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Tampa Bay’s roster appears to be set at the wide receiver position for 2007, but 2008 could be another story.
Although he’s under contract in 2008, Bucs WR Joey Galloway will turn 37 in November and there’s no guarantee he’ll play in ’08.
As long as he’s healthy and using his speed to get open and catch the football, Galloway is welcome in Tampa Bay. He has, after all, caught 145 passes for 2,344 yards and 17 touchdowns over the past two seasons.
Tampa Bay’s 2004 first-round draft pick, WR Michael Clayton, is also under contract in ’08, but ’07 will prove to be a critical season for him.
After exploding onto the scene as a rookie with 80 catches for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns, Clayton has struggled to stay healthy and catch the football consistently over the past two seasons.
Clayton has started just 19 games, hauled in 55 passes and caught just one touchdown over the past two years. If he continues to get hurt and/or drop passes, 2007 could be Clayton’s last season as a Buccaneer.
That's because the Bucs have wide receiver Maurice Stovall, a 2006 third-round pick who has had a good offseason and is under contract in 2008. He’s expected to push Clayton for a starting job this season.
Receivers David Boston and Mark Jones are both scheduled to become unrestricted free agents next year. Jones, who is primarily a return specialist, is in danger of not making the 53-man roster, and although Boston has been impressive during organized team activities there’s no guarantee he’ll be make the team, either.
Bucs wide receiver Ike Hilliard is a serviceable player and under contract next year, but at 31 he’s not expected to emerge as a starter or consistent playmaker.
That said, one could make a strong case for the Bucs actively pursuing a veteran wide receiver in 2008.
Here is a list of the top 5 wide receivers that are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents next year.
WR Jerry Porter (Oakland) – UFAWR Patrick Cratyon (Dallas) – UFAWR Keary Colbert (Carolina) – UFAWR Ernest Wilford (Jacksonville) – UFAWR Bryant Johnson (Arizona) – UFA
Johnson has started 31 of the 61 career games he’s played in since entering the league in 2003. The 6-foot-3, 216-pound Johnson has caught 164 passes for 2,147 yards (13.1 avg.) and seven touchdowns as a No. 3 receiver playing behind Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.
Colbert (6-1, 200), who is a former second-round draft pick, had a solid rookie season in 2004, catching 47 passes. However, Colbert has hauled in just 30 passes over the past two seasons. Last season, Colbert played in just three games due to injury. Still, he’s has caught 77 career passes for 1,092 yards (14.2 avg.) and seven touchdowns, and his speed and upside could pique the Bucs’ interest.
Crayton (6-0, 205) would be an intriguing candidate if he were to hit the free agent market next year. Despite the fact that Terrell Owens was on Dallas’ roster last year, Crayton caught 36 passes for 516 yards and four touchdowns. He has caught 70 career passes for 1,019 yards and seven touchdowns. It should be interesting to see how he plays in a contract year. Should he play well in 2007 and hit the free agent market in ’08, teams will have to determine whether Crayton is a solid player or a product of Dallas’ offense and the players around him.
Wilford (6-4, 223) has started 23 of the 47 games he’s played in since entering the league in 2004. He has caught 96 career passes for 1,476 yards (15.4 avg.) and 11 touchdowns. However, he caught just 36 passes for 524 yards and two touchdowns in 2006. The Bucs liked him coming out of the draft due to his physical play.
The player the Bucs may target should he make it to free agency in 2008, which is likely since his tenure in Oakland has been rocky at best, is Porter.
Bucs general manager Bruce Allen and head coach Jon Gruden were part of the Raiders regime that used a first-round draft pick to select Porter in 2000.
Porter (6-2, 220) has a blend of good size and speed. He’s caught 240 career passes for 3,324 yards (13.5 avg.) and 24 touchdowns.
Last season, Porter played in just four games and caught just one pass due to injury.
The last time Porter was in a contract year was 2005, and he made the most of it. He caught a career-high 76 passes for 942 yards and five touchdowns that season.
That production earned Porter a five-year, $20 million contract from the Raiders. However, his deal is voidable after three years, and the Bucs might target Porter when he hits the free agent market in March.
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