NFL free agency starts next week. The NFL draft is next month.

The Bucs' future starts … well, let's hope it is already underway with closed-door meetings, the kind where people rub their temples and write on white boards and use PowerPoints.

What the Bucs do next week and next month and the month after that will have an effect on this franchise not just for next season, but for years to come.

It's hard to remember the last time this franchise had a more important offseason.

At the very least, it's the most critical since 2009 when the Glazers blew out the Bruce Allen-Jon Gruden regime and started over with a new general manager, a new coach and a new quarterback.

Since then, the Bucs haven't gotten much better. The team still hasn't made the playoffs — a streak that is now at five seasons, matched only by fellow bottom-feeders such as the Bills, Browns, Jaguars, Raiders and Rams.

When you're in that kind of slump with that kind of sorry company, you know what's at stake?

Jobs, for starters. General manager Mark Dominik's. Probably quarterback Josh Freeman's. Maybe even head coach Greg Schiano's.

Look at this way, if we're having this same conversation a year from now about what the Bucs need to do to finally make the playoffs then heads most certainly will roll, office nameplates will be changed and lockers will be cleared.

Here are a few random thoughts as the Bucs prepare for this crucial offseason.