The Tampa Bay Buccaneers released four players Tuesday — cornerback Mario Edwards, linebacker Ian Gold, quarterback Brad Johnson and wide receiver Joe Jurevicius — in order to come into compliance with the NFL-mandated salary cap of $85 million.

By releasing those four players, the Bucs freed up approximately $11 million, which got them under the league-mandated cap before the midnight deadline.

Perhaps the biggest surprise among the four players released Tuesday was Jurevicius, who hauled in 27 passes for 874 yards and eight touchdowns during his three-year tenure in Tampa Bay.

Jurevicius, who only played in 15 games (five starts) over the past two seasons due to significant injuries to his knee and lower back, was scheduled to receive a $500,000 roster bonus on Mar. 2 and would’ve had a $2.94 million cap value in 2005.

Although releasing Jurevicius created $2.5 million in cap space, it left the Bucs with just one receiver — Michael Clayton — that played for the Bucs during the 2004 season under contract for under contract for the 2005 season.

When reached by telephone Tuesday before cuts had actually been announced, Jurevicius’ agent, Neil Cornrich, apparently left the door open for Jurevicius to play for the Buccaneers again in the future.

“No matter what happens, Joe Jurevicius has considered it an honor to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and hopes to continue to do so through the 2006 season and beyond,” said Cornrich.

Johnson, who earned a trip to the Pro Bowl en route to helping Tampa Bay win its first-ever Super Bowl championship in 2002, was benched in favor of Chris Simms in Week 5 of the 2004 season after the Bucs started out 0-4.

The Bucs were waiting to release Johnson until QB Brian Griese, who agreed to a five-year, $32 million contract Saturday, officially signed the reworked contract, which happened on Tuesday. Releasing Johnson, who was scheduled to have a $8.55 million salary cap value in 2005, freed up approximately $4.5 million of much-needed cap space.

The 6-foot-5, 226-pound Johnson entered the NFL in 1992 with the Minnesota Vikings. He spent seven seasons (1992-1998) and two seasons in Washington (1999-2000) before signing with Tampa Bay in 2001 as an unrestricted free agent.

Johnson, who turns 37 in September, started all 49 regular season games he played in as a Buccaneer, completing 61.7 percent of his passes and throwing for 10,940 yards and tossing 64 touchdowns and 41 interceptions.

The 13-year veteran has completed 61.8 percent of his career pass attempts and thrown for 23,913 yards and tossed 143 touchdowns and 98 interceptions.

Johnson’s best season came in 2002 when completed 62.3 percent of his passes and threw for 3,049 yards and tossed 22 touchdowns and just six interceptions. That career-type year ended with Johnson helping Tampa Bay defeat the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII.

However, after leading Tampa Bay to its first-ever Super Bowl win, things went downhill quickly for Johnson and the Bucs. In 2003, Johnson set a franchise record by throwing 26 touchdown passes, but he also threw a career- and franchise-high 21 interceptions.

After watching Tampa Bay’s offense struggle and fail to score an offensive touchdown through the first five quarters of the 2004 season, head coach Jon Gruden benched Johnson in favor of Simms in the second quarter of the Week 2 contest vs. Seattle.

But Simms couldn’t manage to get the Bucs in the end zone, either, which prompted Gruden to start Johnson against the Raiders in Week 3. After tossing two touchdowns in a losing effort against the Raiders, Johnson and the Bucs offense managed to find the end zone one time in a Week 4 loss to the Denver Broncos, which led to Johnson losing his starting job to Simms.

Before being benched in favor of Simms last season, Johnson completed 63.1 percent of his pass attempts and threw for 674 yards and tossed three touchdowns and three interceptions.

Johnson has received interest from the Arizona Cardinals, and Tampa Bay apparently isn’t done shopping for quarterbacks. The Bucs have a serious interest in signing former Cleveland Browns QB Jeff Garcia as a backup, and if that fails, they could turn their attention toward signing former Miami Dolphins QB Jay Fiedler.

The Bucs currently have three quarterbacks — Griese, Simms and Akili Smith — under contract for the 2005 season.

Tampa Bay was hoping to find a way to keep Gold, who was scheduled to have a $2.8 million cap value in ’05, but its salary cap situation didn’t allow that to happen.

Gold signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent last season and quietly recorded 120 tackles, which ranked third overall on the team behind fellow LBs Derrick Brooks and Shelton Quarles. The Bucs saved approximately $1-2 million by releasing Gold Tuesday.

Like Gold, Edwards also signed as a free agent last year. He earned the nickel cornerback job in training camp but was benched midway through the season in favor of second-year CB Torrie Cox before eventually taking the job back from Cox. Edwards, who was scheduled to receive a $1.6 million roster bonus on Mar. 2 and would’ve had a $3.325 million cap value in ’05, recorded 17 tackles and five passes defensed. The Buccaneers saved $2.7 million by releasing Edwards.

Bucs general manager Bruce Allen is scheduled to discuss Tuesday’s roster moves in a 7 p.m. press conference from One Buccaneer Place.

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