"It's a business, and they had to do what they had to do," Abraham's agent Jack Reale told Buccaneer Magazine. "The organization has been great to him and Donnie was very productive for them, but the club has decided to re-prioritize where they put their money."
Abraham, a six-year veteran, was shopped by Tampa Bay to teams such as the New York Jets, where his former secondary coach, Herman Edwards, is the head coach, and to Indianapolis, where former Bucs head coach Tony Dungy is now in control, but got little interest because of the league-wide assumption that Abraham would be released prior to the team committing a $500,000 roster bonus on Friday, March 15.
"Having in Herm in New York in Tony in Indianapolis might certainly help him out, although we have already received a lot of interest from other teams already as well," Reale told Buccaneer Magazine.
"Our current player system requires many tough decisions on a yearly basis, and this is certainly one of them," said Buccaneers general manager Rich McKay. "Donnie has been a good player for us, but we had to make this decision in the best interest of our football team."
Tampa Bay was seeking a second-round pick for Abraham, but ultimately winds up with nothing but a depleted secondary.
Abraham, who had the best man coverage skills of any Bucs defensive back, recorded the 31st interception of his career this year and became the team's all-time interception leader this season while picking off six passes despite losing his starting job to Brian Kelly. Kelly is also on the free agent market, leaving the Bucs with Pro Bowl cornerback Ronde Barber and last year's third-round draft pick, Dwight Smith, as the only two viable starting options. First-year player Corey Ivy would suit up as the nickel back if the season started today.
Barber, who was scheduled to earn $3 million in 2002, restructured his contract earlier in the week in an effort to help the Bucs clear some additional cap room, but Tampa Bay wanted to lessen their allocated money for the cornerback position and re-shuffle some of their money to the offensive side of the ball where replacements must be found for running back Warrick Dunn and tight end Dave Moore, as well as finding a No. 2 wide receiver to compliment Keyshawn Johnson.
On defense, the Bucs must also sign a defensive end to replace Steve White, a middle linebacker to replace Jamie Duncan and find a cornerback to fill the void created by Abraham's departure. Free agents Corey Chavous (Arizona) and DeShea Townsend (Pittsburgh) visited One Buccaneer Place on Thursday, which was an indication that Abraham might be released. The Bucs are also interested in Artrell Hawkins (Cincinnati) and would like a chance at re-signing Kelly.
Abraham was the Bucs' third-round draft pick out of East Tennessee State in 1996 and started the second half of his rookie season, winding up with five interceptions. He made the Pro Bowl in 2000 and deserved to go in 1999 when he recorded back-to-back seasons with seven interceptions, but lost his starting job to Kelly this past season when his tackling and support against the run fell off.
Abraham posted five or more interceptions in five of six seasons in Tampa Bay. He finishes his Tampa Bay career with 78 starts out of 92 games with 325 tackles, 31 picks in the regular season and three more in the post-season, two sacks and 103 passes broken up. Click here to sound off on this topic on BucMag.com's message boards.
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