Bidwell signs with Bucs

Josh Bidwell turned down a bigger signing bonus in hopes of obtaining better numbers while punting for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Bidwell is the first of the Green Bay Packers' flock of free agents to leave for another team this off-season.<p>

Bidwell, one of the younger kickers available this season in free agency, on Friday accepted a three-year offer from the Buccaneers that reportedly includes a signing bonus of $150,000 as part of a $1.87 million contract. $150,000 signing bonus as part of a modest $1.87 million deal that averaged $623,333. His base salaries will be $535,000 in 2004, $540,000 in '05 and $545,000 in '06, plus a roster bonus of $100,000 in the final year, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Bidwell, who turns 28 today, overcame a bout with cancer during his rookie year in 1999 and has been steady for the last four seasons. He averaged 41.7 yards with a net of 35.1 last season, which placed him in the middle of the pack among punters in the National Football League.

But Bidwell struggled with pooch punting and directional punting in the playoffs this season. However, he often caught the snap from center well and got off punts quickly when the weather and surface of Lambeau Field got nasty.

The Packers signed free agent Travis Dorsch in early January, and will pursue other veteran free agents and rookie punters.

The Packers offered a slightly bigger signing bonus to Bidwell, but he opted for the warmer weather where he hopes to improve his numbers and obtain a bigger contract in three years. The Bucs were seeking a punter after Tom Tupa signed a four-year, $3.74 million contract with Washington last Saturday. Tupa's deal included a $675,000 signing bonus.

Bidwell visited with the Miami Dolphins last Monday, but they re-signed Matt Turk and gave him a $350,000 signing bonus. Jacksonville's Chris Hanson ($1.3 million) and Pittsburgh's Chris Gardocki ($1 million) received seven-figure signing bonuses this off-season.

Veteran free agents available include Seattle's 35-year-old Tom Rouen (39.1-yard net average, 41.2-yard gross average in 2003); San Diego's 39-year-old Darren Bennett (36.2, 41.9); and Detroit's 35-year-old John Jett (38.0, 39.8). Jett has had two torn calf injuries and may retire. Bennett has never kicked in cold weather. Other veterans, who have had less than stellar seasons recently include: Dallas' Toby Gowin (28), New England's Ken Walter (31), Jacksonville's Mark Royals (38), the New York Jets' Dan Stryzinski (38), Washington's Bryan Barker (39), and San Francisco's Bill LaFleur (28).

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