It May Be Time To Say Goodbye

Look for Buccaneers to revamp backfield as salary cap, age starts to take its toll.

Mike Alstott had a good run in Tampa, but it looks like it's all over. Same with Michael Pittman, the leading runner for the Bucs last season despite missing the first four games with an NFL-imposed suspension.

It was a good run for both of them. Alstott was one of the franchise's signature players and maybe its most popular. Pittman carried the ball to a Super Bowl win just two years ago, but once again, the salary cap crisis is hitting the Bucs at a key spot.

It will be hard to say goodbye to Alstott, but it might be time. His production has slipped since coach Jon Gruden took over the Bucs three years ago. Gruden's offense is never going to be a place for a pounding fullback, and Alstott languished in anonymity as the 2004 season progressed. The differences are apparent: Gruden is about the big play; Alstott is about four yards and a cloud of dust.

Alstott has been in the league for nine years and has taken his share of lumps. He wore the orange and white Popsicle uniforms and grew with the team, but he has taken a beating along the way. He costs the Bucs a ton of money and, if the team can dump John Lynch as it did last season, it can get rid of Alstott just as easily.

As for Pittman, he was a strong runner after his return in Week 5, which, not coincidentally, was the Bucs' first victory of the season. He also fumbled too many times, negating his yardage. Gruden expressed much dissatisfaction down the stretch as Pittman's fumbles cost the Bucs as least two games.

Pittman can still run, but he seems to have worn out Gruden's patience. Look for another salary cap move that lets Pittman go elsewhere.

On the active roster, there's nothing left. Earnest Graham, who was released and rarely played for the Bucs once they brought him back, is the only back still with the team if Alstott and Pittman get away, so looks for a top free agent to be a priority. As has been reported, Buffalo Bills running back Travis Henry and New York Jets back LaMont Jordan are possibilities and both would be improvements over the 2004 crop.

As far as the draft, it would be nice to grab a running back early, but there are too many other needs to address. In a rebuilding season, a free agent, not a top draft pick should be the priority.


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