Bucs Sign Four Draft Picks

July 16 - The Buccaneers opened contract negotiations with their draft picks today and it did not take long for them to see immediate results. Tampa Bay agreed to terms with G Russ Hochstein, FB Jameel Cook, DE Ellis Wyms and FS Than Merrill. Five other draft picks remain unsigned, but additional deals could follow quickly.

Tampa Bay selected nine players in the 2001 NFL Draft last April and after brief negotiations, the Bucs agreed to terms with four of them on Monday.

The Buccaneers agreed to terms with fifth-round selection G Russ Hochstein, sixth-round pick FB Jameel Cook, sixth-round selection DE Ellis Wyms and seventh-round pick FS Than Merrill. All four players signed three-year deals for the rookie minimum of $209,000 in the first year, $298,000 in the second year and $389,000 in the third year.

The Buccaneers still have five players unsigned, but GM Rich McKay indicated that more player signings could be expected soon.

"Signing the draft picks is the final step in the process before training camp," said McKay. "The sooner it is behind us the better, and this is one process that should go relatively quickly."

The Buccaneers expect to have third-round pick CB Dwight Smith, fourth-round selection FS John Howell and their two remaining seventh-round selections, TE Daunte` Finger and DE Joe Tafoya signed by Tuesday.

This will leave the rest of this week and the following week for the Bucs to pursue a deal with first-round selection LT Kenyatta Walker. The Bucs were allocated a $3.3 million rookie pool to sign all of their picks. With all eight lower-round players expected to be signed prior to Walker's signing, a little over $1 million will be left for his base salary and 2001 prorated signing bonus.

Still, the length and overall structure of the deal may take some time to work out due to the Bucs' cash-strapped salary cap situation. McKay is all too familiar with the difficulty of signing first-round draft picks.

Tampa Bay's 1997 first-round pick RB Warrick Dunn and 1999 first-round pick DT Anthony McFarland were both training camp holdouts. But McKay knows how important it will be to get Walker's contract negotiations out of the way so the Bucs' rookie left tackle will not miss valuable playing time at camp.

"The first round pick always presents unique issues," said McKay. "But plenty of time remains to get that player signed before camp."

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