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Hey, did you hear? The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are shopping Pro Bowl defensive tackle Warren Sapp.
According the Bucs, that's the "rumor" that just won't go away. It has surfaced on and off again for the last three years, but it has yet to come to fruition.
Will this year, which is Sapp's last year under contract, be the year that all of the rumors and speculation regarding No. 99 become a reality?
A report in the Cincinnati Post a few weeks ago suggested it would be.
According to the Post's report, the Bucs were negotiating a trade with the Bengals, and the alleged deal had Tampa Bay sending Sapp to Cincinnati in exchange for the Bengals' 2003 No. 1 overall draft pick.
Tampa Bay rarely addresses rumors, but it didn't take long for the Bucs to come out and squash that particular report, or the one that surfaced last year, or the one that came about the year before that one.
Team officials have deemed the Sapp trade talks erroneous each time they've become headlines in newspapers and/or one of the lead stories on SportsCenter. So why do they keep surfacing?
Well, let's suppose for a moment that the latest Sapp trade report/rumor has some validity to it. After looking at all of the facts and scenarios, one could certainly understand why Sapp has been the subject of trade rumors over the last few years.
Although he's been voted to six consecutive Pro Bowls, Sapp's production has declined over the last few years. After notching a franchise-record 16.5 sacks in a single season (2000), Sapp recorded just six sacks in 2001 and followed that outing with an eight-sack performance last season.
Some have quickly come to Sapp's defense and attributed his drop in sack production to his battle with shoulder and knee injuries. No one will question Sapp's threshold for pain, but if his injuries have indeed hindered his ability to disrupt offenses on a regular basis, wouldn't that then make his durability a concern?
While Sapp is still regarded as one of the best defensive tackles in the league, he has a habit of starting the season off fast and then disappearing halfway through the year.
For example, last season, Sapp recorded seven and a half of his eight regular season sacks during Weeks 1-8, but after starting nose tackle Anthony McFarland went down with a broken forearm in Week 8, Sapp's production noticeably dropped off. In fact, Sapp only recorded a half of a sack during the second half of the regular season.
Sapp is entering the last year of his contract and Tampa Bay, who restructured eight players' contracts this offseason in order to create salary cap room, will have a hard time finding enough money to keep No. 99 around after the 2003 season.
The Bucs made Pro Bowl defensive end Simeon Rice, not Sapp, the highest-paid defender in the National Football League last month, and the Bucs' 1995 first-round draft pick will likely seek a Rice-like contract ($8 million per season and $20 million in bonuses) after his deal expires.
Not only are the Bucs not talking to Sapp's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, about a new contract for his client, but the team has recently discussed the possibility of extending McFarland's deal.
Like Sapp, McFarland is also entering the last year of his contract, and extending his contract instead of Sapp's would have its advantages.
McFarland, 25, is younger and he's certainly not the controversial personality Sapp is. Plus, McFarland would likely come at a cheaper price than Sapp would at this point in both players' careers. And with the Bucs facing a salary-cap purge in the next year or two due to aging players and backloaded contracts, McFarland, who turns 26 in December, would certainly fit into the team's rebuilding process better than a 31-year-old Sapp would.
Whether Sapp leaves Tampa Bay this year through a trade or next year via free agency, the Bucs might not be so bad off without him.
Bucs defensive line coach Rod Marinelli called McFarland the second best under tackle in the league next to only Sapp. McFarland convinced Marinelli of this last year when "Booger" filled in at the under tackle position during the the team's first two offseason mini-camps while Sapp recovered from shoulder surgery.
So, if the Bucs ink McFarland to a long-term deal and part ways with Sapp, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and Co. could move McFarland over to under tackle in Sapp's place and use Chuck Darby and Ellis Wyms to rotate at nose tackle just as they admirably did in McFarland's place last year.
And by trading Sapp, Tampa Bay could recover at least one of the four draft picks it traded to Oakland last year in exchange for head coach Jon Gruden. That's awfully tempting considering the fact that the Bucs are scheduled to go a second consecutive year without a first-round draft pick.
Some say Tampa Bay is fortunate to be without first-round draft picks since the cap-strapped Bucs might have a hard time finding the money to sign them. But trading Sapp and his $6.6 million salary would certainly clear enough room under the cap to make that argument a non-issue.
If you're thinking about Tampa Bay's future, you'll likely say the Bucs should trade Sapp and get something for him now instead of letting him walk away without receiving anything in return next year. But if you're thinking about the Bucs making a legitimate run at a second straight Super Bowl championship, you'll probably say the Bucs should play it safe and keep Sapp around since he still has gas left in the tank and will still receive plenty of attention from opposing offensive lines.
So, will the Bucs trade Sapp or not?
Whether Tampa Bay flirted with the idea of trading Sapp or not, it doesn't look like the team will turn years of rumors and speculation into a reality and draft picks this year.
Some Tampa Bay fans might not be planning on tuning into the NFL Draft until the Bucs make its first selection of the day, which will come in the second round at pick No. 64. But the recent Sapp rumors along with the fact that the Bucs still have 12 days to change its mind about trading him should give Bucs fans a good enough reason to watch the NFL Draft when it starts at noon on April 26.