Buccaneers embattled wide receiver Michael Clayton said that he understands his roster status is not safe with Tampa Bay. Clayton is coming off the worst season of his career just after receiving a lucrative contract extension prior to the 2009 season.
The 27-year old Clayton was asked if he feels wanted by team and if he feels that he is one of the players on the roster bubble.
"It could be, like I said, I know that regardless of what happens I'll be on a team next year," said Clayton. "I'm not really worried about that. The best thing is I'm committed to this football team. They made a commitment to me last year, and regardless of what happens my commitment is to the Bucs right now. I'm going to put in the work. The contract is what it is. That won't change regardless of what happens. It is my job to do my part, and I'm going to do that."
Clayton signed a five-year extension worth as much as $26 million in March of 2009. Last year, he earned approximately $8 million in upfront money and base salary while starting 11 games in which he produced a paltry 16 receptions for 230 yards and one touchdown.
The receptions and yards were the worst totals of his career. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Clayton said that he believes that the lack of continuity at quarterback hurt his production as the Bucs deployed three starting QBs during the 2009 season. With second-year pro Josh Freeman firmly entrenched as the starter, Clayton believes that the receivers can produce more.
"When you have a quarterback that is set, and is going to be the guy – we haven't had that consistency in a long time – at wide receiver that plays a huge part on what goes on in the perimeter," said Clayton. "[Freeman] is going to make that easy for all of us. It is going to all boil down to is who is out there at a specific time to make the plays. The ball is definitely going to be thrown there. We are all going to have opportunities."
Last season the Bucs started Byron Leftwich, Josh Johnson, and Josh Freeman at quarterback. During the 2009 offseason and training camp, Leftwich and Luke McCown were battling for the right to start. Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris agreed with Clayton's claim about the quarterback continuity.
"That is very valid. I would never sit up here and give an excuse for anybody, but Clayton has had three changes at the quarterback position in any given season," said Morris. "Those guys you usually don't end up with the luxury that they would like to have or the success that they'd like have in the win-loss record for the most part. I'm going to have to agree with him that would have to affect him, but you have to overcome your deal. That's the beauty of Josh Freeman, so to speak – going into the offseason knowing who your guy is."
Even before 2009 the Buccaneers have had a lot of turnover at quarterback in recent seasons. In 2008, the Bucs started Jeff Garcia and Brian Griese. The year before Tampa Bay played Garcia, McCown, and Bruce Gradkowski. In 2006, Tampa Bay started Gradkowski, Chris Simms, and Tim Rattay. The year before the Bucs featured Simms and Griese under center.
Clayton has not produced a 40-catch, 500-yard, or multiple touchdown season in the past five years. Still, the Buccaneers had some very productive receivers in that time.
In 2009, Kellen Winslow re-wrote the Bucs record books for a tight end with 77 catches for 884 yards and five touchdowns. In 2008, Antonio Bryant had 83 receptions for 1,248 yards and seven touchdowns. The year before Joey Galloway had 57 catches for 1,014 yards and six touchdowns after recording 62 catches for 1,057 yards and seven touchdowns in 2006 and 83 receptions for 1,287 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2005.
Clayton, the team's first-round pick in 2004, has never produced the numbers that he was able to generate during his rookie season when he had 80 catches for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns. Clayton feels that he can have an impact on the roster and earn playing time in 2010.
"You know, every year it's been about work," said Clayton. "You know I've been in a lot of positions where I've had to come up from the bottom of the totem pole and you know it's no different this year. I believe in my talents and the things that I do to help this football team. You know I'm here as a mentor, as a leader and I want to be a starter. You know every day is work. You know the best guy is going to play. Regardless of what happens, we keep a positive attitude. We're here to help each other to make sure this team is the best team possible when we go out on Sundays."
Morris indicated that Clayton also has an opportunity to chart where his status on the Bucs roster is, and his chances of seeing the field.
"He has to define his role, just like we all do," said Morris. "It is a competitive league. We set up the draft in hopes of having the competitive nature at wide receiver. We also wanted to establish the dynamic playmakers on the outside. I've got to respect how he came to work today. He played hard. He worked hard and came out there and competed with the young guys. He'll continue to do that. He has to get better. We all have to get better. We were 3-13 last year. I know you guys keep reminding me of that. I'll go ahead and admit that as well. We all have room for improvement. We all got to get better and he's no different."
This offseason Tampa Bay traded for veteran Reggie Brown and drafted wide receivers Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams. Clayton is facing tough competition to get any playing time in addition to making the team. The Buccaneers also have holdovers Maurice Stovall, Mark Bradley, and Sammie Stroughter competing for playing time.
Offensive coordinator Greg Olson said that there is a fierce battle at at the position.
"We're real deep. We like what we've seen already in Reggie [Brown] and Mark Bradley," said Olson. "They've done some good things. Mike [Clayton] always looks good this time of year. We said it today, and he has every year. You come out of the spring saying Mike is the number one, and he's going to be tough to beat out. We've like what've seen out of Reggie and Mark. Terrence Nunn has been around and played a little bit. The two young receivers that we drafted are guys we are excited about. They had a good rookie camp. They showed up a little bit today in routes versus air, and in some of the team seven-on-seven session. Sammie [Stroughter] looks great right now. He's caught the ball very well."
Neither Morris nor Clayton mentioned the dropped passes that plagued Clayton during the 2009 season, but Olson hit on the dropped passes that has caused a lot of criticism towards Clayton.
"He's got to play. We've all seen him make difficult catches. He's a tough guy," Olson said. "Now he's got to go out and catch the ball and play. I think everybody has focused on – and maybe for good reason – the drops that he's had. He's just got to catch the ball, and make plays like we know he can."
Olson was asked why Clayton has typically practiced well during the offseason workouts and in the preseason, but has struggled once the season starts.
"Who knows? You'd like to say it is not a confidence issue because you talk to Mike and he's a very confident person," Olson said. "He makes all the catches out here. We watched a training cut-up, and these training cut-ups go back four or five years ago. Here's Mike making a great catch. We know that it's in him. He's proven he can make them, but he has to do it on a more consistent basis, so you're hoping it's not a confidence issue. For whatever reason he's struggled a little bit."
Kelli Haemmelmann contributed to this report.