NEW YORK (AP) — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers “earned” the first pick in next spring’s NFL draft with their 2-14 record.
In their first season under coach Lovie Smith, the Bucs lost their last six games to secure the top pick over Tennessee, which had the same record under first-year coach Ken Whisenhunt. But Tampa Bay had the easier overall schedule in the weak NFC South, which was won by Carolina with a 7-8-1 record.
Clearly, neither of the coaches who lost in Super Bowls — Smith in Chicago and Whisenhunt in Arizona — had much positive impact in their debut seasons.
“My comments last week were, ‘We’re going to get a good pick,’ “ Smith said after losing to New Orleans in the finale. “Nothing’s really changed. I know were in a little bit better of a position, but going into this football game, we were going to have an opportunity to get a pretty good football player. When you’re down there, that’s one consolation, I guess, from the season we’ve had.”
Tampa Bay last had the top overall spot in 1987 and selected Miami Hurricanes QB Vinny Testaverde. He didn’t fare well with the Bucs, but later led the Browns and Jets to the playoffs and spent 21 seasons in the NFL with seven teams.
Rounding out the top five will be Jacksonville and Oakland, both 3-13, and Washington (4-12).
Then come the New York Jets (4-12), Chicago (5-11), Atlanta, the New York Giants and St. Louis, all 6-10.
Tennessee actually held the top spot as recently as in Week 16, but the Bucs’ dismal division — two teams in the Titans’ AFC South had better records than the winner of the NFC South — turned things around when the season concluded.
So the Titans will go second.
“It can certainly help you, that’s one of the things to be excited about,” Whisenhunt said. “We’re going to get a good player, and we’ll have a chance to get a good player with the second-round pick, because that will be like getting another first-round pick.
“Whatever opportunities are available at that point, I think that we’re going to look at free agency to help some things, too. It’s important, it’s always important when you have a pick that high.”
The rest of the drafting order, not including playoff teams, will have Minnesota going 11th, with Cleveland 12th and New Orleans 13th; all of them were 7-9. Miami will go 14th and San Francisco 15th; both were 8-8.
Four 9-7 teams did not make the postseason and will draft in this order: Houston, San Diego, Kansas City, Cleveland (from Buffalo). Philadelphia (10-6) will go 20th.
Losers of the wild-card games will select 21st-24th. Losers in the division round get the 25th-28th positions.
Teams that fall in the conference championships will go 29th and 30th. The Super Bowl winner, regardless of regular season record, picks 32nd and last.