Quarles, who's contract with the Bucs expired on February 28, was Tampa Bay's No. 1 priority in free agency. Contract negotiations between the Bucs and Jim Steiner, Quarles' agent, lingered a bit longer than anticipated, but the Bucs were pleased to finally bring back the six-year veteran.
"As had been written, Shelton was clearly a priority for us entering free agency," said Bucs general manager Rich McKay. "It is always nice to be able to retain a player who grew up in your system and who is a true fit in your scheme."
Quarles' deal was finalized after the Bucs freed up some more money under the NFL-mandated $75-million salary cap by restructuring Pro Bowl defensive end Simeon Rice's contract. The Bucs and Rice reached an agreement on a five-year contract worth $41 million, which includes $20 million in bonuses, according to ESPN.
Quarles, 31, joined the Bucs in 1997 via free agency. He earned the starting strongside linebacker spot in 1999 and played at that position until last season, when the Bucs moved Quarles to the middle linebacker position.
Some viewed Tampa Bay's decision to move Quarles over to the "Mike" linebacker position as a tremendous gamble due to his 6-foot-1, 225-pound frame, but Quarles proved his critics wrong by using his speed and solid tackling ability to finish second on the defense in tackles with 159. He also played in his first Pro Bowl last month after Atlanta MLB Keith Brooking was unable to play due to a hamstring injury.
"We're extremely excited that we re-signed Shelton Quarles," said Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. "He did an outstanding job for us as our middle linebacker. We expect him to continue in his development after having only played the middle linebacker position for just one season. With having the ability to run sideline to sideline with his great speed and athleticism, Shelton also brings a great deal of intensity that we are looking for at that position."
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden's echoed Kiffin's sentiments.
"Obviously we are very excited to have Shelton Quarles back," said Gruden. "His speed, playmaking and leadership make us very unique on defense."
In other news, the Bucs finalized a deal with free-agent right guard Jason Whitten, who agreed to terms on a five-year, $8.2-million contract on Thursday.
The Bucs are actively pursuing Jacksonville unrestricted free agent center John Wade. Negotiations between the Bucs and Wade are expected to continue throughout the weekend and into next week.