Tampa Bay middle linebacker Barrett Ruud showed up for the Bucs' mandatory mini-camp practices at One Buccaneer Place Tuesday, but not with a new contract.
Ruud, 26, skipped 14 voluntary organized team activities this offseason in hopes of accelerating the process of landing a long-term, lucrative contract from the Buccaneers.
"That was pretty much it," Ruud said of his contract being the main reason for his absence from voluntary OTAs. "The practices are voluntary, but they're highly encouraged. I chose to stay and work out on my own. I was back in Nebraska working out at the university with a lot of the college guys. They kept me busy.
"It's one of those things where I was hoping to speed things up. For the most part, I chose to prepare on my own. I kept in contact with my coaches. I have a pretty good concept of the defense. I'm a little behind my teammates, but I'm happy with where I'm at right now."
The former second-round draft pick has one year remaining on his contract that is scheduled to pay him $1.6 million in base salary.
Ruud is in a precarious situation due to the fact that the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association is set to expire after this year. If a new CBA is not agreed to by the owners and the players union then a set of already agreed upon rules will be in effect for the 2010 season that will make it an uncapped year and prevent any player that has not accrued six years in the NFL from being an unrestricted free agent.
Should that situation unfold, Ruud would become a restricted free agent in 2010 and wouldn't become a UFA until 2011, which might explain why the team doesn't appear to be in a hurry to extend Ruud's contract.
"No discussions. There haven't been any at all," said Ruud. "I'd like to be here a long time. I'd like to be with the Buccaneers. The organization is first class and it's a great community. I like my teammates. I would like to be here for a long time."
Ruud, who is considered the leader of Tampa Bay's defense under new coordinator Jim Bates, will serve as an important piece of the team in 2009. Bates was happy to have him back out on the practice field Tuesday.
"It's very, very comforting," said Bates. "Barrett came back and he's in good shape. He picked up where he left off. He missed all the OTAs, but he's very intelligent. He stayed up with what the installation has been.
"[Linebackers coach] Joe Barry has been in touch with him and done a good job keeping him abreast of what we're doing. That's been helpful because we've put a lot of defense in during the OTAs."
Bucs head coach Raheem Morris acknowledged that Ruud's contract situation could serve as a distraction to the Buccaneers, but he is confident the team, including Ruud, would step up to the challenge.
“No doubt about it, when you talk about things of that nature you talk about everything being affected,” said Morris. “[The media] has an effect our team. You do. Everything we do, everything that happens around here has an effect on our team. We have to be bigger and better than that. We have to put the team in front of everything else. That is what we are trying to do. That is what we are all doing. It is more important for us to win football games than anything else we can talk about.”
Neither Bucs general manager Mark Dominik nor Ruud's agent, Ethan Locke, are commenting publicly on the matter. However, it is believed Ruud is looking for a contract that resembles the deal Seattle LB Lofa Tatupu, who was selected less than 10 spots behind Ruud in 2005, inked in March.
Tatupu, a three-time Pro Bowler, signed a six-year, $42 million contract extension with two years remaining on his deal with Seattle.
Although he hasn't been voted to the Pro Bowl, Ruud has led the Bucs in tackles for two straight seasons. He notched a career-high 178 takedowns in 2008, and has three career sacks and four interceptions.
"Lofa is a guy I watch all the time," said Ruud. "I love the way he plays. I want to continue to play at a high level with him. I feel like I played at that level last year and I'd like to stay at that elite level of linebackers. I hope it works out. I really do, but it's really out of my control."
Ruud is saving himself $8,000 in fines by attending Tampa Bay's mandatory mini-camp, but he wouldn't rule out the possibility of holding out of training camp, which begins in August.
"I'm kind of going day-by-day," said Ruud. "I'm glad I'm here today and I'm glad I'm getting this work in with my teammates to end [head coach] Raheem Morris' first offseason program. I think it's going to be a good couple of days of work here.
"There really hasn't been much in terms of discussion. All I can do is worry about what I do on the field and work as hard as I can. I would like to think everything will take care of itself. I guess we'll see."