How unexpected was Simeon Rice's release? Most of the media had already dispersed from the team hotel to write their stories for the next day when Bucs media relations personnel called them about the 8 p.m. press conference.
How upset was Derrick Brooks? Reportedly, he was in tears as he escorted Rice to his car (this is according to Rice, by the way).
How weird is this whole situation? Very.
OK, let's say that Rice's shoulder isn't well yet. Fine. Put him on the physically unable to perform list. That's what it's there for — for veteran players who can't perform at the start of camp, but should be able to play by the start of the season. General manager Bruce Allen said he believes Rice will play this year. Rice told a Tampa newspaper that he'll be ready in three to four weeks.
But, no, the Bucs released him. Why? Allen said they wanted to see the younger players compete. Fine. They can do that while Rice is on the PUP. And then, when he's healthy, he can join them in the rotation.
But they didn't do that. The Bucs released him. Why?
Because Rice made too much money? Not true. Allen said Rice's contract wasn't a consideration, even though it would have counted $10 million against the cap this season. They still could have carried it while he was rehabbing his shoulder on the PUP. And the younger players were getting their reps.
But, no, the Bucs released him. Why? Because, as Allen said, it might not be to Simeon's advantage to be released in four weeks.
OK, I have to stop now because none of these reasons are adding up logically. You don't cut an All-Pro defensive end when you believe his injury will heal in time for him to play this season, when you have a place to put him where he won't be a drag on the roster and when you have the cap room to keep him. You just don't do that. Guys with Rice's ability don't grow on trees.
So, why now? I have three possible reasons:
1. The Buccaneers really DO need the money.
Rice's release absolves the Buccaneers of his base salary, a tidy $7.25 million. They're still responsible for the final pro-rated year of his signing bonus, which is approximately $2.75 million. Now, do the math after Allen tells me that the Bucs are "north of $15 million under the cap." That means the Bucs were about $8 million under the cap after signing all their rookies (including the $46 million deal given to Adams, with $18 guaranteed), but before releasing Rice.
I can't imagine this reason is a possibility, unless the Bucs are interested in maximizing their flexibility to cook up a trade for a defensive player down the line. Allen did tell us in June that he felt the trade market during training camp would be hotter than usual. Maybe he's actually not blowing smoke in that regard. Who that defender would be, though, is beyond me.
2. Gaines Adams is a bigger stud than we think.
I really believed Adams would benefit from a year behind Rice, whether the All-Pro was willing to tutor him or not. Now the pressure is really on the rookie to perform at a level that no one is really sure he can meet this season.
Yes, he was a successful collegiate player. But plenty of successful collegiate defensive ends have struggled early in their NFL careers, even with a ton of playing time. Remember this — defensive ends taken in the Top 10 of the last 15 NFL Drafts have averaged about six sacks in their rookie season.
Maybe Adams impressed the Bucs so much during the offseason that when Rice came up lame they said, "What the heck — let him go." I'd hate to think Tampa Bay is making this evaluation in helmets and shorts.
The Bucs have grown tired of Rice's personality.
As clubhouse distractions go, Rice is rather benign. But he was suspended for a game in 2005 for missing a required team meeting in San Francisco. When I asked Greg Spires about it the following week, he told me, "That's Sim."
There is a separate book of rules for Rice in the clubhouse. He is loquacious and a great quote, but he's also a "me first" type of guy (or at least that's how he comes off).
He's not a distraction on the level of a Warren Sapp or Keyshawn Johnson. The most distracting thing I saw Rice do in the locker room was thumb through an issue of King magazine (and that had nothing to do with Rice, mind you. I think Beyonce was on the cover that month). But maybe the Bucs simply grew weary of dealing with a player that spoke loudly about his numbers and his place in the game, but was never been willing to re-work his contract, even during cap-strapped times.
So how does this impact the Buccaneers this season?
I believe this is a move that, in the short term, will be one the Bucs will regret. Their No. 1 priority this season was to improve their pass rush, and Rice was to be a big part of that. By releasing him now, it puts far more pressure on Adams than is required. It also decreases the flexibility that the Bucs had on the defensive line. Rice, for all his foibles, was a legitimate NFL pass rusher who could get the job done when healthy. I'm confident he will have a solid season for whoever signs him.
I expected Rice to hit double digits, plus Adams, Spires and new acquisition Kevin Carter to each get about six sacks. That would have been at least 30 sacks right there, before you include the backups, linebackers and situational players. And the Bucs had 25 last year. Does anyone really think Adams is going to make up the difference? History isn't in his favor.
If the Bucs had put him on PUP and waited, they could have benefited from a healthy Rice, given Adams all the preseason reps he needed and still been able to improve their pass rush without damaging their cap situation. This should have been a win-win, but it turned into a lose-lose because the Bucs were too willing to pull the trigger on a move they didn't need to make.
And it creates a potentially embarrassing situation down the road.
How, you ask? Imagine if Rice comes back to Tampa Bay this year in, say, a Panthers uniform? Him on one side and Julius Peppers on the other?
Something tells me that hell hath no fury like Simeon scorned.
Want to read more? Here's the complete story on Rice's release.
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. Included among his more than two dozen writing and editing awards are national awards from the PFWA, the National Newspaper Association and the Associated Press Sports Editors, and state awards from the Florida Press Club and the Florida Sports Writers Association, for his coverage of the Buccaneers since 2004.