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Bucs get relief with salary cap

The higher cap allows more breathing room at the NFL combine.

By RICK STROUD
Published February 19, 2004

INDIANAPOLIS - When Bucs general manager Bruce Allen arrives at the NFL Scouting Combine today, he will discover he has more money to spend on free agents.

Without restructuring a single contract.

NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw told reporters here Wednesday that the league plans to announce the 2004 salary cap has been set at approximately $80.5-million per team, an increase of nearly $2-million from the $78.7-million teams were anticipating for the new fiscal year.

"The extra money is going to help those teams that are tight up against it and have those tough decisions to make," Upshaw said. "It gives everybody a little more room to work with."

Tampa Bay is one of six teams over the cap and is on the books for the highest player payroll in the NFC at about $81.5-million. The increase leaves them about $1-million over the salary cap, a savings of roughly $1.8-million from the projected figure.

All teams must be at or under the salary cap by the end of business March 2.

Allen will be busy. In addition to evaluating talent for the draft, he has meetings planned all week with agents representing Bucs players and free agents.

On Wednesday, Allen remained in Tampa and was reportedly closing in on deals to restructure the contracts of defensive end Simeon Rice, cornerback Ronde Barber and linebacker Derrick Brooks, according to their agents, and hopes to complete them this week. Other candidates for restructuring include cornerback Brian Kelly, receiver Keenan McCardell and safety John Lynch.

Before the free-agent signing period begins March 3, the Bucs would love to lock up some of their players set to hit the market. Chief among them would be running back Thomas Jones, who averaged 98.7 yards in his three late-season starts.

Jones, 25, left an impression on coach Jon Gruden and showed why he was the seventh overall pick in the 2000 draft with his best season as a pro.

Two other running backs the Bucs would consider if they become free agents, as expected, are the Bengals' Corey Dillon and the Raiders' Charlie Garner.

Teams gets a first look at Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett, whose groundbreaking lawsuit has opened the door for any underclassman, including high school graduates, to declare themselves eligible for the draft.

Clarett and University of Pittsburgh receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who would both be entering their junior year of college, are expected to work out at the combine.

The lawsuit makes the NFL's situation similar to the NBA, which has allowed teenagers to play for years.

"The perception is that the NBA is a tough, physical league," Colts GM Bill Polian said. "But the NBA is a noncontact sport. This is a collision sport. For an 18- or 19-year-old to stand up to the rigors of 24 games, like we played this year, without serious injury, the odds are very, very slim."

Workouts begin today. Bucs scouting director Ruston Webster arrived Wednesday. Gruden remains in Indianapolis until workouts conclude on Sunday.

"Then there's the night session in which we're allowed 60 interviews," Webster said. "I don't know how many we'll get to, but we're going to interview a lot of people."

One potential player the Bucs may no longer have to worry about is quarterback Mark Brunell. ESPN.com reported that Redskins owner Daniel Snyder is confident a deal will be completed for the Jaguars QB.

- Information from the Associated Press, ESPN.com, SI.com and Buccaneers.com was used in this report.

[Last modified February 19, 2004, 02:00:25]

Today's lineup
Bucs

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