Bucs Trade For Cardinals RB Jones

June 13 -Troubled Tampa Bay tailback Michael Pittman's fate has yet to be decided by a court of law, but the Buccaneers decided to secure an insurance policy Friday when the team traded second-year wide receiver Marquise Walker to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for fourth-year running back Thomas Jones. The Bucs made the trade just five days after an Arizona grand jury indicted Pittman on two felony counts of aggravated assault.

If actions speak louder than words, one could conclude that Tampa Bay starting tailback Michael Pittman's days with the Buccaneers are numbered since the Bucs traded wide receiver Marquise Walker to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for running back Thomas Jones on Friday.

"This is a trade that should be good for both parties," said Buccaneers general manager Rich McKay. "Thomas will have an opportunity to come in here and compete, and he certainly has the traits to be a productive player for us."

Jones (5-10, 220), a 2000 first-round draft pick (7th overall), has rushed for 1,264 yards, scored nine touchdowns and has averaged 3.5 yards per carry on 362 career attempts. Jones also hauled in a total of 73 passes for 473 yards.

Jones replaced Pittman as the Cardinals starting tailback in 2002 after Pittman signed with the Buccaneers via free agency, but Jones failed to capitalize on the opportunity.

The quick and shifty Jones was often criticized for making too many moves before hitting holes in the running game.

Jones lost his starting job to RB Marcel Shipp last year and missed the last six games of the regular season with a fractured hand that was considered non-football related.

Jones told Cardinals officials that he injured his hand while trying to answer the telephone, but the team didn't buy his explanation and refused to pay his salary for the last six games of the season.

While Jones' career with the Cardinals was a disappointment, he was a superstar in college. He rushed for 3,998 yards including 1,798 yards, as a senior with Cavaliers. He also finished his career at Virginia with a total of 40 touchdowns.

Like former Cardinals defensive end Simeon Rice and Pittman, Jones hopes to take advantage of a fresh start in Tampa and live up to his first-round draft status.

"I am definitely excited about the chance to come to Tampa Bay," said Jones. "The Buccaneers have a great organization, great players and great coaches. I am excited to get to play for Coach Gruden and hopefully I can help the Bucs win another Super Bowl."

The Cardinals had been shopping Jones, who is entering the last year of his rookie contract, around the league since the NFL Draft last April, and the team made it clear that they would cut him and his $535,000 salary if they weren't able to pull off a trade.

While the Cincinnati Bengals and New Orleans Saints also expressed interest in acquiring Jones, Tampa Bay's offer of Walker allowed both teams to address positions of need.

A 2002 third-round pick out of Michigan, Walker was the first-ever draft pick under Bucs head coach Jon Gruden. Walker never saw action as a Buc during the regular season. He was inactive for the first four games of the 2002 season and was placed on the injured reserve on Oct. 1 after he injured his thumb during a practice.

Walker was a major disappointment for the Bucs and was often criticized for not putting enough time in to film and playbook study. With the likes of Keyshawn Johnson, Keenan McCardell and Joe Jurevicius returning this season, the Bucs figured Walker was expendable.

"Marquise was caught in a situation where playing time would have been limited and, therefore, this trade will give him a chance to go and compete for more playing time," said McKay.

Jones was Pittman's backup in Arizona for two seasons, but he could become Pittman's successor if Tampa Bay's starting tailback has his probation revoked in a hearing in Arizona next week. And even if Pittman doesn't have his probation revoked and is found innocent of the two felony charges of aggravated assault against him, the NFL could still suspend him as they did in 2001 after Pittman was involved in two domestic violence incidents against his wife, Melissa.

If Pittman is convicted of the charges against him, he will receive a minimum of five years in prison for each charge.

If Tampa Bay does indeed release Pittman, the team would likely absorb the rest of the $1.75-million signing bonus he received along with his five-year contract last year. That cap hit would likely be about $1 million. But there's a chance the Bucs could avoid that cap hit if the NFL were to determine that Pittman breached his contract with his latest brush with the law.

Not only will Jones serve as an insurance policy to Pittman, but he'll also serve as one to second-year RB Travis Stephens, who was Gruden's second draft pick as Bucs head coach. The 2002 fourth-round pick has been battling a nagging hamstring injury for the last month or so. Gruden made it clear last week that Stephens needed to get healthy rather quickly in order to have a chance of earning a spot on Tampa Bay's 53-man roster in 2003.

"He has to stay healthy," Gruden said of Stephens. "Travis can't make this team if he doesn't stay healthy. He's got to get out here and practice. He knows that and we know that. In the meantime, he has to do everything he can to stay on top of his game mentally. Obviously he's going to have to get out here and execute, catch the ball, protect against blitzers and make some plays in order to make this football team. He's got to be out here to do that."

Jones has just over a month to get acclimated to Jon Gruden's offensive system. He'll join Stephens, fullback Mike Alstott and running backs Aaron Stecker, Terry Kirby and rookie Earnest Graham in Orlando on July 18 when the Bucs report to training camp.

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