The Tampa Bay Buccaneers reported to Celebration Hotel on Thursday, but not all of the Buccaneers players that reported to camp will make it to Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex for the team’s first practice on Friday morning.
In a shocking move, the Buccaneers released defensive end Simeon Rice on Thursday evening after he failed a team physical and refused to restructure his contract.
Rice, 33, played in just eight games in 2006 due to a shoulder injury that eventually required surgery and ended his season. He recorded a career-low two sacks.
Although he was held out of action during Tampa Bay’s organized team activities and mini-camp workouts, the Bucs expected Rice’s shoulder to be healthy enough to allow him to participate when training camp began.
Rice reported to camp, but neither he nor Tampa Bay’s doctors felt No. 97 was ready to play.
“Every player has a different type of physical, but there is a standard physical,” said Allen. “It is a player’s responsibility to report his physical conditions or ailments to the doctors at the beginning of training camp. [Rice] didn’t feel he was capable of going. There was obviously the appropriate tests given to him and our doctors concurred with that.”
Once his shoulder was deemed unfit for training camp, the Bucs asked Rice to restructure his contract, which called for him to have a team-high $10.450 million salary cap value and a $7.25 million base salary in 2007, which was scheduled to be the final year of his contract.
Rice refused to rework his deal, and the Bucs elected not to put him on the physically unable to perform list or injured reserve.
Instead, they opted to release him, a move that created approximately $7 million in salary cap room and now leaves the Bucs about $15 million under the cap.
“It’s taken a little bit longer, this injury, than anticipated,” Allen said. “But it’s not because Simeon hasn’t tried to work. We have a lot of players that need the opportunity to get some playing time. It gives us the opportunity to look outside our own roster maybe for some other players. But no, his last chapter is not written. Simeon will always be recognized with the Buccaneers. The Buccaneers as we discussed, together, today, have built a very good partnership with Simeon Rice. It’s worked both ways.”
A three-time Pro Bowler, Rice has recorded 584 career tackles, 121 sacks, five interceptions and 37 forced fumbles since entering the NFL in 1996 as a first-round draft pick with the Arizona Cardinals.
Rice has 33 multi-sack games and helped the Buccaneers win their first and only Super Bowl (XXXVII) by recording 15.5 sacks and six forced fumbles during the 2002 season.
Tampa Bay’s defense generated just 26 sacks in 2006, and only 19 of those quarterback takedowns were produced by the defensive line.
The Bucs made upgrading their pass rush a priority during the offseason. The team made several moves on the defensive side of the ball in an effort to improve this particular aspect of defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s unit, which finished last season ranked 17th overall in the NFL.
This included the signing of defensive lineman Kevin Carter and the drafting of Adams, defensive tackle Greg Peterson and linebackers Quincy Black and Adam Hayward.
Tampa Bay, which is known around the NFL for the “Tampa 2” defense, is even experimenting with the 3-4 defense in order to get its best players on the field and generate a pass rush that will lead to more three-and-outs and turnovers.
“I feel we definitely improved it over last year,” Allen said of Tampa Bay’s pass rush. “Everything we’ve seen this offseason would demonstrate that and some of the designs and ideas that have come up from our coaching staff should prove beneficial.”
A lack of pass rush is also one of the reasons why the Bucs invested the fourth overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft in Clemson DE Gaines Adams, who signed a six-year contract with the Bucs on Thursday.
Adams will be competing with former Broncos defensive end/linebacker Patrick Chukwurah, who had an impressive offseason, for the starting right end position.
“We went out and got some players that are going to help our pass rush,” said Allen. “Last year Simeon obviously got injured early and was ineffective for us. That was one of the reasons we were low on sacks. So we went out and we feel that adding Patrick Chukwurah, bringing some of the young guys, developing a little bit more. And obviously Gaines Adams is going to add to the pass rush.”
Assuming Adams wins the starting right defensive end job as a rookie, Allen believes he’ll benefit now and down the road from the playing time he’ll receive.
“I think when young players are given an opportunity to play, not only have the ability to make some big plays for you that year, but it helps them grow as a football player,” said Allen. “Probably Coach Gruden has referred to it or Coach Muir, but the experience that the two young offensive lineman (Davin Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood) had last year are going to make them better players this year and so we see Gaines as part of our long term future and for him to get additional exposure is not a negative, it’s a positive.”
Rice, who signed with the Buccaneers as a free agent in 2001, registered 69.5 sacks in six seasons with Tampa Bay. He needed just 9.5 sacks to break Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon’s franchise sack record of 78.5.
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