Bucs Cut Christy, Washington

February 27 - The Tampa Bay Buccaneers released starting center Jeff Christy and backup center/guard Todd Washington on Thursday. The salary cap maneuvers, one of which Pewter Report had forecasted back in November, were necessary for the Bucs to get under the NFL-mandated $75-million salary cap.

As expected, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers parted ways with starting center Jeff Christy on Thursday. It was a move Pewter Report had forecasted months ago.

But the Bucs surprised some people when they cut backup center/guard Todd Washington, too.

"Both of these players have been productive players, but in this salary cap era, certain tough decisions like this must be made," said Buccaneers general manager Rich McKay. "We wish them well and recognize their contributions to this franchise."

Both salary cap maneuvers were made just one day before the start of free agency in order for the Bucs to get under the National Football League's $75-million salary cap.

Tampa Bay had some interest in keeping Christy, who was signed through the 2004 season. In fact, the Bucs offered to let Christy stay in Tampa if he agreed to take a significant pay cut, but Christy refused, which led to his departure.

The Bucs were slightly over the salary cap and Christy's $3.551-million cap value in 2003 proved to be too expensive for the team's tight budget.

By parting ways with Christy, the Bucs saved about $2.4-million, including a $750,000 roster bonus, which was due on Friday, February 28.

Christy, 34, spent the last three seasons as Tampa Bay's starting center. He joined the Bucs back in 2000 as an unrestricted free agent.

Before he joined the Bucs, Christy, a three-time Pro Bowler, spent seven seasons with the Minnesota Vikings.

While Christy's high cap value played a significant role in Tampa Bay's decision to release him, his 6-foot-2, 285-pound frame was also a factor. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden and Co. want to add more size to the center position and Christy has been regarded as an athletic, but undersized center throughout his 10-year career.

"As far as playing with the Buccaneers, I thought it was great," said Christy. "It was a great ride. I don't regret anything I've done since I've been here. I tried to help the offense as much as I could and I hope that I was able to contribute to winning a Super Bowl. This free agency thing is just part of the business."

While the Bucs groomed center/guard Todd Washington (6-3, 310) to eventually succeed Christy, the team decided to part ways its 1998 fourth-round draft pick, too. The move came as a bit of a surprise because it leaves the Bucs without a center with playing experience on its roster.

Washington signed a four-year contract with the Bucs last spring, but his $1.3-million cap value in 2003, which would have included a $200,000 roster bonus, was considered a high price tag for a serviceable backup and unproven starter. He didn't play much center in 2003, but struggled during a few starts at the guard position.

Both of Friday's moves leave Tampa Bay with a hole in the middle of its offensive line, but the team will likely fill the void via free agency and/or the NFL Draft.

"We have a plan in place that would deal with the (center) position, and we will," said Bucs general manager Rich McKay. "But realize that that plan may not be executed until July. We have six months to find players to play that position.

"It will certainly be a priority. I just don't know when. It won't be a priority that will show itself in the first two weeks of free agency."

Jeff Saturday (Indianapolis) and Andy McCollum (St. Louis) are two free agent centers the Bucs are expected to take a look at. Pewter Report has learned that Wisconsin center Al Johnson and Mississippi center Ben Claxton have drawn the interest of the Buccaneers and could be selected in the April draft.

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