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Christy might be first cap casualty

Agent says it may be tough for Bucs to keep their starting center.

By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 21, 2003

INDIANAPOLIS -- The first salary-cap casualty is front and center for the Buccaneers.

The Super Bowl champions are prepared to release center Jeff Christy unless he is willing to take a sizeable pay cut to remain with the team, according to agent Ralph Cindrich.

"I think the impression is that there's not going to be a lot that can be done to keep him," Cindrich said. "But we're not sure.

"The impression Jeff came away with is that we're going to be out on the market."

Christy, 32, is scheduled to earn $3.955-million in base salary next season, and the Bucs are believed to be willing to offer him about $1-million for 2003.

The Bucs must trim at least $2.5-million from their payroll by Thursday to get under the $74.8-million salary cap. And including the offers they have yet to tender to six restricted free agents, that figure could grow by $3.6-million.

By releasing Christy, the Bucs would save about $2.355-million toward the salary cap.

Cindrich planned to meet with general manager Rich McKay Thursday night or Friday to determine whether a compromise can be struck to keep Christy in Tampa Bay. If not, the three-year starter could be released by next week.

"I'm not sure. I haven't talked to Rich. But the impression is, it'd be very difficult," Cindrich said.

"(Christy) has already talked a little bit with the coaches, he has a certain impression. I'm going a little bit off of Jeff, too. But Rich called and gave me a heads up and said let's get together and that type of thing. And I don't think there's going to be a positive spin on it."

Christy had an injury-plagued 2002, having arthroscopic knee surgery during the bye week and playing much of the second half of the season with a fractured left wrist. He still managed to anchor an offensive line that showed steady improvement throughout the season.

But the three-time Pro Bowl center will be entering his 12th season in 2003 and the Bucs are eager to upgrade their offensive line.

Backup center Todd Washington is a possible replacement for Christy. But he has failed to win the starting position the past five seasons and the Bucs are expected to look at free agents.

"You have to look at it from both sides, and one says you're in the business to play ball," Washington said. "You're going to have close friends, make close friends and you may lose close friends. But if that happens and there's an opportunity for me, then I have to go for it.

"If they bring someone else in, it's something I have to deal with and it will be helpful for the team."

Colts center Jeff Saturday and the Bengals' Rich Braham are among the free agents the Bucs could pursue. Miami Dolphins center Tim Ruddy also may become available.

Cindrich said Christy learned of the Bucs' plans in a meeting with coach Jon Gruden and offensive line coach Bill Muir this week. Muir said Thursday it's possible Christy could return next season.

"I would say, yeah, under a certain scenario," Muir said. "The whole thing is cap driven. Obviously, there's going to be some adjustments and some players are going to have to decide whether they want to adjust or not adjust. The hard cap forces that. Thirty-two places, every year, it's going to occur. And it's going to affect the players. That's the deal.

"I know what the in-house big picture is. I don't know exactly when Jon and Rich will make the moves they've got to make. ... You're going to reshuffle the deck every year. It's just a question of whether it's a couple of cards or all the cards. It's just the nature of the beast."

Cindrich said the reason he announced the team's intentions is to put other teams on alert that Christy might become a free agent.

"And the only reason I'm saying that is I'd rather have the information come out sooner than later," Cindrich said. "If I don't get together with Rich for some reason, if his schedule doesn't permit, then it's news. So if it's going to come out and there's going to be some people out there (interested), we want to know."

According to Cindrich, Christy's play in the Bucs' 48-21 win over the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII may have caught the eye of some teams.

"I think that would be nice," Cindrich said. "I think there would be some people (interested). Yeah. I think some people watched that game and saw him. I think there were some nice comments made."

Christy would be the team's first cap casualty of the offseason. After the 2001 season, the Bucs released Pro Bowl cornerback Donnie Abraham when he declined to take a pay cut and were prepared to do the same with fullback Mike Alstott until he agreed to restructure his contract.

"This team is one of the closest-knit teams in the league," Washington said. "And when you see one of your guys have to leave, get traded of get cut, it's going to hurt."

-- Times staff writer Roger Mills contributed to this report.

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