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Keenan McCardell’s holdout officially came to an end Tuesday when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers traded the disgruntled wide receiver to San Diego in exchange for the Chargers’ third- and sixth-round picks in the 2005 NFL Draft.

According to ESPN, San Diego will be obligated to give the Bucs a fifth-round draft choice as well if McCardell makes the Pro Bowl either this season or in ’05.

McCardell, who caught a team-high 84 passes for 1,174 yards and scored a career-high nine touchdowns en route to earning a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2003, was scheduled to earn $2.5 million this season before he opted to hold out for a new contract that would pay him like the team’s number one receiver, which would’ve called for approximately a $2 million annual salary increase.

Despite having a depleted group of wide receivers, the Bucs refused to negotiate with McCardell, citing the fact that he’s one of the NFL’s highest-paid receivers and had two years remaining on the contract he signed with the Bucs shortly after being released by the Jacksonville Jaguars for salary cap reasons in 2002.

After spending several months at a stalemate, McCardell flew to Tampa last week to meet with Bucs head coach Jon Gruden. The two men did indeed meet at One Buccaneer Place and discussed McCardell’s contract situation, but to no avail.

Given the fact that Tampa Bay wasn’t sure if and when McCardell would report, and faced with the uncertainty of how the receiver would effect the team locker room if he did come back, ultimately led to the Bucs’ decision to trade McCardell. The team certainly did not want McCardell’s status to linger into the 2005 season, which was a possibility.

“Keenan obviously made a decision a long time ago that he wasn’t going to be happy with the economics of his contract and I don’t think we needed that coming back into the locker room, whenever he was going to come back,” said Bucs general manager Bruce Allen.

“I think it’s a good trade for the Buccaneers only because of the players we have that are performing for us today. It’s time for us to move on and we’re looking forward to the future.”

Although he would’ve preferred to have Tampa Bay pay him what he and his representatives thought he was worth, McCardell was pleased with how his holdout ultimately turned out.

“I am thrilled to be a San Diego Charger,” McCardell said in a statement released on the Chargers’ official team web site. “The Chargers are a great organization with a lot of great young players and an outstanding head coach in Marty Schottenheimer. I also want to assure the Chargers that I have been working hard every day to stay in peak physical condition, and I am prepared to come in and make an immediate contribution. I could not be happier with this trade.”

Rather than focus on the negatives of what had become an ugly situation, McCardell chose to remember his feats in Tampa Bay, such as the Bucs’ win in Super Bowl XXXVII, and thank Allen and Gruden, both of whom he had publicly criticized for not giving him a raise and not granting his wish to be released or traded earlier in the season, for allowing him to move on.

“I will miss my friends in TampaBay,” McCardell said in the statement. “I won a Super Bowl there and have a lot of great memories with the Bucs, but it was time to move on. Although we have had our share of differences during my holdout, I am grateful that general manager Bruce Allen and Coach Gruden ultimately decided that everyone’s best interest would be best served by this trade. I wish both of them, as well as my other coaches and teammates, the very best. I also would like to thank A.J. Smith and the Chargers organization for having the confidence in me to bring me in with a midseason trade.”

Some reports suggested teams like the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens started inquiring about McCardell’s availability over a month ago, but Allen continued to defuse those reports and rumors by insisting that no one had called about the 6-foot-1, 191-pound receiver.

However, Allen said he talked with San Diego last week and entered serious negotiations with the Chargers on Tuesday, which was just one day after the Chargers placed WR Reche Caldwell on injured reserve with a torn ligament in his right knee.

“It really developed over the weekend,” Allen said of the trade. “I spoke to (Chargers general manager) A.J. Smith and I wanted to see how our game played out and told him I’d call him back when I got back to Tampa. It was never something we were anxious to do. From the beginning, we wanted Keenan to be part of the team, but he elected not to be, and that’s where we left it.”

With wide receiver Joe Jurevicius (back/knee) scheduled to return to action on Sunday against the Chicago Bears and WR Joey Galloway (torn groin) looking like he’ll be back for the Nov. 7 game against the Kansas City Chiefs, trading McCardell, a two-time Pro Bowler who has started 134 of the 162 games he’s played in and has caught 724 career receptions for 9,370 yards and 52 touchdowns during his 13-year career, to the Chargers for two future draft picks made sense to Allen.

“We came out out of last night’s game fairly healthy at that position, and with the idea that Joe Jurevicius and Joey Galloway are coming back, it gave us some comfort in making the trade,” said Allen. “And I say that not with the understanding that Keenan was coming back anyway, and there’s a chance he might not have come back the entire season, so if we can do something that can help this team for the future and help our salary cap today and tomorrow, it made sense for us to make this move.”

Although Tampa Bay’s offense struggled out of the gate and currently ranks 24th overall, the Bucs have been encouraged by this unit’s production over the past two games. According to Allen, the team’s receivers, including rookie Michael Clayton and Charles Lee, have played a part in helping the offense become more productive and score more points.

“The receiver position has been productive for us,” said Allen. “We haven’t seen a lot of dropped balls or things of that nature. We’re actually getting some good blocking out of the receivers. It had more to do with we like what we have, and the uncertainty if Keenan would ever report to the team. That really told us that we should make the best deal for the Bucs and move forward.”

Clayton, whom the Bucs used a first-round pick to select out of LSU last April, has been starting in place of McCardell at the flanker (Z) position. He certainly hasn’t disappointed, evidenced by his team-leading 31 catches for 443 yards (14.3 avg.) and one touchdown through six games. Clayton, who is coming off a career-high performance in St. Louis in terms of catches (eight) and yards (142), is on pace to record 83 catches for 1,181 yards and three touchdowns this season.

“Michael’s emergence was assumed,” said Allen. “When we drafted him we thought he was an excellent football player. As you have all probably understood by now – he’s a very mature young man and well-grounded. I don’t know how much drafting Michael Clayton in the first round had to do with Keenan’s actions of deciding that now’s the time to try and get a new contract.”

Some believe the Bucs decided to draft Clayton because the team was made aware of McCardell’s wish to receive a new contract back in February. Allen had originally approached McCardell and his representatives about the possibility of restructuring the receiver’s contract at the beginning of the offseason in an effort to reduce his $3 million cap value and free up some much-needed cap room.

Not only did McCardell deny that request, but that’s when he and his agent, Gary Uberstine, let Allen know that McCardell wouldn’t report for work without a new contract that came with a substantial increase in pay.

Although McCardell and his representatives have said publicly that the Bucs asked the receiver to take a pay cut, Allen said the team simply approached McCardell in hopes of getting some cap relief.

“We offered him several different ways to restructure his contract that would give us salary cap relief at no loss of guaranteed money to Keenan and we offered him some incentive based deals,” said Allen. “He declined all of the proposals.”

His holdout started quietly, but once training camp rolled around and neither side was budging from their stance on the contract situation, McCardell and his representatives began to publicly question and criticize both Allen and Gruden for their decision to do nothing while one of their best offensive weapons remained AWOL.

While he finally received the trade he orginally requested back in August, McCardell’s wallet will likely become significantly lighter as a result of his decision to holdout. McCardell has missed the first six games of the 2004 regular season, which amounts to a loss of about $750,000 in game checks. He has also accumulated approximately $410,000 in daily fines since his holdout officially began on July 30.

In addition to those grievances, the Bucs plan to follow through on their request for $1 million of McCardell’s $2 million signing bonus to be returned to the team since McCardell only fulfilled two of the four years on his $10-million contract.

“Keenan made a business decision and it could cost him a lot of money,” said Allen. “None of the grievances have been waived, but I truly hope he’s happy. I really do. When I’ve talked to Keenan it’s always been friendly. He’s been a productive player for the Bucs and the Bucs thank him for his contributions. He’s part of winning a Super Bowl.

“From the organizational standpoint, I’m not here to try and take people’s signing bonuses back and I’m not here to fine players $300,000 or $400,000 for different acts. We want to pay players money so they can perform on the field. It’s just an unfortunate situation. I would imagine there would’ve been decisions made differently if (Keenan’s holdout) was economically driven as been portrayed. I can’t control that. All I can control is the 53 guys who are fighting every day to win a game.

“Holdouts are bad. They’re bad for the player. You can never make up that time. You never make up missing a game, just the life experience of each game, whether you win or lose. It’s something you’ll remember the rest of your life. He’s missed an important part of his life.”

As for when the Bucs expect to have closure in terms of the grievances against McCardell, Allen suggested it could take some time before those particular issues are resolved.

“That takes time. the league has a calendar where things are put into place, and it hasn’t been scheduled yet,” said Allen.

While McCardell stands to lose a significant amount of money as a result of his holdout, the Bucs have lost four of their first five games without their Pro Bowl receiver in the lineup. But Allen suggested McCardell’s presence wouldn’t have made much of a difference in the outcome of those games.

“Could Keenan have gotten open at some point? I can’t answer that and Keenan can’t answer that — we’ll never know the answer,” said Allen. “I know the fumbled snap we had in two of the games, and Keenan’s not involved in that. The turnovers — I don’t think Keenan would’ve been involved in that, and many of our games have been decided by those things.”

McCardell wanted a new contract that included a raise from the Bucs, but he is apparently willing to play for the Chargers under the terms of his original deal, which has two seasons (2004 and 2005) remaining on it and is scheduled to pay him $2 million and $2.75 million, respectively, over the final two years of his contract.

By trading McCardell, the Bucs will absorb a $500,000 cap hit this year and in 2005, both of which stem from the proration of the remaining portion of his signing bonus. Parting ways with McCardell creates $2.5 million in cap room for 2005.

“We traded the Chargers the contract Keenan McCardell had with the Bucs, and what occurs from there is up to the Chargers and Keenan,” said Allen. “There was no restructuring needed on our end to make the trade.”

Other teams, including Baltimore and Kansas City, were believed to be competing with San Diego for McCardell’s services as the NFL trade deadline approached Tuesday, which might explain why Tampa Bay received a third- and sixth-round draft pick as opposed to the low-round pick that some thought the Bucs would stand the best chance of getting in return for the 34-year-old receiver.

“There is a little haggling that goes on on trading deadlines and when you’re making a trade,” said Allen. “They felt comfortable with it and we felt comfortable with it.”

Tampa Bay could certainly use the draft picks. Since 2000, the Bucs have traded away four first-round picks, three second-round picks and one fourth-round selection. Most of those picks were given away as compensation in trades for Gruden and wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, who is now playing in Dallas. While both men helped the Bucs win a Super Bowl in 2002, the loss of those draft selections has hindered the team’s ability to have young talent on their roster.

However, the Bucs appear to be stockpiling draft selections for next year thanks to some trades made by Allen this year. In June, Tampa Bay traded tackle Roman Oben San Diego in exchange for its 2005 fifth-round draft selection, and it is believed that the Bucs will pick up a sixth-round draft pick in ’05 for center/guard Jason Whittle who was traded to the New York Giants back in August.

As a result of Tampa Bay’s three most recent trades, the Bucs have acquired four additional draft picks and currently have a total of 11 picks in 2005 NFL Draft.

“The system is created to make sure you add young talent to your team,” said Allen. “From a salary cap standpoint, it’s the best way to manage your salary cap – to make sure you have those young players on your team and make sure you’re developing them. We’re excited about the players from this year’s draft who are going to be with this team a long time and will at some point make a significant impact offensively or defensively, but are currently making a great impact on special teams.”

Some say that neither the team nor the player wins in a holdout. That adage could certainly apply to this situation. After all, the Bucs are 1-5 on the season and minus a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver, and McCardell was traded and could lose up to $2 million as a result of his holdout.

But Allen, who never had a holdout during his nine-year tenure as a senior executive with the Oakland Raiders, believes a precedent has likely been set in his first year as Tampa Bay’s general manager.

“We have a good reputation in dealing with players directly and telling them what we expect out of them from a contractual standpoint as well as a football standpoint,” said Allen. “As far as a precedent, I don’t think we’re going to have any holdouts. I think this was very abnormal.”

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: sr@pewterreport.com
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