago, when the Bucs picked fourth overall.
I remember crossing my fingers and toes in April 2007 that somehow wide receiver Calvin Johnson, or maybe offensive lineman Joe Thomas, would drop to the fourth pick. I attended a wedding that day, so I missed the actual draft, and when I called my father afterward to find out who we'd picked, I was dumbfounded.
"Gaines Adams? Wait, seriously?"
Both Johnson and Thomas were picked before the Bucs had their turn, but even still, I hadn't heard much discussion of the Bucs taking Adams before the draft. Plus, with Jon Gruden at the helm it was easy to assume that the Bucs would go with offense. But Adams was chosen fourth, so I and the entire city had high hopes for him.
For three years, Adams failed to meet public expectations on the field. Each summer there would be a new article in one of the local papers about how hard he was working in the off-season, how he'd been eating right and training hard and hoped this would be his year. But then it never was his year, and this past October Adams was traded to Chicago for a second-round draft pick. At the time, it seemed like a win-win-win situation: Tampa received another shot at a player-of-the-future, the Bears hoped to provide him with some consistent coaching and make him an impact player, and Adams had the chance to redeem himself in a city that wasn't counting on him to be a huge star.
But Adams played only 10 games for the Bears. He died in January of cardiac arrest due to an enlarged heart.
The death of a 26-year-old athlete is shocking and heartbreaking, but as a fan who'd complained about his play for years, there was an extra edge. Adams was by all accounts a very good kid who was saddled with the expectations that come with being a top draft pick when he was only 23 years old, who was publicly derided as a professional bust after only a couple of years in the league, and who ultimately missed his shot at redemption. And that doesn't even account for the fact that his enlarged heart might have unknowingly hindered him from achieving great things on the field.
That's why the fact that the Bucs will be choosing a player at the 42nd pick overall this year--a pick that they earned from the Bears in the Adams trade--feels a little wrong. Now, I understand that the Bucs deserve to keep the pick. The trade was a business transaction, and had Adams merely torn his ACL or irreparably injured his elbow, it would be easy to chalk it up to simply bad luck for the Bears.
But the death of a young player is different, and I feel that the Bucs need to find some way to honor Adams' memory in the draft process.
I'd propose a moment of silence before announcing the pick. Not that the draft is as boisterous an affair as an NFL game, but it would still be a classy move, a sign of respect for a player that the Bucs community wanted to embrace but never could. And though it might seem a bit unfair to the player who is chosen 42nd to have his name called in the same breath as another man being memorialized, I believe it would send the message to him and to the other players drafted by the Bucs that they will be valued members of the Tampa Bay community.
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