Tentacles Of Tampa Bay Stretch Far Across NFL

April 16 - With Tony Dungy in Indianapolis, Jerry Angelo in Chicago, Herman Edwards in New York and Lovie Smith in St. Louis, the tentacles of the Tampa Bay organization have spanned across the NFL. Several former Buccaneers have signed with these familar faces during the 2001 season.

For five years the Tampa Bay Buccaneers held on to their own in the spring, losing few players and no coaches or personnel staffers from their organization from 1996-2000. It was a remarkable run of continuity that quickly allowed the Buccaneers to climb up from the dregs of the NFL to become an annual playoff contender.

The free agents the Bucs lost in those years, such as middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson in the spring of 2000, were players that the Bucs could afford to lose thanks to shrewd drafting with an eye on the future and a policy of not overpaying for aging stars as some teams such as San Francisco, Jacksonville and Dallas had perilously dabbled in.

Other departing free agents, such as quarterback Trent Dilfer or linebacker Lonnie Marts, were simply castoffs. The Bucs had little trouble re-signing their own free agents because until the 1999 season, Tampa Bay wasn't considered an overly talented team by the league. It was en vogue to raid Super Bowl teams for talent -- not the Bucs.

When linebackers coach Lovie Smith left Tampa Bay to become the St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator in February of 2001, that triggered a front office upheaval that also included defensive backs coach Herman Edwards leaving the Bucs to become the head coach of the New York Jets and Bucs director of player personnel Jerry Angelo heading to Chicago to become the Bears' general manager.

The firing of Tony Dungy in January of 2002 created yet another team with a recent past linked to Tampa -- the Indianapolis Colts. Dungy's Colts have yet to sign a player away from Tampa Bay, but with cornerback Donnie Abraham, defensive tackle James Cannida and wide receiver Karl Williams still on the free agent market, it may only be a matter of time before a Buccaneer joins the popular Dungy in Indy.

Now that Tampa Bay is recognized as one of the league's most talented -- albeit underachieving teams (as evidenced by a slew of Pro Bowlers each year), teams are raiding the Buccaneers with regularity. With Angelo's Bears, Dungy's Colts, Edwards' Jets and Smith's Rams, there are plenty of tentacles tied to Tampa waiting to snatch up Buccaneers players for whom these honchos are familiar with.

The Bears have already signed RB Rabih Abdullah away from the Bucs. Abdullah joins a host of former Bucs which Angelo stockpiled last year, including tight end John Davis, running back Autry Denson, linebacker Bobbie Howard, defensive end Joe Tafoya and safety Than Merrill.

The Jets signed defensive end Steve White from Tampa Bay. White will join former Bucs free safety Damien Robinson and tight end David Newman in New York. Edwards is also interested in signing Abraham, whom he helped develop into a Pro Bowl performer in Tampa.

Smith coaxed Bucs middle linebacker Jamie Duncan to St. Louis where he will join defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson, wide receiver Yo Murphy and linebacker Don Davis. Former Bucs defensive end Chidi Ahanotu was a Ram last year, but is currently on the free agent market.

You can bet that the Colts, Jets, Rams and Bears will be scouring over the Bucs' roster cuts during the preseason and may sign a familiar face or two. And with the NFL Draft approaching, the Bucs may easily find a willing trade partner with a team who has ties to Tampa Bay.

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