Here's five things that caught my interest this week:
1. Here's what we know regarding the potential trade talks involving fullback Mike Alstott. Alstott has not yet been asked to take a pay cut, nor would he take a pay cut for the sake of simply re-signing Warrick Dunn. Alstott has never publicly complained of sharing rushing duties or even griped when the team named Dunn as the Bucs' feature back. But Alstott may have to eventually re-structure his deal if he were to remain with the team.
Sources tell Buccaneer Magazine that general manager Rich McKay may be one of Alstott's strongest allies within the organization, and that McKay doesn't want to deal or release Alstott, but new head coach Jon Gruden isn't sure Alstott is a good fit in his offense.
Alstott was shopped around the league as the start of free agency began, but received zero interest, probably due to his high base salary of $2 million this year and that fact that he is not a dominant rusher nor a run blocker. The Bucs will have to decide Alstott's fate by April 15, which is when he is due a $2 million roster bonus. Teams haven't shown much interest in Alstott because they would be obligated to pick up that $2 million roster bonus as well.
Bucs cornerback Donnie Abraham, who has also been shopped to the New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts, also has a roster bonus due him in the near future. Abraham is due a $500,000 roster bonus on Friday, but after not receiving a second-round pick in exchange for the talented corner, Tampa Bay may be resigned to keeping him while restructuring his contract. If the Bucs can't trade Abraham by Thursday, he may be released if he doesn't agree to take a pay cut.
One thing that helped the Bucs this year was the fact that Abraham didn't make the Pro Bowl last year. That activated a de-escalator clause in his contract which caused his $4 million base salary shrink to $3.6 million. Abraham is in the final year of his contract.
2. Our Buccaneer Magazine sources out of Philadelphia tell us that the Eagles have given Dunn until 5:00 p.m. on Thursday afternoon to accept their yet to be made contract offer or see it get yanked off the table. Philly has until Friday, March 15 to find a replacement for starting tailback Duce Staley, who had a sub-par 2001 campaign and is due a $500,000 roster bonus at the end of the week.
It is believed that the Eagles could offer Dunn more money than the Bucs could, but Dunn likes the Tampa Bay area and indicated that Jon Gruden made him one heck of a sales pitch prior to the start of free agency. According to some reports, Detroit has already made Dunn an offer, and although the diminutive rusher visited Atlanta on Tuesday, the Falcons are believed to be entering negotiations regarding former San Francisco rusher Garrison Hearst.
Negotiations are expected to begin between the four teams on Wednesday, and it is expected to come down to Tampa Bay and Philly for Dunn's services.
3. The demise of wide receiver Jacquez Green's career in Tampa Bay was greatly exaggerated. Green indicated that he wasn't real interested in returning to the Bucs after Tony Dungy was fired in January, but the thought of playing for Jon Gruden is an intriguing one. And the Bucs seem interested, this despite Green's uncanny knack for getting hurt and the fact that he is not a physical receiver who typically fights defenders for passes.
Yes, there is mutual interest between Green and the Bucs about returning to Tampa Bay, and our sources put the chances of Green suiting up in red and pewter again at 60-70 percent. But free agency is a two-way street and Green did have a good meeting with the St. Louis Rams, but it is believed that the Rams might want to keep looking for a replacement for third wide receiver Az Hakim, who signed with Detroit last week.
Green would be a good fit in St. Louis, but would be relegated to the role as the third or fourth wide receiver in St. Louis as last year's No. 4 receiver Ricky Proehl is a free agent. Given the present situation at the receiver position in Tampa Bay, Green would certainly be the Bucs' third wideout and could challenge for the No. 2 spot opposite Keyshawn Johnson -- a position he held for parts of last year.
The chances of Green's return to Tampa Bay? Better than 50-50, according to Bucs sources, but it won't be a huge contract like Hakim's five-year, $16 million contract with the Lions. Green is scheduled to meet with Gruden this week.
4. So why did the Bucs sign former Buffalo Bills quarterback Rob Johnson, and what does that mean to incumbent starter Brad Johnson? Well, look at the trio of Shaun King, Brad and Rob Johnson (no relation) as this year's version of Brad Johnson, King and Ryan Leaf. It's just more competition at the quarterback spot.
With Rob Johnson signing a one-year deal worth $650,000, including a $25,000 signing bonus, he hardly impacts the Bucs' 2002 cap status, especially since only $475,000 counts against the gap due to a new league rule regarding signing veterans to the minimum. Johnson is viewed as a cheaper and more viable version of Leaf, a former first-round pick who was brought in to increase competition at the quarterback spot last year in Tampa.
But Johnson is viewed by Gruden and the Bucs as possibly a younger version of Rich Gannon, a mobile journeyman quarterback whose career floundered in Minnesota, Washington and Kansas City before receiving tutelage from Gruden in Oakland where he became a Pro Bowler.
There is some speculation that the signing of Rob Johnson means the end of the road for Brad Johnson, and that speculation could turn into reality. Brad Johnson doesn't possess the mobility Gruden usually favors from his quarterbacks, while Rob Johnson has displayed some real scrambling ability.
Brad Johnson could be a valuable commodity on the trade market with teams like Baltimore, Buffalo and Cincinnati all looking for a veteran quarterback, or he could be cut after June 1, which would help the Bucs save some money to sign draft picks or other free agents during the summer, but then again, so could King. Or Gruden might keep Brad Johnson around due his veteran experience and the less proven abilities of Rob Johnson and King.
Gruden will know more after the Bucs' first quarterbacks camp, which will begin on March 25 and spill over into the team's first mini-camp from April 5-7. The Bucs have two other mini-camps scheduled for April 26-28 after the draft and June 13-15.
Rob Johnson has earned a reputation for being "fragile" by not being able to slip sacks, instead taking a pounding. His reckless playing style and the Bills' inconsistent offensive line have allowed Johnson to take a beating in Buffalo over the last couple of years which has caused him to miss several games due to injury. But Brad Johnson had the same "fragile" reputation when he came to Tampa last year and managed to start all 16 games in the regular season for only the second time in his career during the 2001 season.
Despite owning a career 60 percent completion percentage and a strong arm, Rob Johnson does have a penchant for being indecisive, and has averaged being sacked once every seven pass attempts over his career. Gruden hopes the 29-year old Rob Johnson will gain some confidence and a quick understanding of his offense so that he may follow the late-bloomer path that Gannon took in Oakland.
5. Although third-string quarterback Joe Hamilton survived the Johnson-King-Leaf derby last summer, he is expected to be the odd man out this year with the addition of Rob Johnson to the Bucs' roster. Hamilton was supposed to participate in NFL Europe over the spring and summer, but was talked out of it by Gruden two weeks ago. Hamilton has the mobility necessary to be effective in Gruden's offense, but lacks the strong arm and desired height to be anything more than a No. 3 quarterback.
But the biggest thing that Hamilton lacks is playing experience on the pro level, which he would have received in NFL Europe. Instead, Hamilton will be getting the reps reserved for the fourth-string quarterback during the mini-camps and training camp and stands at least a 50-50 chance of being released during or after the preseason. Hamilton would be better off going against Gruden's wishes and playing in NFL Europe to show the league's other 31 general managers and coaches his skills.
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