SR's Fab Five

June 7 - In this week's 2,300-word edition of SR's Fab Five we'll explain why Tampa Bay shouldn't extend the contracts of LBs Shelton Quarles and Al Singleton yet, and which other key Bucs will be free agents in 2003. We'll also have plenty of salary cap info in this installment, complete with a list of players whose cap values really escalate next season. We'll also have the latest info on the team's interest in free agent WRs Keenan McCardell and Derrick Alexander, as well as LB Ed McDaniel.

SR's Fab Five appears weekly on PewterReport.com
Copyright 2002 Pewter Report/PewterReport.com
This story is intended to be read only by PewterReport.com Club Insiders only and TheInsiders.com. Sharing of the Club content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers.

Here's five things that caught my interest this week:

FAB 1. As the free agency season of 2002 winds down, let's take a look at some of the Bucs' big-name free agents in 2003. As we mentioned in an article titled "5 Bucs Who Must Step Up On Defense," this is a big year for linebackers Shelton Quarles and Al Singleton, who will both be free agents next year.

After three years as the team's strongside linebacker, Quarles will move to the middle of the defense as Tampa Bay's "Mike" linebacker. That opens up the strongside linebacker spot where Singleton will be inserted as a starter for the first time in his five-year career. Not only will the pressure to perform in new situations be affecting these players, the situation becomes more complicated, or perhaps more helpful, with the fact that both players are in contract years.

Singleton's 2002 cap value is $866,666, while Quarles' is $1.06 million. Both players must stand and deliver in 2002 to warrant a big payday, and to stay in Tampa Bay.

Quarles' agent, Jim Steiner, has already been pushing the Bucs for a contract extension this summer. So far, the team has yet to bite, and shouldn't. I doubt Quarles will make a smooth transition to the middle linebacker position and the team shouldn't give him that big payday until he proves himself. If he proves his doubters wrong, then Quarles is certainly entitled to a king's ransom from the Bucs, or another team next spring as a free agent.

The team should also hesitate to re-sign Singleton, who has played sparingly as Quarles' backup at the strongside position. The Bucs don't value the strongside linebacker position as much as they do other positions on the team, such as under tackle, weakside linebacker and strong safety, which are the three key positions on the Bucs defense. Including Singleton this season, a total of five different players have claimed the starting strongside linebacker position over the past seven years.

Plus, with Brooks' base salary shooting from $1 million this season to $4.75 million next year, the team probably won't be able to afford to keep Singleton, and perhaps Quarles. The real problem for Tampa Bay in 2003 is that the team has not drafted a linebacker in two years. The last linebacker the Bucs drafted was Nate Webster in 2000.

The fact that the Bucs haven't been grooming a possible replacement for either Quarles or Singleton could spell trouble for Tampa Bay's defense next year. The Bucs might be forced to keep either Quarles or Singleton or both next year, or draft and start a rookie. If the Bucs sign a veteran free agent this year, such as Ed McDaniel, a possibility we first suggested in this very column on May 9, that may help the Bucs in the short term -- like 2002 and possibly 2003 -- but Tampa Bay must make linebacker the top need in next year's NFL Draft.

An ideal option for the Bucs would be to sign either of Cincinnati's two premier linebackers -- Takeo Spikes and Brian Simmons -- who are slated for free agency next year if the Bengals can't re-sign them. Both would command top dollar, but both could also play middle or outside linebacker and are productive playmakers on the verge of stardom.

FAB 2. Let's stick with the free agency outlook for the Bucs in 2003. Aside from Quarles and Singleton, the top Tampa Bay free agents next year will be free safety Dexter Jackson and quarterbacks Rob Johnson and Shaun King. We'll address Jackson first.

The free safety position is the low man on the totem pole in terms of salary for Tampa Bay's defense. General manager Rich McKay has a loose slotting system for player salaries on defense position-by-position. Among the most important -- and thus the highest paid -- positions in the Bucs' scheme are under tackle (Warren Sapp), weakside linebacker (Brooks) and strong safety (John Lynch). It's no coincidence that the Bucs have well-paid Pro Bowlers at these positions. That's by design.

The next two most important spots in the defensive payroll hierarchy are the rush defensive end (Simeon Rice) and top corner (Ronde Barber), followed by the other defensive end, nose tackle, other corner and finally the middle and strongside linebackers and the free safety.

So what does this mean for Jackson? If he has a good year and wants a big contract -- so long. It was nice knowing you. Like the strongside linebacker position, the free safety position has undergone a lot of turnover since 1996 from Melvin Johnson to Charles Mincy to Damien Robinson and now to Jackson. Considering the fact that the Bucs have youngsters John Howell, David Gibson and rookies Jermaine Phillips and Glenn Sumter waiting in the wings, it's a safe bet that if Jackson wants more than $1 million per year to stay in Tampa Bay, he's likely gone. The Bucs let Robinson go last year for salary cap reasons because the team doesn't value the free safety position as much as they do other positions.

As for the Bucs' two young quarterbacks, we've mentioned before how it is likely that the team will evaluate their performance in training camp, the preseason and the season -- if either one plays -- and decide to anoint either King or Johnson as the quarterback of the future and reward that player with big contract extension. Brad Johnson's playing days are likely limited to another year or two, and Jon Gruden and the Bucs brass want to have a developmental quarterback ready to go, under contract for the foreseeable future.

There is an outside chance that if Brad Johnson were to be released next year due to performance or salary cap relief, that the loser of the King-Rob Johnson showdown could stick around Tampa as a well-paid backup. But that's a remote possibility because both QBs aspire to be starters in the league.

FAB 3. A few weeks ago we talked about how great of a recruiter Jon Gruden was, and that how Gruden and Co. did a great job of signing top free agents to below market value this spring just because they wanted to play in his offense and/or on an exciting Super Bowl contender like the Bucs. While these signings were important to fill holes left by the departures of tailback Warrick Dunn, tight end Dave Moore and others, the key element of the Bucs' purchases in free agency this year has been the cheap price tag.

Why has that been so important? Several of Tampa Bay's highest paid players have escalations in their base salaries next year and some have expensive roster bonuses. Here's a few of the price hikes the Bucs will be feeling in the 2003 season, and this will give you, the fan, an idea of just who may become a salary cap casualty next spring.

- LB Derrick Brooks' cap value escalates from $3.93 million in 2002 to $6.88 million next season.

- C Jeff Christy's cap value jumps from $3.95 million in 2002 to $4.89 million in 2003 and includes an $800,000 roster bonus.

- K Martin Gramatica's cap value leaps from $700,000 in 2002 to $2.22 million next year.

- WR Keyshawn Johnson's cap value skyrockets from $3.3 million in 2002 to $6.85 million in 2003, and includes a $2 million roster bonus.

- SS John Lynch's cap value jumps from $2.68 million this year to $4.93 million in 2003.

- RT Jerry Wunsch's cap value leaps from $1.74 million in 2002 to $2.94 million next season, and includes a roster bonus of $1 million.

The Bucs don't get many price breaks next year, but QB Brad Johnson's cap value actually dips from $6.8 million in 2002 to $5.8 million next year. In case you are unaware, the salary cap value is the actual cost of the player during that given year to the team. It includes base salary, the year's prorated signing bonus, any roster bonuses or workout bonuses and any likely to be earned incentives, which the Bucs typically avoid putting in their contracts.

Some players, like Keyshawn Johnson for example, are perfect candidates to restructure their contracts next year to help the team's overall salary cap situation. The players are rewarded for reducing their base salaries by being given new signing bonuses, which are then extended over the life of the new contract, which has typically been extended a year or two to accommodate the total value of the new signing bonus.

FAB 4. Even though we at Pewter Report always try to keep Bucs fans one step ahead of the news, let's focus on the 2002 Bucs for just a bit. As we first reported on PewterReport.com's premium Pewter Board yesterday, several star Buccaneers players wined and dined free agent receiver Keenan McCardell on Wednesday night at Malio's, an upscale restaurant in Tampa. After speaking with several Bucs players who spoke with McCardell during his visit to Tampa, they came away with the impression that he was the Bucs' first choice at wide receiver over Derrick Alexander, who is the team's backup plan.

It's down to the Bucs and the Kansas City Chiefs for McCardell's services. McCardell had a great visit in Kansas City that lasted almost two full days, but the Bucs made their best pitch yesterday. Like all signings, it will likely come down to the highest bidder. There's a good chance that the Bucs could sign either McCardell or Alexander, but there is a possibility that McCardell chooses the Chiefs and Alexander chooses Minnesota, which would leave the Bucs out in the cold.

As we first reported in this column back on May 9, the Bucs have an interest in signing linebacker Ed McDaniel, but there were some serious issues that both sides had to work through for his signing with Tampa Bay to take place. Those issues are outlined here.

The Tampa Tribune reported Tampa Bay's interest in McDaniel today, but we're not sure if a deal is imminent or if the paper was just getting wind of the team's interest in the veteran middle linebacker. The team has been in discussions with McDaniel and his agent for close to a month now. We're chasing this story.

As we mentioned on the Ask The Pewter Report Insiders Board, assistant editor Jim Flynn and I will be posting some inside tidbits and news periodically on the Pewter Board. Our Club Insider subscribers should be sure to check that board often, reply to our posts, or post and generate your own Bucs discussion. The Ask The Pewter Report Insiders Board will remain the place to ask us questions and view our answers.

FAB 5. Here's a couple of random notes to feast on until next week:

In last week's "SR's Fab Five", we commented on how some reports in the media regarding Simeon Rice's absence from the Bucs' offseason workout program were blown out of proportion. We've got some new information regarding Rice, who has been working out with the team over the past two weeks. It seems he only took one week off, which would mean that he was only absent for four voluntary practice sessions. The Bucs don't have organized voluntary workout on Fridays. Let's remember that these workouts are voluntary and that taking one week off for a vacation is not the same as going AWOL, as one website had claimed.

Fans who are privately wishing for either Shaun King or Rob Johnson to overthrow Brad Johnson are going to be disappointed to find out that he is now almost entrenched as the starter. Even pass catchers who may favor catching passes from either Rob Johnson or King tell Pewter Report that Brad Johnson has looked awfully good during the offseason workouts. His decision-making, accuracy and rate in which he is picking up the offense is what is separating himself from King and Rob Johnson.

Wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson has been working out in his hometown of Los Angeles this offseason, as well as attending to his family, business ventures and his beloved Lakers, who have a one-game lead over the New Jersey Nets in the NBA Finals. Frank Murphy has been filling in for him as the starting "X" receiver in the offseason workouts. The Bucs would rather have KJ in Tampa and participating, but know that he missed a good portion of last year's offseason workouts and still managed to be the focal point of the offense last year and put up career numbers in terms of yardage and catches.


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Copyright 2002 Pewter Report/PewterReport.com

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