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Buccaneers fullback Mike Alstott’s agent, Ben Dogra, recently answered the question so many Bucs fans have been asking themselves since the 2005 season ended.

Will Alstott retire or will he opt to play again in 2006?

According to Dogra, it’s the latter.

“If things don’t work out and we can’t agree on something, then he has the option to retire a Buc,” Dogra told The Tampa Tribune. “But this way, we let it be known that he wants to play.”

Now that it’s known that Alstott is leaning toward playing in 2006, the question that remains unanswered is do the Buccaneers want him back?

It should come as no surprise that Tampa Bay wants Alstott to return, but it’s only going to happen if the price is right. The team certainly wasn’t willing to carry Alstott’s $5.68 million salary cap value and $2 million base salary in the final three years of his contract, which is part of the reason why the three remaining years on Alstott’s deal were set up to void earlier in the offseason.

In 2005, Bucs general manager Bruce Allen negotiated a contract that lowered Alstott’s cap value while affording the six-time Pro Bowler the opportunity to retire a Buc in 2006. Of course, that reworked deal also prevented Tampa Bay from taking a public relations hit like the one it suffered when the team released fan favorite John Lynch in a salary cap maneuver during the 2004 offseason.

Even though Alstott’s intentions are now known, Tampa Bay’s are not. In fact, the Bucs have salary cap issues that far outweigh the decision they must make regarding how much to offer their 6-foot-1, 248-pound fullback.

The Bucs trimmed $5.168 million from their books when Alstott’s contract voided earlier in the offseason. However, they are still staring at the harsh reality of having to create as much as $19 million in cap room by Mar. 3 since the Bucs reaped the benefits of voiding Alstott’s contract before Allen informed the local media that the team could be as much as $19 million over the NFL-mandated cap.

With several pressing needs along the offensive line and at several other positions on both sides of the ball, and nearly $5 million worth of cap space tied up in running backs Cadillac Williams and Michael Pittman, the Bucs may not be able to afford Alstott, especially if the 32-year-old is looking for more than a $1 million base salary in 2006.

Although he’s already established himself as one of the greatest Bucs of all time, Alstott might not be worth much more than $1 million at this point in his remarkable career, especially when considering the fact that he touched the ball a total of just 59 times (average of 3.6 touches per game) last season. To his credit, the “A-Train,” who is the franchise’s leading scorer, turned seven of those touches into touchdowns in 2005.

While some are looking for a quick resolution that will decide Alstott’s future one way or another, the Bucs appear to be ready to enter free agency, which is scheduled to begin on Mar. 3, without Alstott under contract.

Alstott, who was drafted by Tampa Bay in 1996, will play for the Bucs or not at all, or at least that’s what the popular belief is around the league. That gives the Bucs the upper hand in this situation as they can address their cap issues and fill more pressing needs in free agency while Alstott awaits the team’s contract offer.

In fact, Tampa Bay might find Alstott’s successor in free agency, where fullbacks Fred Beasley (San Francisco), who is a tremendous lead blocker and possesses Alstott’s pass-catching qualities, and Tony Richardson (Kansas City) will likely pique the Bucs’ interest.

Tampa Bay might even be able to sign an established, lead-blocking fullback like Beasley or Richardson for less than what Alstott is looking for to justify returning for an 11th season in the NFL.

Tampa Bay has second-year FB Rick Razzano under contract for 2006, but he showed no signs of being able to fill Alstott’s shoes. Although Bucs FB Jameel Cook is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on Mar. 3, he proved to be an effective lead blocker for Alstott in goal-line situations last season and could be re-signed for less than what Alstott is seeking in terms of compensation.

Fullbacks aren’t exactly the most sought-after free agents in the NFL, which could bode well for Tampa Bay should it not be able to agree to terms on a deal with Alstott.

Take San Diego FB Lorenzo Neal for example. He is regarded as one of league’s best blocking fullbacks, yet he’s only scheduled to earn a base salary of $770,000 in 2006. If Alstott’s looking for much more than that type of salary, the cap-strapped Bucs might be forced to move on without the “A-Train.”

While Cook, Neal, Beasley, Richardson, or any fullback for that matter, would struggle mightily to replace Alstott’s nose for the end zone, Williams, the 2005 NFL Rookie of the Year, showed similar toughness in short-yardage and goal-line situations last season and scored six touchdowns via the ground game. If Alstott were to retire, the Bucs would likely turn to Williams as their goal-line guy.

Tampa Bay would like to have Alstott suit up for one final season in 2006. But if that scenario is going to come to fruition, it will likely have to be on the Bucs’ terms, not the “A-Train’s.”



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