Tampa Bay severed ties to another link to the Buccaneers' Super Bowl XXXVII championship team by announcing the release of linebacker Shelton Quarles on Tuesday.
General Manager Bruce Allen made the announcement at the start of a press conference that was supposed to be devoted to the NFL Draft. Instead he spent much of his time talking about the 10-year veteran and his meaning to the Buccaneers.
"He's a football player, and I think if we were sitting here in 2017 he'd still want to play football," Allen said. "His passion for the game is similar to (quarterback) Jeff Garcia in that he's someone who pursued his love by going to the Canadian Football League, (and then) trying out for NFL teams. It's not only rare, it's remarkable in some ways. He beat a lot of odds in order to play."
But it now appears likely that Quarles' playing career — at least in Tampa Bay — is at an end. At the start of the press conference, Allen said the book on Quarles' involvement with the team was still open.
But at the end of the press conference, Allen was asked what it would take for Quarles to be re-signed.
"I didn't mean to lead you in that direction (playing)," Allen said. "I wasn't talking about him playing with the Bucs earlier."
Then Allen was asked if that meant Quarles' playing career in Tampa Bay was done, and Allen replied, "Right."
Quarles was not immediately available for comment on Tuesday. His official release is expected Tuesday or Wednesday.
Quarles has spoken little during the offseason to the media, but in March he did tell the Tampa Tribune that it was one specific injury — and not the litany of maladies that he endured last season — that might cause his release or retirement. Speculation has centered on his knee.
Allen would not talk about specifics regarding Quarles' physical, except to say that he failed the physical he was given between the end of the season and Tuesday.
"I know there's been a lot of reports on it," Allen said. "Shelton and I have met for the last couple of months to discuss his situation, and at this time we felt it was best for him and for us to make this move."
Despite the high ankle sprain, knee and groin injuries that limited Quarles to 12 games last season, he was at times the best defender on the field for Tampa Bay in 2006. He finished with 136 total tackles (70 solo), 2 ½ quarterback sacks and five tackles for loss. It was another typical productive season for Quarles, who had five straight 100-tackle seasons from 2002-06, including a career-high 196 in 2005. He made just one Pro Bowl in 10 seasons, coming in 2002. Naturally, that Pro Bowl came a week after the biggest highlight of Quarles' career, the Bucs' Super Bowl title.
Quarles was an unlikely contributor to one of the NFL's best defenses the past decade. Undrafted out of Vanderbilt in 1994, only the Miami Dolphins showed him any interest, signing him as an undrafted free agent in April and waiving him four months later.
He returned to football the following year, but had to go to Canada to keep playing, joining the CFL's British Columbia Lions. He led the Lions with 72 tackles in 1995, and his play led to a tryout and eventual signing with the Bucs in 1997.
He made the team that year, beginning as Derrick Brooks' backup on the weak side. Two seasons later in 1999 Quarles won his first starting job on the strong side, beating out incumbent starter Jeff Gooch. He remained there for three years until he moved inside to middle linebacker, replacing Jamie Duncan, before the 2002 season.
"Shelton the last several years has played well if you watch him on tape," Allen said. "When you realize the type of leader he is you really appreciate him. We just feel at this time, and not only for today and the future, it's the right decision."
Allen said he did not advise Quarles to retire, though the linebacker admitted in March he was contemplating the possibility. Allen also said the Bucs did not consider carrying Quarles on the roster through training camp and then putting him on the physically unable to perform list. Allen said that, while the move would save the Bucs some cap space, releasing Quarles had nothing to do with saving cap space.
In fact, Allen said the Bucs would have to make five or six more roster moves to put themselves in line with league mandates before the draft. The Bucs currently have 83 players under contract and will need the extra spots to sign undrafted free agents. Allen did say that none of the Bucs' veterans – fullback Mike Alstott and linebacker Derrick Brooks — would be released.
Allen also shot down a rumor reported on NFL.com that the Bucs were interested in trading for disgruntled Chicago linebacker Lance Briggs, who is currently the Bears' franchise player. Allen said the focus right now is squarely on the draft.
"We did acknowledge that we talked to (New Orleans defensive end) Charles Grant," Allen said. "We have talked to other franchised players about their situation and it's something that we have done each year they've allowed you to talk to franchise players. And I'll leave it at that."
Matthew Postins covers the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun in Port Charlotte, Fla.