Bucs Make Rice League's Highest-Paid Defender

March 7 - Tampa Bay wouldn't have been able to re-sign middle linebacker Shelton Quarles without the help of Bucs Pro Bowl defensive end Simeon Rice. Not only did Rice help the Bucs re-sign Quarles on Friday, but the Bucs returned the favor by making the Pro Bowl defensive end become the highest-paid defender in the NFL. According to ESPN, the Bucs signed Rice a new five-year contract worth $41 million. The deal included $20 million in bonuses.

Tampa Bay Pro Bowl defensive end Simeon Rice became the highest-paid defender in the National Football League on Friday.

In a move that helped the Bucs free up millions under the NFL-mandated $75-million salary cap, Rice, who had two years remaining on his original deal, cashed in by signing a new five-year, $41-million contract, which includes $20 million in bonuses, according to ESPN.

The Bucs and Tom Condon, who served as Rice's agent, were believed to be in negotiations for a few weeks. Before Rice's deal was finalized, the Bucs were only about $550,000 under the salary cap, which wasn't enough to sign players. But the Bucs were able to use some of the money freed up by the deal to re-sign middle linebacker Shelton Quarles. It also allowed the team to finalize a five-year deal with right guard Jason Whittle.

Rice's deal makes him the first $8-million-a-year defender and the $20 million in bonuses tops the record $19-million bonus that Baltimore Ravens MLB Ray Lewis received last year.

Rice, 29, was scheduled to have a $7.1-million cap value in 2003, but his contract extension saved the Bucs about $3 million this season and nearly $5 million in 2004.

In his second season as a Buc, Rice was voted to the Pro Bowl after he recorded 15.5 sacks, 75 tackles and forced six fumbles last season. Rice's sack total ranked first in the NFC and second in the NFL behind Miami DE Jason Taylor.    

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