News regarding a $200,000 buyout option in Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Michael Pittman’s contract leaked out last month, but the ninth-year tailback hadn’t talked publicly about it, and his agents, Tom Condon and Ken Kramer, have remained mum on Pittman’s intentions at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.
But Pittman’s silence regarding the buyout in his contract was broken when he told PewterReport.com that he plans to remain a Buccaneer in 2006.
“My agent put that option in my contract for certain reasons, but I want to stay in Tampa and finish my career out with the Bucs,” said Pittman. “One of the biggest reasons I came to Tampa Bay was because of Coach Gruden and having the opportunity to play in his offense. There really isn’t a reason for me to leave. I have a home here. I wish I got in the games more, but the times I do get in I feel I play well. Most likely I’m going to stay. This is where I really want to be. Hopefully I can retire a Buc.”
Pittman, 30, is entering the final year of the five-year, $8.75 million contract he signed with the Bucs as an unrestricted free agent back in 2002. The opportunity to test free agency is rare, and Pittman admitted that having other teams bid for your services can be tempting to some players.
“It doesn’t hurt to enter free agency,” said Pittman. “Free agency, for some players, is a way to get bigger contracts and bigger opportunities and things like that. Right now, I can become a free agent if I want to because of the buyout in my contract. I have one year remaining on my contract, and I do want to stay in Tampa.”
Entering free agency this offseason could have its disadvantages, too, especially at the running back position, where big-name backs like Edgerrin James (Indianapolis), Shaun Alexander (Seattle), Jamal Lewis (Baltimore) and Ahman Green (Green Bay) are all scheduled to hit the open market on March 3.
Pittman, who is regarded as one of the most team-oriented players at One Buc Place, did not want his contract situation to become public knowledge or a distraction. Even after the $200,000 buyout option in his contract was first reported by PewterReport.com, Pittman made a point to weigh his options and make a decision internally.
“That’s just me,” said Pittman. “It was just something that was put in my contract and I felt it was just my business. Some players might have chosen to handle the situation differently and say, ‘Yeah, I have a buyout and I might become a free agent’ and just throw stuff like that in the team’s face for their reasons. That’s not me. I just go with the flow and do the best I can. I wanted to keep it to myself and not be a distraction or anything like that. I’m not really sure how it got out that I had a buyout in my contract because I didn’t talk about it publicly. I think I will return as a Buc, and I feel I have three of four good years left in me. We’ll see what happens. That’s just the type of attitude I have and the type of player and person I am.”
Pittman displayed that same type of selfless attitude while playing behind rookie RB Carnell “Cadillac” Williams last season. To his credit, Pittman has accepted and embraced his role in Gruden’s offense, and he’s hoping the Bucs are interested in keeping him around past the 2006 season.
“Of course every player wants to be a starter in the NFL,” said Pittman. “But my job now is to be the backup to Cadillac. That’s what I have to live with, and I’m going to play that role and play it well. I still feel like I have three or four good years left in me, so hopefully after this year I can receive another contract extension so I can retire a Buccaneer.”
Despite playing a reserve role behind Williams, who went on to rush for 1,178 yards and six touchdowns and earn NFL Rookie of the Year honors last season, Pittman saw a significant amount of playing time in 2005, touching the ball a total of 106 times and producing 736 yards of total offense.
He finished the season with 70 carries for 436 yards and one touchdown, and his 6.2 yards per carry average proved to be a career high. Pittman also finished third on the team in receptions with 36 catches for 300 yards and one touchdown.
Pittman proved to be a valuable contributor and backup, starting four games, with three of them coming in place of Williams, who was sidelined with a foot and hamstring injury earlier in the season. With Williams ailing in games vs. Detroit, New York (Jets), Miami and San Francisco, Pittman helped carry the torch, rushing 37 times for 208 yards (5.6 avg.) and one touchdown while hauling in 15 passes for 151 yards and one touchdown.
“It’s nice to have two good backs on a team because you never know what might happen in terms of injuries,” said Pittman. “Like last year, Cadillac went down and I went in there and relieved him. I’m a veteran back and I’m very confident. I think I picked up where Cadillac left off. Once he was healthy again he came back and picked up where he left off. When I got in games when Cadillac was playing, I believe I did my job well. I made plays in the passing game and the running game. It’s always good to have two good backs and a veteran backup like myself that can help Cadillac and relieve him when he’s tired or hurt. I think Coach Gruden knows what value I bring to the team. First and foremost, I’m a team player and never complain about anything. I’d just like to finish my career here.”
One of the biggest factors that led to Pittman’s decision to remain under contract with the Buccaneers was the fact that the team worked in other ways for him to get on the field. Early on in the 2005 regular season, Pittman volunteered to cover kickoffs on special teams. However, his role there was short-lived due to a neck injury he suffered during the regular season. That injury actually prevented the 6-foot, 228-pound, chiseled back from working out for a while, but he still managed to play in every game.
The neck injury started to subside late in the season, which is when Pittman asked special teams coach Richard Bisaccia to play on special teams again, but this time in another capacity.
With Tampa Bay struggling to find a kick returner that could solidify that spot and get the Bucs offense solid starting field position, Pittman thought he might be able to help. The Bucs agreed and allowed him to handle kickoff return duties in the team’s regular season finale vs. the New Orleans Saints.
“That played a big role in my decision to return,” Pittman said of returning kickoffs. “I just want to get my hands on the ball as much as I can and help the team any way I can. I asked Coach Bisaccia if I could return kickoffs, and Coach Bisaccia went to Coach Gruden and got permission from him. The rest was history from there.”
Pittman didn’t disappoint, returning three kickoffs for 85 yards (28.3 avg.). After leading the team in kick return average, he expects to given the opportunity to compete for the starting kickoff return position again in 2006.
After riding through a roller coaster of emotions, ranging from winning Super Bowl XXXVII in his first year with Tampa Bay to suffering through two straight losing seasons in 2003 and 2004, Pittman said he wanted stick around to help the Bucs build on their 11-5 record and NFC South division championship from last year.
“I think we have a lot of young players that are growing and are going to help this team keep winning,” said Pittman. “I think Cadillac did a great job last year. You can see the potential this team has with the veterans and younger players that are in place. I just don’t want to leave. If I had to leave, I would, but this is where I want to be and this is where I want to finish my career. I feel I can start in this league, but this team has a bright future and we grew so close during last season, even closer than the Super Bowl year. You just feel that everybody wants to be around each other. I want to be part of that. This is like my family. If you leave, you have to develop trust in new people and you have to get comfortable. I’m comfortable here – it’s like my comfort zone.”
While Pittman has made it clear that he wants to play for Tampa Bay in 2006, some reports have suggested that Pittman could become a salary cap casualty.
The Bucs could be as much as $19 million over the salary cap, a deficit they must erase by March 3, and Pittman is scheduled to earn a base salary of $1.492 million and have a salary cap value of $2.124 million in 2006.
But Pittman, who restructured his contract during the 2004 training camp, said he’s open to helping the team receive some salary cap relief again, whether it is in the form of a restructure or a contract extension.
“My agents, Tom Condon and Ken Kramer of IMG, are there at the Combine right now,” said Pittman. “They haven’t informed me of anything in terms of the Bucs wanting to restructure my deal or sign me to an extension. I’m open to helping the team. I’ve done it before and I’d do it again. I’ll do what I can to help. It’s not always about the money. I just want to help and play, and play the best I can with the opportunities I receive.
“That’s what football is all about because one guy can’t win or lose a game for you. It’s a team effort and a team sport. There are times when I’m frustrated on the sidelines and wanting to play, but I’m not going to be selfish and try to bring my teammates down. It’s not just about me – it’s about this team. I think my dad instilled that in me when he coached me in Pop Warner and little league baseball. There are a lot of selfish players out there that put themselves before the team, but it’s not about one person. It’s about this Bucs team.”
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