The signing came as a bit of a surprise considering the team had already signed free agent Marco Battaglia to a three-year contract worth $3 million, but reinforces Coach Jon Gruden's desire to have an increase in competition at every position, especially on offense.
"We are very excited to have Ken Dilger" Gruden said. "He's an outstanding player and a great team man."
"I'm just glad to get things done," Dilger said. "It's been a long free-agency period for me, and a very frustrating one at times. But Tampa's a great situation for me. I was just looking for the whole package in a team that I was going to go to, and Tampa kind of offers that. Great city, pretty good team from last year, warm weather and on grass. Jon Gruden kind of sealed the deal for me."
Dilger's agent, Mark Bartelstein, said that Gruden did an incredible job of recruiting his client at the Indianapolis Scouting Combine. When other prospective teams would treat Dilger to fancy steakhouse dinners, Gruden, who used to work at Hooter's, took the tight end to the famous chicken wings joint to sell him on coming to Tampa Bay.
"That was interesting. Gruden called me one night. I live in Indianapolis all year around and he was in for the combine. He called me and said he wanted to meet and asked me if I had any preference in a restaurant. I said no and he said, 'How about Hooters?' I told him that was fine, so we went down and had a couple of beers and chatted for awhile. The next day it was all over the papers that we met at Hooters. Jon promised me he'd get me a 50 percent-off Hooters Card, and that kind of sealed the deal."
Dilger also visited Tampa Bay shortly after the Combine and has been mulling offers from Seattle, Dallas and Chicago ever since. Dilger actually turned down more money to sign with the Bucs.
"Jon Gruden did a great job recruiting him," Bartelstein said. "The Bucs have major Super Bowl aspirations and they play on grass. Those were two big factors in Ken wanting to play in Tampa. In today's world it's nice to see someone who says 'it's not just about the money' and then back it up."
Dilger said it was Gruden's personality and his persistence that led him to sign with Tampa Bay.
"The whole organization was very up front with me and very professional with the way they handled things. I couldn't really say that for a lot of teams I've dealt with in free agency," Dilger said. "With Gruden calling me three times a week, talking to me and my wife and my agent about how bad he wanted me, it would have been tough to turn Tampa Bay down. They weren't the highest offer I got from all the teams, but I just felt that, putting money aside, Tampa was the best place for me.
"We played the Raiders twice the last couple of years, and [Gruden's] teams always were very good, very productive. It seemed like they were always ready for a challenge. It seems like Coach Gruden has always had a good offense, a very productive offense, and that's something I want to be a part of. Last week, Gruden called me three times to recruit me, and he was the only coach to ever do that. So I knew that if I would sign with Tampa I would be going to a very good team with a good head coach."
Dilger has had troubles with a knee injury after years of playing on the turf at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis and looks forward to playing on the grass surface at Raymond James Stadium, which is regarded as one of the best in the league. He's also excited about playing in Gruden's offense, which usually features the tight end as a receiver.
Considering Dilger is coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance in 2001 with the Indianapolis Colts when he caught 32 passes for 343 yards (10.7 avg.) and one touchdown, he figures to be the team's starter over Battaglia, but Bartelstein said that the starter will be determined by the Bucs coaching staff and what takes place on the field.
"Ken's a Pro Bowl tight end and that, and his ability, will earn him a lot of playing time," Bartelstein said.
Dilger didn't feel threatened by the fact that the Bucs had already signed Battaglia earlier in free agency.
"I think Jon wants to use a lot of two-tight end sets," Dilger said. "Marco's a little bit smaller than I am, and I think he's more of a 'move' guy, a motion guy, than I am. I think we're both a little bit different kinds of tight ends and we can both run the offense just as well as in a one-tight end set.
"Gruden's tight ends always caught a lot of balls, especially in Oakland. I'm looking forward to catching 40 or 50 balls again."
Dilger (6-foot-5, 255) played his first seven seasons with the Colts and has 261 career receptions for 3,181 yards (12.2 avg.) with 18 touchdowns. Dilger has played in 109 regular season contests with 106 starts. The 31-year old Dilger posted career highs in receptions (47) and yards (538) in 2000. He was released on February 21 in a salary cap-related move.
Dilger was the Colts' second-round pick out of Illinois in 1995. He was a three-year starter for the Illini, notching 81 catches for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns.
The Bucs currently have five tight ends on their roster: Dilger, Battaglia and holdovers Todd Yoder, Mike Roberg and Damien Vaughn. The signing of Dilger is the seventh major free agent signing this year, including Battaglia and wide receivers Joe Jurevicius and Keith Poole, quarterback Rob Johnson, running back Michael Pittman and left guard Kerry Jenkins.
Click here to view Tampa Bay's current 2002 roster.
WILLIAMS RE-SIGNS: The Bucs also agreed to terms with wide receiver/punt returner Karl Williams on a three-year deal worth $2.1 million. Williams, who was a free agent, has been with the Bucs since signing with the team as an undrafted free agent in 1996. He has the inside track on the team's punt returner position.
"I am just glad to be back with the Buccaneers," Williams said. "I think it is a combination of being here with this team for six years, having the opportunity to play for Coach Gruden and also to be back with my teammates in Tampa. This is where I have called home for the last six years and I am glad this process is complete."
BUCS CUT FOUR: The Bucs also released wide receivers Frank Rice and Drew O'Connor, as well as long snapper Elmer Bench and linebacker Andre Offing.
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