Bucs Close To Signing RB Pittman

March 24 - The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are close to signing free agent running back Michael Pittman, formerly of the Arizona Cardinals. Buccaneer Magazine first reported the Bucs interest in Pittman on March 14 and he visited One Buc Place last Tuesday.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' search for a feature back may be nearing an end. The Bucs are expected to sign former Arizona Cardinals tailback Michael Pittman to a long-term contract as early as Monday.

Buccaneer Magazine first reported the team's interest in Pittman on March 14 and he has since been regarded as the front-runner to fill the void created when Warrick Dunn left for Atlanta via free agency.

"He's 26 years old, weighs 220 pounds and he rushed for 850 yards," New Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said of Pittman. "Plus, he catches the ball. He's versatile. He's young and he's a punishing runner."

Pittman (6-foot, 218) was selected by Arizona in the fourth round of the 1998 draft. He played in 58 games for the Cardinals with 29 starts, including 26 of those starts in the last two years when he beat out 2000 first-round pick Thomas Jones. Pittman has racked up 1,945 yards and 11 rushing scores on 518 carries. He also has 131 catches for 1,039 yards and two touchdowns.

Pittman is a slashing type runner with great receiving ability, 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. 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 in that contest.

The former Fresno State rusher does come with some off-field baggage. Pittman was suspended for one game during the 2001 season because of two incidents of domestic abuse that involved his estranged wife and was ordered to take anger management counseling. The Bucs appear willing to give him a second chance.

Pittman joins Aaron Stecker as the only other true tailback on the Tampa Bay roster that also features fullbacks Mike Alstott and Jameel Cook.

The Bucs had some minimal interest in Seattle's Ricky Watters as well as Green Bay's Dorsey Levens, but not to the level that was reported and speculated on by the national media. Injuries and age played a factor in passing on the two veteran free agent rushers as Watters is 33 and Levens will be 32 in May.

Despite Pittman's signing, the Bucs still have some interest in signing free agent running backs Byron Hanspard and David Allen. Tampa Bay is seeking to sign them for the league minimum.

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