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Pewter Report publisher Scott Reynolds and I are busy watching college football film and putting together the Pewter Report 2007 Bucs Draft Preview, which is arguably our most popular issue of the year.

But we realize there are some hot topics that Bucs fans would like to be addressed. We’ve touched on some of them in the questions asked to us on the Pewter Insider message board, but I’ve decided to use this installment of Flynn’s Focus to go into more detail on some topics while addressing some other issues of interest.

Do The Bucs Want Quarles To Retire?
Pewter Report has fielded several questions regarding Tampa Bay middle linebacker Shelton Quarles, who is in the process of gathering the opinions of doctors regarding his health.

Quarles, who turns 36 in September, is having several injuries taken into consideration. Quarles hasn’t really elaborated on his injuries, although he has acknowledged having some bouts with concussions and there have been reports of a hip injury.

Some have speculated that the Bucs are trying to force Quarles to retire. Why? One can only assume it would be to make way for Barrett Ruud, who was Tampa Bay’s second-round draft pick in 2005.

But this theory doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Tampa Bay’s defense sorely missed Quarles’ presence in run defense when he was missing from the lineup last year. Plus, if Quarles does indeed retire, the Bucs’ middle linebacker position immediately goes from one of depth to one of need.

Some might try to compare Quarles’ situation to that of former Bucs safety John Lynch’s, but the only thing these two situations have in common is the injury part.

Not only did he not pass Tampa Bay’s team physical, Lynch failed several other teams’ medical evaluations due to a career-threatening neck injury that required surgery. The Denver Broncos rolled the dice on Lynch when they signed him during the 2004 offseason, and it turned out to be a good move.

Of course, the then-salary cap-strapped Bucs also freed up $4.5 million in cap room by parting ways with Lynch. But unlike Lynch, Tampa Bay can afford Quarles at his current salary. Quarles is scheduled to have a $4.075 million cap figure in 2007.

Sure, the Bucs can create approximately $3.3 million in cap room if Quarles retires or is released. However, Quarles is scheduled to earn just $1.3 million in base salary in 2007. That’s not exactly a salary that would prompt a team to force a player out.

Several sources have told Pewter Report that the Bucs would be happy to have Quarles play out the final year of his contract if he’s healthy enough to do so. If the Bucs want Ruud to start, the team can simply have Quarles be a backup and situational-type player. There’s certainly no crime in that, especially if Ruud beats him out for the job in training camp.

And if Quarles is released by the Bucs, it should be interesting to see how many other teams deem him healthy enough to sign to a contract in 2007.

Tomlin Might Be A Good Head Coach, But Not A G.M.
I have a lot of respect for former Bucs defensive backs coach Mike Tomlin, who spent one season as Minnesota’s defensive coordinator before becoming Pittsburgh’s new head coach this offseason.

The Bucs players absolutely loved Tomlin, who has quickly worked his way up the NFL ladder since arriving in the league in 2001.

But the comments Tomlin recently made to the Tampa Tribune regarding Tampa Bay’s contract policy have resurrected some controversial debate regarding the Bucs’ stance on this particular issue.

“You know I’m not going to be a hypocrite,” Tomlin told the Tribune when asked about his views on allowing assistants under contract to leave for another organization. “If that opportunity presents itself, I’d be inclined to wish him well. What other industry is there where you perform at a high level, you get an opportunity for advancement and you don’t advance? I have strong feelings about that. I’ll put my money where my mouth is.”

Bucs general manager Bruce Allen has earned a reputation for not allowing coaches that are under contract with the team to leave for job opportunities elsewhere in most instances.

Allen has denied several coaches, including Tomlin, Rod Marinelli, Joe Barry, Aaron Kromer, Richard Bisaccia, Paul Hackett and Art Valero, permission to interview for jobs with other teams since his tenure in Tampa Bay started in 2004.

NFL rules afford Allen this right, and he’s exercised it, which hasn’t exactly pleased some of Tampa Bay’s current and former assistant coaches.

“Absolutely, I was denied in Tampa on more than one occasion, along with Rod Marinelli and Joe Barry, and we didn’t appreciate it,” Tomlin told the Tribune. “People say that they care about you professionally and personally, but those actions don’t match those words.”

But what Tomlin and the rest of the coaches forget is that Allen is not obligated to allow any assistant coaches out of their contracts unless they are hired as a head coach. Those are the NFL’s rules, not Allen’s.

Not only that, but Allen’s job as general manager in Tampa Bay is to make the Buccaneers better, not get assistant coaches promotions around the league.

Allen can’t pick and choose which coaches he allows out of his contracts and which ones he doesn’t. There was one exception that came in January when Allen allowed tight ends coach Ron Middleton to take a job with the University of Alabama in an effort to be with his wife, who is ill and receiving medical treatment at a Alabama hospital.

Some felt Allen should have allowed Barry to leave for Detroit in 2006 to work with Marinelli, who is his father-in-law. But Allen didn’t view that as an exception that needed to be made, especially after the Bucs had lost two other defensive assistants – Marinelli and Tomlin – to other jobs when their contracts expired in the same offseason.

So why would Allen voluntarily allow Barry to leave after losing two assistant defensive coaches? Do you think Tampa Bay’s defense would have finished the 2005 season ranked No. 1 overall had the Bucs allowed Marinelli, who is considered one of the most brilliant minds in football, to leave for a defensive coordinator post? How inconsistent would the Bucs’ defense have been last year had they allowed Barry to walk with Marinelli and Tomlin?

Should the Bucs also allow players out of their contracts? What if 10-time Pro Bowl linebackers Derrick Brook wanted to reunite with Barry in Detroit? Should the Bucs simply allow Brooks out of his deal to pursue that opportunity, especially if it were to come with a new contract?

The way the NFL is structured, teams reserve the right to enforce contracts, and they also have the right to terminate them. That’s the league’s policy. But don’t blame Allen for using this policy to his advantage. Remember – the next time he denies an assistant coach the opportunity to leave, he’s got the Buccaneers’ goals, not the assistant coach’s, in mind.

Can The Bucs Afford To Trade Up In The Draft?
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden recently suggested his team could trade up from the fourth overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft to land a player like Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson.

Don’t buy it, Bucs fans.

Not that the Bucs won’t consider trading up, but of all people, general manager Bruce Allen and Gruden should know that Tampa Bay really can’t afford to part ways with more premium draft picks, which would be required in order for the Bucs to move up in the first round.

This is a team that has parted ways with four first-round picks (in trades for wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson and Gruden), three second-round selections (in trades for Gruden and trade to move up to select tackle Kenyatta Walker) and wasted three third-round picks (WR Marquise Walker, linebacker Marquis Cooper and tackle Chris Colmer) since 2000.

For those of you who are counting at home, that’s a total of 10 first-day draft selections that the Bucs have either lost or wasted over the past seven NFL Drafts.

When you look at this particular statistic and couple it with Tampa Bay’s past salary cap problems, the Bucs’ recent woes (three losing seasons over the past four years and a 4-12 record in 2006) aren’t that perplexing, are they?

What is a surprising when you take these lost picks into consideration is the fact that the Bucs managed to go 11-5 and win the NFC South division title in 2005.

Every NFL team is going to throw a lot of draft day scenarios out there this time of year, but don’t buy into all of them. Some of them need to be filed away in a library next to Peter Pan – not on, in newspapers or on NFL Network. In our estimation, Tampa Bay’s “trade up” scenario is pretty far-fetched.

The Bucs are armed with four first-day draft picks (one first round, two second-rounders and a third-round selection) in the 2007 NFL Draft, and recent history suggests they need every single one of them. If any trades occur, the Bucs would be better off trading players rather than draft picks, or maybe even trading down to acquire more picks.

Have The Bucs Mortgaged Their Future Again?
In 2004, Tampa Bay handed out approximately $10 million in signing bonuses to tackles Derrick Deese, Todd Steussie and running back Charlie Garner.

Unfortunately, none of those players panned out with the Bucs, which in turn contributed to the team’s salary cap problems.

But after looking at the contracts executed by the Bucs this offseason, it’s clear that Bucs general manager Bruce Allen and the front office have learned from the mistakes they made in 2004.

Now, it’s unclear whether the acquisitions of quarterback Jeff Garcia and Jake Plummer, fullback B.J. Askew, tackle Luke Petitgout, defensive ends Patrick Chukwurah and Kevin Carter and linebacker Cato June are going to pan out. That will ultimately be determined on the football field.

But even if none of these players pan out, Tampa Bay won’t be paying a dear price for its mistakes.

If the Bucs were to release the main players they acquired this offseason in 2008, their total cap hit would be minimal. Take a look for yourself:

Cap Hit If Player Is Released In 2008
LT Luke Petitgout – $2 million
QB Jeff Garcia – $1.5 million
LB Cato June – $1.2 million
DE/LB Patrick Chukwurah – $240,000
FB B.J. Askew – $150,000
DE/DT Kevin Carter – $0
QB Jake Plummer – $0

That comes out to just over $5 million. To put that number in perspective, the 2008 salary cap is projected to be approximately $116 million.

If the Bucs release all of these players, which is unrealistic, they would account for just 4 percent of next year’s salary cap. Now that’s what you call smart spending.

Just look at the Dallas Cowboys, who handed tackle Leonard Davis a seven-year, $50 million deal in free agency. If the Cowboys were to release Davis in 2008, they would take a $15 million salary cap hit.

To say the Bucs have been responsible spenders in free agency is an understatement. If these players don’t pan out, it could cost Gruden and Allen their jobs, but it won’t cause the Bucs to go back into salary cap hell again.

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