SR's Fab Five

March 22 - Why has QB Shaun King been getting little interest in free agency? How many QBs will the Bucs take to training camp? What's the latest on the Bucs' search for a TE, and on RB Emmitt Smith? And who is the Buccaneer to watch this spring and summer over in NFL Europe? The answers to these questions can be found in SR's Fab Five.

SR's Fab Five usually appears weekly on PewterReport.com
Copyright 2003 Pewter Report/PewterReport.com
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Here's five things that caught my interest this week:

FAB 1. It appears as though quarterback Shaun King's stock was indeed hurt by his dismal start against Pittsburgh on Monday Night Football last year. King was 9-of-26 for 73 yards against the Steelers, and threw a costly interception, which was returned for a touchdown on his second pass of the game which led to a 14-0 Pittsburgh lead. He was pulled in the third quarter and the Bucs went on to lose 17-7.

King had hoped to use that starting appearance to catapult his stock on the free agent market. Instead, it was lowered and King has been an idle player in free agency.

Denver, Chicago and Arizona, three teams who needed a quarterback, opted for starting quarterbacks who had started for several years in Jake Plummer, Kordell Stewart and Jeff Blake, respectively. Plummer has had 82 starts in six years with the Cardinals, Stewart has had 80 starts in eight years with the Steelers, and Blake has accumulated 87 starts with various teams through 11 seasons. In contrast, King has had just 21 starts in four years with the Bucs, and is by NFL standards, still an unproven commodity.

In Carolina, the Panthers opted for the unknown Jake Delhomme instead of the unproven King. The reason? Delhomme has an upside, but hasn't had enough NFL snaps to determine how high that upside is. King's upside has generally been determined by the league, and as it stands right now, those NFL teams have said that King is nothing more than a back up.

The fact that teams that still need a number one or number two passer, such as Baltimore and Cincinnati, haven't even shown any remote interest in King during free agency is quite telling. And the fact that the Bucs were quick to sign Shane Matthews and are closing in on adding former Chicago quarterback Jim Miller before inking King to a new deal shows you that the team appears only moderately interested in their former second-round draft pick on the surface.

The reality is that the Bucs would like to have King back, but with a cheap price tag. Tampa Bay has let him go out and find his market value -- which isn't much -- and then strategically signed Matthews and entered into negotiations with Miller so that King doesn't have any bargaining power against the Bucs. At this point, Tampa Bay doesn't really need to sign King, and because King doesn't have any other suitors who have made their interests known, he really doesn't have anywhere to go.

Look for King to re-sign with the Bucs for a cheap, cheap deal with a small signing bonus that won't guarantee that he'll make the 53-man roster.

FAB 2. Let's do some quick math and count the quarterbacks the Bucs expect to have in camp after the NFL Draft: Brad Johnson, Shane Matthews, Greg Zolman, possibly free agents Jim Miller and Shaun King and perhaps a rookie via the draft. On the surface it looks like an unprecedented six quarterbacks, but it's not.

Should the Bucs sign both King and Miller and select a rookie in the 2003 NFL Draft on April 26-27, there is a chance that Zolman, who would be the lowest man on the totem pole, could be cut soon after. And note that Miller won't be able to throw until July or August due to rehabilitation from rotator cuff surgery on his throwing surgery.

Johnson, Matthews, King and a yet to be drafted quarterback could be the only ones to comprise the healthy arms at the post-draft mini-camp, but chances are Zolman would still stick around at least through the first mini-camp just to get a look.

While the Bucs only took three arms to training camp last year -- Brad Johnson, Rob Johnson and King -- Tampa Bay is faced with the prospects of an extra week of training camp as well as an additional preseason game (versus the New York Jets in the American Bowl in Tokyo). The plan this year is to take at least five quarterbacks to camp this year to prevent fatigue with the extra game and practices, and to safeguard against injury.

FAB 3. One position that hasn't gotten much attention this spring around Tampa Bay is tight end. A featured position in Jon Gruden's offense, the Bucs' trio of Ken Dilger (34), Rickey Dudley (16) and Todd Yoder (2) combined for 52 catches last season and scored five touchdowns, with Dudley leading the way with three.

While Dilger and unproven reserves Casey Crawford and Daniel Wilcox are under contract, and Yoder, a restricted free agent, has been tendered a one-year contract, Dudley is a free agent who has received little interest on the open market. The reason? You can just about throw a blanket over the remaining tight ends in free agency.

Jerame Tuman (Pittsburgh), Tyrone Davis (Green Bay) and Dudley don't have the blocking prowess that excites the Bucs, but are good receivers with decent speed. Ernie Conwell (St. Louis), Cam Cleeland (New England) and Wesley Walls (Carolina) are big-name tight ends who have a history of solid production, and unfortunately, injury.

Jay Riemersma was brought in for a visit to One Buc Place last week, but didn't generate much interest and wound up signing with Pittsburgh.

Chances are the Bucs will re-sign Dudley at some point during the spring for near the league minimum, but don't be surprised to see them bring in Tuman or Conwell for a visit. And look for the Bucs to select a tight end in the draft with Florida's Aaron Walker, Auburn's Robert Johnson and Mississippi State's Donald Lee as possibilities. Gruden likes big, fast tight ends and while Lee is 6-foot-3, Johnson and Walker stand at 6-foot-5. Lee and Johnson run the 40-yard dash in the 4.8's while Walker can run in the 4.7's. All should be picked between rounds 3-5.

FAB 4. The Buccaneers have been playing it cool with regards to former Dallas running back Emmitt Smith. Sources tell Pewter Report that only head coach Jon Gruden has a profound interest in Smith, and that many in the personnel department think the team's salary cap room is better spent on a younger player with more upside rather than an aging star who doesn't have much gas left in the tank.

Tampa Bay has made it known that they would only have an interest in Smith if he were willing to play for the league minimum and split carries with other Bucs ballcarriers Michael Pittman, Mike Alstott and Travis Stephens. Smith has said that he wants to play for a Super Bowl contender, but it would be hard for him to go from making a fortune with the Cowboys to playing for $750,000 and not being a featured back.

Smith's best opportunity might be to sign with Arizona before the NFL Draft. His lone free agent visit has been with the Cardinals, who have only Marcel Shipp in terms of a proven runner, and he is hardly a household name. The Cardinals seem to be taking a major step in the right direction this spring with the signing of quarterback Jeff Blake and free safety Dexter Jackson among others, and could use a veteran with the professionalism and work ethic that Smith could bring to the table.

The Bucs already have a leadership network in place and his signing isn't as necessary with the emergence of Pittman late last year and Stephens' untapped potential. Smith does not have any visits scheduled with the Buccaneers.

FAB 5 Here's a couple of items to hold you over until next week:

- Tampa Bay's special teams will miss Jack Golden. Golden had 13 special teams tackles and forced a fumble, but didn't show enough at linebacker to warrant a contract offer. The Bucs would rather draft a young linebacker with more potential, or develop the promise of a player such as Justin Smith, who spent most of last year on the practice squad before moving up to the active roster.

-The Buccaneers have six linebackers on their current roster, including restricted free agent Nate Webster, who was tendered a one-year contract. The average size of those six linebackers is only 6-foot-1, 228 pounds.

- Out of the franchise-high nine players allocated to NFL Europe this spring, the player with the most potential may be cornerback James Rooths, a 5-foot-11, 210-pounder out of Sheperd. Rooths was allocated to the Scottish Claymores and the Bucs really like his size-speed ratio.


Copyright 2003 Pewter Report/PewterReport.com
This story is intended to be read only by PewterReport.com Club Insiders only and TheInsiders.com. Sharing of the Club content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers.

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