With the free agent defections of running back Warrick Dunn, tight end Dave Moore and wide receiver Reidel Anthony looking to rob the Bucs' offense of some of its playmakers, the team has been working diligently behind the scenes to bolster its offense, and adding a rangy receiver like Crowell could be a big part of that. He has logged 162 catches for 2,521 yards (15.6 avg.) and 15 TDs in his four-year NFL career.
Tampa Bay is seeking explosive playmakers for its re-tooled offense under new head coach Jon Gruden, and a healthy Crowell fits the mold. But Crowell (6-foot-3, 218) missed half of the 2000 season with a broken foot, and missed over three-fourths of the Lions' 2001 season with a torn patella tendon. If he passes the Bucs' physical as expected, and there is mutual interest between he and the Bucs, Crowell would make an ideal compliment to primary receiver Keyshawn Johnson. With two big receivers, the Bucs' receiving corps would pose serious matchup problems for opposing defenses.
The fact that Crowell is coming off two injury-plagued seasons could benefit Tampa Bay financially should they choose to enter into negotiations with the former second-round pick out of Virginia.
As a rookie in 1998, Crowell posted 464 yards receiving on 25 catches with three touchdowns. His breakout season came during his sophomore year in the NFL when he played in 16 games with 14 starts and caught 81 passes for 1,338 yards with seven touchdowns -- all career highs. The speedy Crowell suffered his foot injury in 2000, and only started seven games while suiting up for nine. In 2000 he caught 34 passes for 430 yards and three touchdowns. Another injury-marred season came last year when he saw action in only five games (four starts) and hauled in 22 catches for 289 yards with two touchdowns.
As if the Bucs didn't need another Johnson, especially on offense, receiver Pat Johnson has drawn the Bucs' interest with his speed and ability to stretch a defense.
Johnson (5-foot-10, 180) played in 39 games for Baltimore with 15 starting opportunities. He hauled in 58 catches for 898 yards and seven touchdowns in Ravens career. His best season came in 1999 when he caught 29 passes for 526 yards and three touchdowns. Johnson's track speed was displayed on a 76-yard touchdown bomb, and he averaged 18.1 yards per catch that season.
His career average is 15.5 yards per catch, and he's had his share of injuries through the years.
The Bucs are also talking to Jacquez Green about re-signing with the team as their third wide receiver. It is doubtful that Tampa Bay will pay him money worthy of a secondary receiver. The Bucs also have an interest in former Indianapolis wide receiver Jerome Pathon as well as Johnnie Morton, who was recently released by Detroit.
Pittman (6-foot, 218) is an intriguing option at running back and could be a perfect fit in Gruden's offense. He has underachieved a bit in Arizona, or perhaps his production reflects the Cardinals' woeful offense or recent record. Pittman is a slashing type runner with great hands, as evidenced by his career-high 73 catches for 579 yards and two TDs during the 2000 season. He also rushed for 719 yards (3.9 avg.) and four scores that season.
Pittman has rushed for 1,945 yards on 518 carries (3.8 avg.) with 11 TDs during his four-year NFL career. He's also caught 131 passes for 1,039 yards (7.9 avg.) and two touchdowns.
Pittman has split the rushing duties with Arizona's first-round draft pick in 2000, Thomas Jones, yet has still managed to lead the Cardinals in rushing for the last two years. In 2001, he rushed for a career-high 846 yards (3.5 avg.) with five scores, and caught 42 passes for 264 yards.
In a 34-31 overtime win in Week 12 over Gruden's Oakland Raiders, Pittman rushed for 78 yards on 18 carries (4.3 avg.), and had a 42-yard touchdown run. He also hauled in four catches for 17 yards.
Pittman has had bouts with concussions, and doesn't have the production to command a huge contract, but does have a great deal of potential. Gruden has taken chances on his running backs before, getting the most out of diminutive rusher Napoleon Kaufman, reviving the career of former bust Tyrone Wheatley, and even getting some final mileage out of Terry Kirby last year in a pass-catching role.
Other running backs the Bucs may be interested in include Dorsey Levens (Green Bay), Robert Holcombe (St. Louis) and Lamar Smith (Miami).
In other free agent news, Ken Dilger apparently heads the Bucs' wish list at tight end. Dilger's agent, Mark Bartelstein, told Buccaneer Magazine that his client is wrapping up visits and could make a decision on where to sign by this weekend. The Bucs also like Christian Fauria (Seattle), Marco Battaglia (Cincinnati) and David Sloan (Detroit) as backup options.
With Stephen Alexander signing a five-year, $15 million contract with San Diego, that may have set the market for tight ends in this year's market, which may lead a to flurry of free agent activity at the position.
The Bucs' visits with cornerbacks DeShea Townsend (Pittsburgh) and Corey Chavous (Arizona) on Thursday went well. Tampa Bay is still interested in re-signing Brian Kelly and is also interested in free agent Artrell Hawkins (Cincinnati).
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