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Bucs think Sapp might slip away

By RICK STROUD
Published February 13, 2004

TAMPA - Less than three weeks before the free-agent signing period, the Bucs don't sound optimistic about their chances of keeping Warren Sapp.

The worst salary-cap figure in the NFC, coupled with glaring needs on both sides of the football will make it difficult to retain the seven-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle.

General manager Bruce Allen will meet again with Sapp's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis next week.

"It'd be a shame if he left for something that we could do," Allen said Thursday.

Though he has been given no assurances, Allen is hopeful Sapp gives the Bucs a chance to match any offer he receives from another team.

"I believe so," Allen said. "You don't know how it works sometimes. A team will challenge a player to sign right there without making a phone call. If not, maybe 20 years from now, I'll be hiring him. Doug (Williams) will have been gone by then and maybe (John) Lynch will have been in here in between. We'll see."

The front-runner for Sapp is believed to be the Ravens, who are nearly $25-million below the projected $78.7-million salary cap. Sapp is being recruited by former Miami Hurricanes teammate and Ravens Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis.

"I think Ray was doing a lot of recruiting at the Pro Bowl," Allen said.

KEYSHAWN UPDATE: Estranged receiver Keyshawn Johnson might be given permission soon to seek a trade with another team, Allen indicated.

"I might give a specific team (permission)," Allen said. "They do not have freedom to talk to any team."

The Bucs are hoping to trade Johnson after the free-agent signing period begins March 3. Their strategy might be similar to that of Jacksonville's, which allowed quarterback Mark Brunell to begin contract talks with the Redskins.

"I don't know what Jacksonville did," Allen said. "I have a feeling they only allowed Washington to speak to him, from what I've read.

"I think (Johnson's status) will be determined after March 3. We'll see what happens in interest in Keyshawn and we'll take it from there."

Despite claims by Johnson that the team had even considered allowing him to play for the Bucs next season, Allen killed any notion of that.

"Yeah, I don't believe in those types of percentages," Allen said. "But that is highly, highly, highly, highly, highly unlikely. I think that's been played out and you are all very familiar with what took place last year. We both will look in different directions right now."

BRUNELL INTEREST: With only two quarterbacks under contract, the Bucs are in the market for at least another one.

But neither Allen nor coach Jon Gruden would address reported interest in Brunell.

"We neither confirm nor deny," Allen said. "He's under contract to another team and that would be tampering."

Brunell's agent, Leigh Steinberg, said he is convinced the Bucs would be a big player for the Jags' 33-year-old left-hander if he became a free agent. But Gruden continues to publicly support starter Brad Johnson, 35.

"As I've said since I've been here, it's a position we're going to look at very carefully," Gruden said. "You're never going to have enough. They're hard to get, it's a hard position to play. Our quarterback took a lot of hits this year. He's a great player. I've tried to come out publicly and say we are excited about him. He is our starting quarterback. But we're always going to be looking at that position. The rumor is something I don't have time to address all day."

GLAZER NEWS: Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer lifted his stake in Manchester United to 16 percent, fueling speculation that a takeover of the world's biggest soccer club is imminent.

HENSON SHOWS OFF: Representatives from 20 teams gathered at the Texans practice bubble to watch former Michigan quarterback Drew Henson throw about 75 passes.

"I felt good," said Henson, a third-base prospect for the Yankees until his release last week. "I threw as good as I could have hoped today."

The Texans, who have a young quarterback in David Carr, took Henson in the sixth round of last year's draft and are trying to trade his rights. If there's no trade before the April 24 draft, he goes back into the hopper, where he's been projected as a late first-round pick.

JETS: Corwin Brown, who played safety from 1997-98, rejoined the team as an assistant.

- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

[Last modified February 13, 2004, 01:45:34]

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