Sources tell that Buccaneers middle linebacker Barrett Ruud is staying away from the voluntary OTAs (organized team activities) over his desire to renegotiate his contract. Ruud, who was present for the team’s mandatory mini-camp during the first week of April, missed last week’s OTAs and did not participate in Tuesday’s voluntary workout.

Neither Ruud nor the Buccaneers have commented publicly about the status of his contract, which is in its final season. Ruud, who is entering his third year as Tampa Bay’s starting middle linebacker, is scheduled to make $1.6 million in base salary in 2009, which puts him far below the league’s starting middle linebackers in terms of pay.

Complicating matters for Ruud is the fact that 2009 is the final year of the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. Special rules have been put in place for the 2010 season, which will be an uncapped year, that will make Ruud a restricted free agent instead of an unrestricted free agent unless the NFL and the NFL Players Association come to terms on a new CBA that will maintain the league’s use of the salary cap.

Nebraska’s all-time leading tackler will not hit unrestricted free agency until 2011 as NFL players will not become eligible for UFA status until completing their sixth year in the league. That’s a scenario Ruud wisely wants to avoid.

Ruud has a legitimate case for requesting a pay raise from general manager Mark Dominik and it starts with the fact that he is not only Tampa Bay’s best defender and the team’s leading tackler since 2007, but he may be arguably the best Buccaneer on the roster. Ruud has put up Pro Bowl-caliber statistics over the past two seasons, but has yet to receive enough votes to the NFL all-star game.

Ruud’s numbers over the past two years compare very favorably to those of Seattle middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, who was selected nine spots after Ruud in the second round of the 2005 NFL Draft. Ruud became a full-time starter in 2007 and has recorded 251 tackles, nine passes defensed, four interceptions, three sacks and three forced fumbles over the past two seasons.

Tatupu, who signed a six-year, $42 million extension with $18 million in guaranteed money on March 21, 2008 despite having two years left on his contract, has notched 203 tackles, 13 passes defensed, five interceptions, four forced fumbles and one sack. Tatupu is a three-time Pro Bowler (2005-07) and his lucrative contract extension was well deserved.

Ruud deserves a similar deal, and with the Buccaneers having a reported $37 million in salary cap space, they certainly have the room to make it happen. Because Ruud’s accomplishments are in the same ballpark as those of Tatupu, it would not be outlandish for him to request a similar deal from Dominik.

And since Dominik decided to extend the contract of Kellen Winslow on April 6 with two years remaining on his deal, there is no protocol forbidding him from doing that for Ruud. Winslow signed a reported six-year, $36.1 million contract that included $20.1 million in guaranteed money, making him the league’s highest-paid tight end. And Winslow hasn’t played a down yet for the Buccaneers while Ruud has been one of the defense’s best and most reliable players.

Ruud has been silent on his contract status and has not commented publicly about the matter, which is similar to the low-key stance that running back Earnest Graham and fullback B.J. Askew took last year before getting rewarded with new contracts before the start of the 2008 season.

Tampa Bay’s defense is getting a makeover this year under new coordinator Jim Bates and Ruud will be the unit’s centerpiece, just like perennial Pro Bowler Zach Thomas was back in the early 2000s in Miami. The Bucs can’t afford to have Ruud holding out of training camp if this contract stalemate gets that far. Dominik has time on his side to reward Ruud with a new deal that he deserves.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years 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:
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