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Here are five things that caught my interest this week:

FAB 1. Let’s talk about the signing of former San Diego Chargers guard Tonui Fonoti. Head coach Jon Gruden has demonstrated that he’s full of compassion and loves giving players a second chance. In his first season in Tampa Bay, Gruden signed left tackle Roman Oben, who had been thrown into the discard pile by the New York Giants and Cleveland Browns, and made him his starting left tackle. Oben didn’t come to the Buccaneers with any question marks about his character – just his game. That was also the case with players like wide receiver Sylvester Morris, running back Byron Hanspard and nose tackle Chris Hovan, to whom Gruden extended second chances.

But the Bucs have taken in some players with questionable character, namely the late Darrell Russell, whose criminal past has been well documented. Russell, a defensive tackle full of physical talent, was in Tampa Bay long enough for a cup of coffee in the summer of 2004 before getting cut prior to training camp for failing to meet one of the stipulations set forth by the Buccaneers – stay sober. Russell died in December in a high-speed car crash at 6:00 a.m., possibly after a night partying with former USC teammate Mike Bastianelli, who was also killed in the wreck.

The Bucs have also extended a rehabilitating hand to reserve running back Derek Watson, whose past has been marred by run-ins with the law. To his credit, Watson has made the most of the second chance the Buccaneers have given him. He’s stayed out of trouble and is one of the most humble and gracious players in Tampa Bay’s locker room.

Fonoti’s NFL career needs its share of rehabilitating, too. His questions pertain more to his decision-making with his weight mostly, which has been as high as a reported 388 pounds, than with his character. There were some rumors around the league that said that the reason why he flunked Oakland’s physical was because he was too overweight. Those rumors are correct. He weighs about 400 pounds right now.

After a very promising beginning to his NFL career in which he started 14 games as a rookie, Fonoti spent the 2003 season on injured reserve with foot, triceps, groin and hand injuries. In 2004, he didn’t show up on the first day of the team’s mandatory camp and the first day of the Chargers’ training camp because he was confused about what day it started. Huh?

Fonoti has also had some curious off-field dilemmas that have raised some eyebrows. According to reports in the San Diego Union-Tribune on June 12, 2004 he was “listed as the plantiff in to Superior Court cases, one involving a small-claims matter, the other a civil case dealing with a mortage company. In 2002, his wife filed a domestic violence complaint against his mother.” She also filed a restraining order.

The July 31, 2004 edition of the San Diego Union-Tribune further chronicled the family feud between Fonoti’s wife, U’Ilani, and his mother: “It came to a boiling point in late 2002, when U’Ilani Fonoti filed for a restraining order against Fonoti’s mother, Emaline. U’Ilani alleged that on Sept. 28, 2002, at a family gathering, Emaline ‘grabbed’ the wife and blocked her exit. The court document stated the mother ‘attacked her son with a stool, striking him. Emaline continued to throw objects at (Toniu and his wife’s) vehicle. Emaline verbally stated she should have shot her son.’ In the document, Fonoti’s wife also accused Emaline of ‘frequent harassing telephone calls.’ It said she ‘constantly appears (sic) place of employment, sitting for hours in the lobby. When (Fonoti and his wife) appear, she grabs doors and attempts to spit on us.'”

Now, this was only one side of the story and I’m not exactly sure where the truth lies, but if I was a football player and I had all this stuff going on in my world, my play would likely suffer, as Fonoti’s has since his rookie season.

Back to Fonoti’s weight. Football season is five months away. If he is, for example, 40 pounds overweight in the eyes of the Buccaneers, he could lose eight pounds per month and reach his optimum playing weight, which may be closer to 360 pounds. Fonoti dominated the competition at Nebraska at around 370 pounds. Although his obvious strength is his run blocking – and he’s been described as playing like a rhino – he does have surprising agility for such a large man, perhaps due to the active, ritualistic Samoan dances he has performed since his childhood.

What’s so curious about his signing is that he’s so big and offensive line coach Bill Muir likes svelte, 300-pound offensive linemen who are, in his words, “mobile, agile and hostile.” Fonoti has the hostile part down pat, and has some agility, but he’s more of a phone booth player and a line of scrimmage mauler than a guy who can pull and get around the outside of the offensive tackle like Sean Mahan.

PewterReport.com has not obtained specific contract details on Fonoti yet, but we know he did sign a one-year deal that easily allows the Bucs to get out without anything close to a significant cap hit. It’s basically a trial contract similar to that which Hovan and Russell signed. His signing does not guarantee that Fonoti will supplant Mahan at right guard, nor does it guarantee that he will even make the 2006 Bucs roster.

Heck, at nearly 400 pounds, he might not even make it through training camp. There is a huge difference in the air temperature and humidity level in the summer between San Diego and Tampa/Orlando. Conditioning was a big reason why the Bucs passed on Virginia guard Elton Brown in last year’s draft. They thought he would melt in the Florida weather, which can be hot and muggy until early November.

Give the Bucs credit for trying something new, but don’t expect the Fonoti experiment to work – especially at 400 pounds.

FAB 2. PewterReport.com has obtained salary cap information from the five-year contract signed by nose tackle Chris Hovan last week. Hovan and the Buccaneers agreed to terms prior to free agency and he actually signed his five-year, $17.5 million deal as soon as free agency began on March 11 at 12:01 a.m.

Hovan received a modest $3 million signing bonus, but his 2006 salary of $1.4 million is guaranteed, as is $3.5 million of his $4.5 million base salary in 2007. Hovan’s cap value is $2 million this year before shooting up to $5.1 million next season.

Hovan’s cap number drops to $2.2 million in 2008 and then rises to $3.6 million in 2009 and $4.6 million in 2010.

The deal is good for Hovan because it includes a total of $7.9 million worth of guaranteed money between guaranteed base salary and his signing bonus. The deal is good for Tampa Bay because having a quality defensive tackle like Hovan eat up less than $4 million worth of cap room in three out of the five years is smart business.

FAB 3. PewterReport.com has also learned the contract numbers of Tampa Bay kicker Matt Bryant. After enjoying a couple of hours on the 2006 free agent market, Bryant signed a five-year deal worth $6.9 million with the Buccaneers that includes a $1.5 million signing bonus. The deal also calls for $100,000 roster bonuses in each year, beginning in 2007.

Bryant’s 2006 salary cap number is a manageable $1.1 million, and if he doesn’t live up to his 84 percent field goal accuracy of a year ago, Tampa Bay can cut him and actually save $200,000 in 2007.

I’m all for re-signing Bryant, as I stated in my End Zone column in Pewter Report’s January issue. However, if he turns out to be a one-year wonder, the Bucs will be kicking themselves for not paying a little more for more experienced and proven free agent kickers such as Ryan Longwell and Adam Vinatieri. The Bucs actually wanted Longwell over Bryant, but Longwell priced himself out of Tampa Bay’s range and wound up leaving Green Bay and signing with Minnesota and cashing in on a $2 million signing bonus.

Vinatieri, who wants to become the first kicker in NFL history to score a $3 million signing bonus, will either wind up replacing Longwell in Green Bay or re-signing with New England.

FAB 4. Crickets are the only thing free agent offensive tackle Kenyatta Walker has been hearing lately. The cell phone of the former Bucs right tackle apparently hasn’t been ringing and making noise. While fellow free agent offensive linemen Jason Fabini, Tom Ashworth and Mike Pearson have actually been sought after and making visits around the league, Walker hasn’t received much interest.

While almost everyone in the Bucs’ locker room was obviously dejected after Tampa Bay’s Wild Card playoff loss to Washington, Walker was all smiles, expecting to cash in on a signing bonus of $8 million or more this offseason. But with the big money likely already spent in free agency, Walker’s hopes for a big payday are gone. Instead, he’ll have to hope to get a medium-sized payday. But the way things are going for Walker, he’ll probably have to get less money than Fabini signed for and less money than Ashworth and Pearson are looking for.

And with veteran Jon Runyan still available in free agency, Walker will likely have to get in line behind him, too. In fact,

Don’t expect the Bucs to bring him back – even for less than market value. Despite maturing on and off the field during the 2005 season, which was arguably the best of his career, Walker’s attitude had already done too much damage with the Bucs’ front office and coaching staff over the years to consider re-signing him.

The hope for Walker at this point is that he doesn’t follow the footsteps of his friend and former teammate, guard Cosey Coleman, who thought he would cash in on the free agent market. Tampa Bay opted not to re-sign him last year because of his poor play and he wound up getting a league-minimum contract with Cleveland and a $500,000 signing bonus. There’s a huge difference between $8 million and $500,000.

FAB 5. Here are a few things to hold you over until next week:

• The Buccaneers have been looking for another veteran quarterback to replace Brian Griese, who is drawing considerable interest from the Cincinnati Bengals and the Chicago Bears. Two quarterbacks they’ve spoken with are Patrick Ramsey, whom Washington dealt to the New York Jets on Friday, and former New Orleans starting quarterback Aaron Brooks. If the Buccaneers do sign a veteran quarterback, they will want to pay as close to league minimum as they can. The reason? While Luke McCown’s 2006 cap value is an easily digestable $391,160, Tim Rattay’s cap number is $1.25 million.

• The reason why the Buccaneers have not signed free agent offensive tackle Tom Ashworth (New England) is because he is too expensive, simply put. Ashworth’s exact asking price (in terms of a signing bonus) is not known by PewterReport.com, but it is more than Tampa Bay is willing to pay for a player who has not started an entire season in his four years in the league, and has just 30 total starts under his belt. The Bucs like him, but the price has to be right.

• It isn’t much news, but the Buccaneers had a good visit with free agent receiver Marc Boerigter (Kansas City). He actually did a workout and caught the ball well. The Bucs might be interested in Boerigter because of his size (6-foot-3, 220) and his speed (17.9-yard career avg.).

• Here is a sleeper the Buccaneers are somewhat interested in – Grambling State defensive end Jason Hatcher. The 6-foot-6, 284-pound pass rusher was personally recruited by former Grambling State head coach and current Buccaneers personnel executive Doug Williams, who also happened to be at Hatcher’s pro day workout earlier this month. Hatcher has averaged 10 sacks over the past two years, including a career-high 11 sacks in 2005 in addition to 71 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble and one blocked kick. He certainly passed the eyeball test at the Scouting Combine at Indianapolis where he put up 28 reps of 225 pounds, had a 35.5 inch vertical jump and ran a 4.83 in the 40-yard dash, while clocking in a 1.67 in the first 10 yards. Hatcher also turned in a 4.52 in the 20-yard shuttle and a 7.67 in the three-cone drill. Hatcher, whose nickname is “The Hatchet” is built similar to New England Pro Bowl defensive end Richard Seymour and is a good fit as an end for a 3-4 scheme. He’s a very grounded and focused individual who is married with two kids to support. Although the Buccaneers prefer shorter linemen because they maintain pad level better than taller linemen, the Bucs have had some past success with 6-foot-6 defensive end Marcus Jones and 6-foot-5 pass rusher Simeon Rice. Hatcher is expected to be a late third- or fourth-round pick.

• To help the Buccaneers’ 2006 salary cap situation, center John Wade signed a two-year contract extension through 2009 and turned his $400,000 roster bonus into a signing bonus for doing so. This transaction allowed the Bucs to lower his 2006 salary cap number from $1.85 million to $1.55 million and created $300,000 worth of cap space. The extension also pushed back his first voidable year from 2007 to 2008. In fact, both the 2008 and 2009 seasons are voidable.

• It has been brought to our attention by multiple readers that what is reported on PewterReport.com (in both free and premium stories) generally winds up in the local newspapers the next day. That’s just the way we like it, except for one thing – proper attribution. If PewterReport.com doesn’t break a story we give proper attribution to the source that broke the story unless we can get the story confirmed. However, confirming each and every story that we don’t break takes time to track down sources, so that is why you’ve seen PewterReport.com not hesitate to credit ESPN.com, SI.com, The Tampa Tribune, and The St. Petersburg Times on multiple occasions when we need to report a story we believe is valid, but we didn’t break. It’s a professional courtesy and we expect our colleagues in the print and television media to extend that courtesy to PewterReport.com, especially the members of the media who have a Pewter Insider subscription. We’ve reported some free agent visits and player restructures over the past couple of weeks that we are certain were exclusive. We find it very curious that we have received exclusive news from an agent or a player as late as 11:00 p.m. and yet it somehow winds up in the local papers the following morning instead of the next full news cycle. One of these days, PewterReport.com is going to report something false on purpose – whether it is a player visit, contract numbers or a signing – just so a lazy member of the media won’t do their homework and print incorrect news in their newspaper. And when they do, our first call will be to their editor.


This story is intended to be read by Pewter Insider subscribers only. Sharing of the PI content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers.



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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 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 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: sr@pewterreport.com
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