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Tampa Bay had its fair share of distractions in 2003, including a preseason trip to Japan, a well-publicized feud between Bucs head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Rich McKay, defensive tackle Warren Sapp versus the NFL and its referees, and the contention between Gruden and disgruntled wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, which eventually signaled the end of No. 19’s playing days in Tampa.

So how does wide receiver Keenan McCardell’s holdout compare to some or all of last year’s distractions? recently learned that it doesn’t at all.

After talking with several Tampa Bay coaches and players, “distraction” clearly isn’t the right word to describe how McCardell’s holdout is affecting the Bucs. An “inconvenience” would probably be a better way to characterize McCardell’s absence, and that sentiment comes as a surprise to many, including this Pewter Reporter.

McCardell was, after all, Tampa Bay’s Pro Bowl receiver from a year ago. He’s scheduled to make $2.5 million this year, but wants to be paid like the team’s No. 1 receiver, or at least more than wide receiver Joey Galloway, who scheduled to earn roughly the same amount of money this season.

But not only are the Bucs not listening to McCardell’s contract demands, neither is the media.

There were probably only a handful of days during training camp that Bucs head coach Jon Gruden and/or general manager Bruce Allen were asked questions regarding McCardell’s contract situation. They wisely answered the media’s inquiries in a way that gave reporters little reason to ask the same questions the next day, and in some instances, the next week or two.

Even the gripe coming from McCardell’s camp has fallen on some deaf ears in the national media, where this story has hardly been told. In fact, judging by the national media’s reports, or lack thereof, regarding McCardell’s contract situation, some people might not even know that one of the Bucs’ Pro Bowler players failed to board to team’s ship this offseason.

So why were Johnson’s actions such a distraction to the Bucs last season, yet McCardell’s holdout hasn’t been one at all?

“I think we had a problem with what Keyshawn was doing on the field,” said Bucs safety Dwight Smith. “Keenan’s not here to be on the field, so he can’t be a distraction.”

This comment is coming from a player whom McCardell’s representatives are attempting to drag into their contract dispute with Tampa Bay by implying the NFL to make the Bucs fine Smith $5,000 for each of the three days of training camp he missed because they claim to have evidence that suggests Smith’s excused absence was actually contract related. If Smith was holding out of camp due to his contract, their thinking is that he should be fined accordingly, as McCardell has, which is $5,000 per day. Smith and the team, however, have maintained all along that Smith missed the first three days of camp to tend to his infant son, who was ill at the time. Smith’s absence was excused by Gruden.

Gruden credits his players, particularly the new wide receivers, including Galloway, Tim Brown, Michael Clayton and Bill Schroeder, for stepping up during the offseason and in camp in an effort to help fill the void left by McCardell.

“We miss Keenan. I think he’s a great guy,” said Gruden. “Unfortunately, it’s at idle right now. It’s out of all of our control. But then you come out here and see Joey Galloway make a nice catch, you see Michael Clayton doing a good job, and then all of the sudden Tim Brown comes in, and you see the emergence of Bill Schroeder and you like Frank Murphy and Mark Jones – all of that helps.

“You just do the best you can with the cards you’re dealt. I compliment our team for doing that, but at the same time I hope Joe Jurevicius gets well and I hope (Charles) Lee comes back and I hope McCardell comes to camp. But for the time being, I credit our players that are wide receivers. They’ve really worked hard, stepped up and they know if they have to play they’ll play.”

McCardell has been fined $5,000 for each mandatory mini-camp practice he missed in June, each training camp practice he failed to attend in July and August, and was docked an undisclosed monetary amount for each of Tampa Bay’s first two preseason contests, which he didn’t play in. Thus far, McCardell has racked up close to $140,000 worth of fines. Still, there is nothing coming from McCardell’s representatives that suggests the receiver will show up on the doorstep of One Buccaneer Place anytime soon.

Sources recently told Pewter Report that McCardell is so irked by Tampa Bay’s decision to not give the 34-year-old receiver a penny more, never mind the alleged $2 million-per-season raise he’s looking for, that he’d rather be released or traded and play with another team, even if it means playing for less than the $2.5 million he’s scheduled to make with the Bucs this season.

The war of words between McCardell’s agent, Gary Uberstine, and Allen, most of which were battles that took place through the local newspapers and this Web site, have apparently come to an end. A few weeks ago, McCardell asked for his release or to be traded, but Allen simply turned down that request just as he’s turned down McCardell’s contract demands.

With McCardell standing to forfeit his $2.5-million salary should his holdout last the entire 2004 season, his representatives could make another desperate attempt to force the Bucs’ hand by hosting weekly conference calls with the media. The first Q&A session between reporters and McCardell’s reps could take place as early as this week.

With the likelihood of questions being asked and answers being given during those conference calls, McCardell’s reps hope their client’s holdout will become more newsworthy. But as of right now, McCardell’s holdout doesn’t appear to be very newsworthy, and it certainly doesn’t seem like it’s serving as a distraction to the Bucs.

This story is intended to be read by PewterInsider subscribers only. Sharing of the PI content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers. Be sure to read the latest issue of Pewter Report on-line in PDF format on Buccaneers merchandise in the world.

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