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Why did the Tampa Bay Buccaneers release defensive end Simeon Rice? The official answer is because he didn’t pass the team’s physical when Rice and his teammates checked into training camp on Thursday. But there were other factors involved that led Tampa Bay to release the player who posted 69.5 sacks in his Bucs career was just 9.5 sacks away from becoming the franchise’s all-time leading sacker.
Rice hasn’t been right physically for nearly a year due to his shoulder injury and didn’t exactly light it up at the start of the 2006 season even when he was healthy. The Bucs were hoping he would show up to camp healthy and able to go. But when he didn’t, the decision for the front office became one of pay Rice to sit out and continue to rehab his shoulder, or cut him. Either way, the Bucs were staring at the idea of being without Rice for some time, so they figured the best solution was not to pay him.
Rice told the Tampa Tribune that he would be healthy in three or four weeks, but sources Pewter Report spoke with said that Rice might be further away from returning to the field than that. Rice has been the Buccaneers’ highest-paid player since signing his contract extension in 2003 that made him the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player.
Simply put, the team didn’t want to pay him the $7.25 million base salary Rice was owed this year if he wasn’t going to earn it by being out on the field. The Bucs asked him to take a pay cut due to the fact that he had already missed half of last year, the entire offseason program, and was expected to miss part of the 2007 season due to the shoulder injury. Rice balked – as he always has whenever the Bucs have come looking for him to take a pay cut – and he was released.
This move wasn’t a salary cap issue, it was more of a just plain salary issue. The Bucs were flush with salary cap room before cutting Rice because Jake Plummer’s $5.25 million base salary came off the Bucs’ books with his placement on the reserve-did not report list. They didn’t necessarily need the $7.25 million worth of cap room that was created with his departure.
The only possible high-priced free agent the Bucs might be pursuing right now is quarterback Daunte Culpepper. However, Tampa Bay wouldn’t need even half of the over $15 million worth of available cap room to sign him.
Are the Buccaneers a better team on the field without Rice? No, they are not. This is not a good move for a team that needed to bolster its pass rush this year – not weaken it. However, there is no certainty that Rice, at age 33, was going to come back as the dominating pass rusher he used to be. His best days may be behind him and Tampa Bay may be better off accelerating the learning curve of 2007 first-round draft pick Gaines Adams. We’ll have to see.
Are the Buccaneers a better team off the field? Potentially. Rice is in a contract season and wants another big payday. That likely wouldn’t happen in Tampa Bay. There isn’t much love lost between Rice and head coach Jon Gruden, whom Rice said was “the phoniest (expletive) in the world,” according to the Tampa Tribune.
Remember too that Gruden was the target of some of Rice’s public, verbal barbs at the end of the 2004 season. Gruden suspended Rice for the 2004 season finale for missing the team’s walk through the day before the Arizona game, and also for missing a meeting in 2005 the day before the San Francisco game. It’s clear that Gruden wasn’t shedding too many tears on Thursday after Rice was released.
“I don’t know an easy way to make a tough decision, to be honest with you,” Gruden said. “I can only say that we wish Simeon Rice the very best. We all, coaches included, have to get over some tough decisions that are made, and that’s what we have to do.”
Gruden and Rice have had an icy relationship ever since Rice was awarded his huge contract extension in 2003 that helped to strangle the Bucs’ salary cap for several years. The fact that Rice didn’t offer up or agree to restructure his mammoth contract once since 2004 – despite the Bucs being in dire straits regarding the salary cap – didn’t sit well with Gruden or the front office.
Don’t confuse Rice with Derrick Brooks, Shelton Quarles, Michael Pittman or John Wade – players whom have repeatedly restructured their deals over the last few years to help the team’s dismal salary cap situation. Rice has a large degree of selfishness to him, especially when it came to money, and wasn’t a team player in that regard.
So what happened to the possibility of Rice possibly taking Gaines Adams under his wing and mentoring the Bucs’ first-round draft pick after practice as he has done with other young defensive linemen on his own in years past? Well, it should be noted that Rice did that with Tampa Bay’s young linemen when his own roster spot was secure. It might not have been the same story with Rice being in a contract year.
The last thing the Buccaneers would want would be a petulant Rice causing a stir if he had to split time with a rookie whom Tampa Bay was anxious to get on the field. Any plays Rice was to surrender on Sundays could be missed opportunities for sacks, and thus a larger payday in free agency next year.
Behind the scenes, Rice caused a few headaches at One Buccaneer Place, although he was never a disruptive force in the locker room. After losing Rod Marinelli to Detroit, he never got over it and never bought in and embraced the coaching style of Jethro Franklin. That may have been his worst crime in 2006, but he certainly wasn’t the only culprit in that regards.
Are the Bucs in a hurry to get Adams on the field? Wouldn’t you be if you just signed him to a reported six-year, $46 million deal? It seems like Tampa Bay just didn’t want to invest any more time (or money) in Rice, who wouldn’t be around in 2008, and run the risk that it could stunt Adams’ growth.
This kind of stuff happens all over the NFL. Look at what happened when Mike Shanahan benched Plummer last year in favor of first-round draft pick Jay Cutler. In this situation, the only real shock is that it came out of nowhere on the first day of training camp.
Tampa Bay has had a great deal of success playing its first-round draft picks in the Bruce Allen – Jon Gruden regime, dating back to 2004 when Michael Clayton caught 80 passes for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns. The following year, running back Cadillac Williams rushed for 1,178 yards and six touchdowns while earning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Guard Davin Joseph, Tampa Bay’s 2006 first-round pick, started 12 games for the Buccaneers last year and also performed well in his rookie campaign. The Bucs obviously have high hopes for Adams, too.
Perhaps the piece of the Rice puzzle is newcomer Patrick Chukwurah. As you have read on PewterReport.com, we have been in front in singing this guy’s praises, listing him as the Buccaneer that had the second-best offseason (behind quarterback Jeff Garcia). In fact, it was Chukwurah – not Adams – that was taking the reps with the first-stringers on Friday as Tampa Bay opened up its 2007 training camp.
Chukwurah is five years younger than Rice and is definitely the fastest Buccaneer defensive lineman in camp. His sub 4.5-speed is a bit Rice-like off the edge in pass rush situations.
Of course it will only be a matter of time before Adams unseats Chukwurah and wins the starting job at the right defensive end position. It certainly would have been a crowded house at right end with Rice, Adams and Chukwurah on the active roster and at least one pretty good pass rusher would have been confined to the bench. With Rice gone, both Adams and Chukwurah, who made the most of his first offseason in Tampa Bay, will have more pass rushing opportunities. The Bucs just have to hope that they can be as effective as Rice was in the past.
I think between the introduction of the 3-4 defense this offseason for use in obvious pass-rushing situations, and adding players like Adams, Chukwurah and veteran defensive end Kevin Carter that Tampa Bay will be able to pressure the quarterback a great deal more in 2007. But it could have been even better with Rice in the fold. The most troubling aspect of Rice’s release was the timing.
Why in the world would Tampa Bay wait until check-in day to give Rice a physical? Why not do it the Tuesday before training camp and have this matter over and done with rather than create a distraction on the eve of training camp? Was it because the Bucs wanted to ensure that Adams would report on time? I don’t know.
All I do know is that this organization has a difficult way of letting players go. There are some valid reasons as to why players like John Lynch, Keenan McCardell and Simeon Rice were cut or traded and Warren Sapp wasn’t re-signed, but Gruden and Allen have a hard time articulating those points to the fans and the media, and releasing these Bucs stars in a tactful manner that doesn’t cause a firestorm.
I’ve stated on many occasions that Gruden’s communication skills with his players are certainly lacking at times, and I’m certainly not the only one who sees it. Just ask Simeon.
For Gruden’s sake, Adams and Chukwurah had better pan out and Rice better not come back with a vengeance once he signs on with a new team. And Tampa Bay better not hope that new team is Detroit, who just happens to play the Bucs on October 21.
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Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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