Turning The Corner?

February 18 - Cornerback was one of the strongest positions on the Buccaneers' 2001 team, but Tampa Bay's current salary cap woes could see free agent Brian Kelly and possibly Donnie Abraham, who could be a cap casualty, wind up with New York Jets coach Herman Edwards, who was the Bucs' former secondary coach.

Faced with the prospects of losing both overpaid starting cornerbacks Marcus Coleman and Aaron Glenn to the Houston Texans in Monday's expansion draft for the Houston Texans, New York Jets head coach Herman Edwards could be eyeing a couple of his former pupils from Tampa Bay in free agency.

Edwards, the ex-secondary coach of the Buccaneers from 1996-2000, may attempt to sign free agent cornerback Brian Kelly and 2000 Pro Bowler Donnie Abraham if Abraham becomes a salary cap casualty in Tampa Bay.

Nickel back Ray Mickens and second-year player Jamie Henderson would start at the corner positions if the season started tomorrow, and while Edwards is high on Henderson, the smallish Mickens doesn't fit Edwards' mold at cornerback. He prefers taller, more physical corners for his cover 2 defense.

Kelly and Abraham didn't have sterling seasons in Tampa Bay after Edwards' departure in the spring of 2001 to become the Jets head coach. For the first time in his four-year career, Kelly failed to record an interception despite being named a starter over Abraham near the beginning of the 2001 season. Abraham's concentration and tackling prowess slipped mightily last year, which contributed to his demotion, but he did manage to record six interceptions and become the team's all-time interception leader with 31 picks.

Kelly's price tag in free agency won't be too great, and even the cap-strapped Jets could afford to make a run for his services. Abraham's 2002 salary cap value will be $5.1 million, and cutting him could free up $4.1 million for the Bucs, who are $9.4 million over the $71.1 million salary cap for this season, according to recent salary cap figures obtained by Buccaneer Magazine. All NFL teams must reach the $71.1 million salary cap figure by the start of free agency on March 1.

But Abraham's fate hasn't been sealed in Tampa Bay just yet, and restructuring his contract could also become an option. If both Kelly and Abraham don't return in 2002, the Bucs would be forced to start Pro Bowler Ronde Barber and last season's third-round pick, Dwight Smith, at the corners with second-year player Corey Ivy coming in as the third corner in the nickel defense.

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