The Tampa Bay Buccaneers parted ways with some of their most productive players in franchise history on Wednesday. The biggest name of the players cut was linebacker Derrick Brooks, who is one of the greatest players ever to play in Tampa Bay. Along with Brooks, the Bucs released wide receiver Joey Galloway, running back Warrick Dunn, linebacker Cato June, and wide receiver Ike Hilliard. With the exception of June, all of the players released were in their 30's.
All of the players were due contract bonuses, and cutting them prior to the bonus saves the team money towards the salary cap, while also opening up spots for younger players.
"All of these guys are very special in our hearts and within our organization. I would like to thank them for their dedication and commitment to our franchise over the years," said head coach Raheem Morris.Â”
The cuts save the Buccaneers at least $9.5 million towards the salary cap. Tampa Bay saves at least $3 million in cutting Brooks, $2.5 million with the release of Dunn, $2 million with cutting Galloway, $1 million with the release of Hilliard, and another $1 million with the departure of June.
Tampa Bay is now about $65 million under the league-mandated salary cap heading into free agency, which begins at midnight on Feb. 27.
With the departure of quarterback Jeff Garcia, the Buccaneers continued to move towards a younger roster and starting lineup with Wednesday's cuts.
Brooks played 14 seasons in Tampa Bay where he became the franchise's all-time leading tackler. Brooks went to 11 Pro Bowls in those 14 seasons, and his most recent appearance was this season when he was an injury replacement.
Brooks, who turns 36 in April, was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in the 2002 season when the Buccaneers won their only Super Bowl Championship. That season Brooks became the only linebacker in NFL history to have three interceptions returned for a touchdown. He scored four touchdowns in the regular season, and then another in the Super Bowl that sealed the victory for Tampa Bay.
In his Bucs career Brooks was extremely durable making 208 consecutive starts. In 2008 Brooks was hampered by injuries but still started every game for the 13th straight season. He finished second the team in tackles with 111. Brooks also had seven tackles for a loss, one interception, one forced fumble, and eight passes defensed.
"I have had the fortune of being here for all 14 seasons of Derrick's extraordinary career, and have seen firsthand the impact he has had on every aspect of this organization," said Bucs general manager Mark Dominik. "He was a true professional in every sense of the word. He will forever represent the standard by which all future Buccaneers are measured."
Morris had similar commments about Brooks, whose departure leaves only two members of Tampa Bay's Super Bowl XXXVII team — cornerback Ronde Barber and fullback Jamee Cook — on the Bucs' current roster.
"There is no way to adequately thank Derrick Brooks for his years of dedication and service to this team and community, or for his impact on me personally," said Morris. "He is a once in a lifetime kind of player and man, and I am very fortunate to have had the chance to work with him and learn from him. Those who played with him and coached him are better because of it.Â”
Galloway's 28 touchdown receptions are third in franchise history, and he was the first player in team history to post three consecutive and three overall 1,000-yard receiving seasons. In 2008 Galloway missed seven games with a broken foot after missing all of training camp with a hip injury. For the season Galloway started only four games and appeared in nine contests. He finished the season with 13 receptions for 138 yards. Galloway, who was due a $250,000 roster bonus on the first day of the league year, is 37 and will be 38 in November.
Dunn, 34, returned to Tampa Bay in 2008 after six seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. Dunn spent his five NFL seasons with the Buccaneers, and was the Rookie of the Year in 1997 after the Bucs selected him in the first round of the draft with the 12th overall pick.
"Warrick Dunn has represented this organization on so many levels with his unselfishness on and off the field," said Dominik. "He is a great football player and unmatched competitor. WarrickÂ’s work in the community is evident by the number of people he has touched with his kindness."Â”
Dunn is third in rushing in Tampa Bay and Atlanta Falcons franchise history. Dunn's 4,986 yards is behind only Mike Alstott (1,359) and James Wilder (1,575) for the Bucs. In his 2008 reunion season with the Buccaneers, Dunn led the team in rushing with 786 yards averaging 4.2 yards per carry and scoring two touchdowns. He also caught 47 passes for 330 yards. By releasing Dunn, the Bucs avoid paying him a $500,000 roster bonus.
"I am thankful for my Tampa Bay Buccaneer experience – in its entirety," Dunn said in a statement released on Wednesday. " It all started here and now in my second term I know I have been blessed to be a Tampa Bay Buccaneer in the NFL. I am thankful for the ownership, coaching, every teammate and especially the fans who have been with me through the highs and lows. It all adds up to an experience I often call 'Living the dream.' From here I don’t know what the future holds, but wherever it goes I go with a full and grateful heart."
Hilliard, who turns 33 this offseason, was a reliable possession receiver in his four seasons with Tampa Bay. In the 2008 season, Hilliard caught 47 passes for 424 yards and four touchdowns. His best season in Tampa Bay came in 2007 when he led the team in receptions with 62 for 722 yards and one touchdown. Hilliard was due a $200,000 roster bonus that the Bucs now avoid paying him with his release.
June, 29, was third on the team in tackles with 104 in his second season with Tampa Bay. He also contributed five tackles for a loss, one interception, and two passes defensed. June is entering his seventh NFL season, and will turn 30 during the 2009 season. He served as Tampa Bay's starting strongside linebacker over the past two seasons and was due a $2 million roster bonus before being released on Wednesday.
"We thank Joey, Ike and Cato for their contributions to this franchise over the last several years. They were crucial to our success and we appreciate all of their hard work," said Dominik.