Warren Sapp: Some Traditions Worth Keeping.

Putting aside salary cap issues for the moment, want the best reason the Bucs should make every effort to keep Warren Sapp?

Tradition. It took the Bucs 27 years to win a Super Bowl, though it seems much longer with all the insufferable years of double-digit losing. Along with defensive co-horts Derrick Brooks and John Lynch, Sapp helped the club break the cycle of expecting to lose each week and play with the confidence and swagger necessary for success. A winning tradition is built on continuity and consistency. Develop a winning formula and have players like Sapp instill it in others. That has been the foundation upon which the Bucs have been built the past nine years, the exact time Sapp arrived, when they became one of the NFL's premier franchises. Let Sapp walk without making an honest attempt to keep him anchored in Tampa and a huge part of the organization's winning tradition sails with him. Say what you want about Sapp off the field, the paternity suits, his high-handed manner at times with fans and the press, he is the ultimate gamer. His mouth that never stops is only matched by his unbridled passion for the game. And that carries over to the locker room, where he is considered a loyal teammate who leads by his deeds as well as forceful words. Two years ago when he was hampered by a rotator cuff injury throughout the season, fans questioned Sapp's ability and declining sack totals. Not defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, who has always appreciated what Sapp's presence meant to the entire defense. "You don't look at his stats,'' Kiffin said of Sapp's six sacks in 2001, "it's how the offense always has to account for him. He forces offenses to adjust their thinking. That's a great player.'' Just ask line mates Booger McFarland, Simeon Rice and Ellis Wyms, who reap the benefits of Sapp being double and triple teamed every game. Sure, at 31 Sapp may have lost some of his mercurial burst off the line from nagging injuries and the pounding every lineman takes during nine seasons in the trenches. But his presence as a four-time All-Pro improves any defense, which should make the Bucs think long and hard before letting him walk. Jon Gruden speaks often of the ‘juice' Sapp brings to the team. Exactly the type of high-octane player Gruden loves. Also the type of player that's not easily replaced. With no contract offer on the table, Sapp will likely test the free agent waters and calculate his worth. Baltimore has made overtures, and there's always the appeal of playing with his University of Miami running mate Ray Lewis. But the thought of Sapp wearing other colors besides pewter and red doesn't set right. He needs only two sacks to eclipse Lee Roy Selmon's team mark of 78½, and he's made it clear he'd like to stay in the warm climbs of the sunny south and continue building his Hall of Fame legacy where it began. The Bucs front office has talked with several players' agents, including Brooks and Rice, about restructuring their contracts to get under the salary cap and free up some money. Whether that affects Sapp will play out in the near future with free agency starting March 3. Players come and go, slotted into a team's needs for that season like puzzle pieces. But winning traditions are painstakingly built over time, much like Hall of Fame careers. It will be interesting to see if both sides give enough to keep Sapp in Tampa doing his foot stomping and hand-to-the-ear routine energizing fans at Raymond James Stadium during introductions. Another great tradition worth keeping.

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