Flynn's Focus

March 9 - Several Tampa Bay players restructured their contracts to help the Bucs create more room under the salary cap, but Pro Bowl defensive tackle Warren Sapp wasn't one of them, which is quite curious seeing as the team could save millions by extending No. 99's contract beyond the 2003 season. Will the Bucs make Sapp play out the final year of his contract, and is the team talking to DT Anthony McFarland about an extension? Take a closer look in this installment of Flynn's Focus.

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Seven players -- fullback Mike Alstott, cornerback Ronde Barber, linebacker Derrick Brooks, kicker Martin Gramatica, wide receiver Joe Jurevicius, tight end Ken Dilger and defensive end Simeon Rice -- have restructured their contracts to help the Buccaneers create room under the National Football League-mandated $75-million salary cap this offseason.

The Buccaneers, of course, went to these players' agents and asked for their assistance, and while it made sense for the Pewter Pirates to restructure those deals, one has to wonder why the team has elected not to approach agent Drew Rosenhaus about extending Pro Bowl defensive tackle Warren Sapp's contract beyond the 2003 season.

As you'll probably recall, Rosenhaus contacted the St. Petersburg Times last summer to enlighten them on negotiations between he and Bucs general manager Rich McKay about a possible contract extension for Sapp. McKay later denied Rosenhaus' claim and publicly stated that he and the Bucs expected Sapp to fulfill his entire contract.

Sapp is scheduled to count $6.6 million towards the cap in 2003. That's an awfully high figure, even for a Pro Bowl player like Sapp. So, when the Bucs were desperately seeking cap relief, why didn't the Bucs extend Sapp's contract?

"I have absolutely no comment on Warren Sapp's contract situation," Rosenhaus said when Pewter Report asked him about his client's contract.

A new contract would have, after all, saved the Bucs millions this year, but for some reason, the team didn't even seem to consider the notion.

Why? Well, it's starting to look like the Bucs are content with letting Sapp play out the final year of his contract, and there might be some good reasons why.

Sapp, a 1995 first-round pick out of Miami, is arguably the most controversial and outspoken player in Tampa Bay's locker room and maybe even the NFL. He's been labeled "The Locker Room Bully" by one national media outlet, and some of his teammates, at times, grow tired of his antics.

A few years ago, Sapp's lack of public relations skills were overshadowed by his phenomenal play. In 2000, he notched a single-season high 16.5 sacks, which also set a franchise record.

While he's been named to six consecutive Pro Bowls, Sapp's production has dropped off significantly over the last two seasons.

Sapp recorded just 6.5 sacks in 2001 and later attributed his poor play to a nagging shoulder injury, which required surgery the following offseason.

Last season, Sapp notched 47 tackles, eight sacks and two interceptions while being listed on the team's injury report with a sore knee and sore shoulder on several different occasions.

Yes, some will defend Sapp and blame his recent string of injuries for the drop off in production. But others will simply state the obvious, which is the fact that Sapp, 30, has already seen his best playing days.

So, if you were the Bucs, would you commit a long-term, big-money contract to Sapp? Yes, extending Sapp's contract would save the team money now, but it could cost them big-time later on down the road.

Sapp, who has recorded 72.5 sacks during his eight-year career, needs just seven more to break Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon's career sack total as a Buc.

The fact that the Bucs recently made Rice, not Sapp, the NFL's highest-paid defender, might have irked Rosenhaus and Sapp a bit. Sapp, who has proclaimed himself the league's best defensive tackle, will certainly seek a deal similar to the five-year, $41-million ($20 million in bonuses) contract Rice landed last Friday. But it doesn't look like the Bucs are going to extend Sapp's contract, and even if the team wanted to, could they afford it now that they've extended Rice?

And perhaps the bigger question is what will the Bucs do if Sapp is willing holdout for a new contract? Under McKay, the Bucs have not given into holdout's demands, but they gave in two years ago when Brooks held out for a contract extension he insisted the team had promised him for years. The Bucs delivered on its promise a few weeks later, which ended Brooks' holdout. Would the team be willing to do the same for Sapp?

Well, not only does it look like Sapp's contract won't be extended this offseason, but the Bucs are reportedly talking to nose tackle Anthony McFarland's agent, Gregory Bernard, about a possible contract extension. Like Sapp, McFarland is also entering the final year of his contract with the Bucs.

When Pewter Report posed the question to some of its insiders at One Buc Place a few months ago, they all seemed to agree that the team would not be able to retain both Sapp and McFarland beyond the 2003 season.

McFarland, a 1999 first-round pick out of Louisiana State University, missed almost half of last season due to a fractured forearm and a fractured foot, and the team probably feels it can get "Booger" back cheaper now since he can be labeled "damaged goods".

McFarland has recorded 13 sacks in four seasons, but his presence on Tampa Bay's defensive line was missed last season, especially by Sapp, who failed to record a regular-season sack after "Booger" fractured his forearm against the Carolina Panthers on October 27.

While McFarland has been an awesome force at nose tackle for the Bucs, the team has also been impressed with his play at the under tackle position. In fact, defensive line coach Rod Marinelli called "Booger" the second best under tackle in the league when he filled the position during mini-camps while Sapp recovered from offseason shoulder surgery.

So, perhaps the Bucs are willing to let Sapp play out his contract and test the free-agent waters during the 2004 offseason. The Bucs feel very comfortable with McFarland at under tackle and the team gained a lot of confidence in nose tackles Chuck Darby and Ellis Wyms, who both filled in admirably for McFarland last season.

Don't forget, the Bucs, who are again without its first round draft pick due to the trade with Oakland for head coach Jon Gruden, might consider entertaining trade talks involving Sapp in the next month and a half, especially if they feel Sapp will be a holdout during training camp.

If you're Rosenhaus, you can't possibly feel good about you're client's future with the Bucs.

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