tampabay.com

Team bids an emotional farewell to Garner

By STEPHEN F. HOLDER and JOANNE KORTH
Published August 31, 2005


TAMPA - Running back Charlie Garner's signing with the Bucs in March 2004 was celebrated as a move that would help turn around a 7-9 season.

On Tuesday, when Garner was waived in the first round of preseason cuts, he made a low-key exit after playing three games for the Bucs and failing his latest physical because of a knee injury.

Garner, who was placed on the physically unable to perform list at the start of training camp, had not set foot on the field since rupturing his right patella tendon in September against Oakland, his former team. While his departure was inevitable because his recovery appeared to be coming along slowly, the decision was a difficult one for general manager Bruce Allen.

"Waiver day is never fun," Allen said. "The option was we keep him on PUP, and that wasn't going to work based on our numbers of players at this point (teams must trim rosters to 53 by Saturday). He's worked very, very hard to rehabilitate himself from a devastating injury, and I don't think it's the last of Charlie Garner. He's too much of a competitor to end his career like this."

Another reason the move likely was painful for Allen is the money invested in the 33-year-old Garner. He was given a six-year, $20-million contract that included a $3.7-million signing bonus that will count toward Garner's cap number this season and next.

His $800,000 salary comes off the books immediately, but the amortization of the signing bonus will cost the Bucs about nearly $616,000 against the cap this season and nearly $2.5-million in 2006 when the remainder of the bonus will count against the cap. Garner's base salary was reduced when he restructured his contract in the offseason.

The Bucs might have been willing to wait longer in hopes of a Garner return if not for their good fortune in the backfield. With the addition of Cadillac Williams to a backfield that includes Michael Pittman, Mike Alstott and possibly Earnest Graham, the Bucs had the luxury of closing the book on Garner.

"It's a comforting fact," Allen said of the backfield depth. "When Charlie's ready to play, he'll be ready to play. That's not today. ... Our running back situation is doing quite well. We have high hopes for a lot of these players. When we drafted (Williams), we had high hopes for him, but the other players have done very well."

Allen said he is certain Garner will make a comeback at some point despite his age, noting that he considered the injury to be a freak event, not a trend. Garner, who has 7,097 rushing yards and 52 touchdowns in his career, had offseason surgery on his left knee just before signing with Tampa Bay.

"Injuries happen whether you're young or old in sports," Allen said. "We play a very violent sport.

Cutting Garner was the latest setback involving the team's major free-agent signings from 2004. Tackle Todd Steussie, who signed a contract similar in size to Garner's, was released before training camp before being re-signed at the minimum salary. Tackle Derrick Deese has been hurt since the first week of training camp, and the team is at a loss when it comes to determining when he'll be back.

Tuesday also produced other personnel news, such as the claiming of former Hillsborough High and University of Miami defensive end Andrew Williams off waivers from San Francisco. The third-year player is a former third-round pick who started three games for the 49ers last season. San Francisco experimented with Williams at linebacker after shifting to a 3-4 defensive front, but Allen said Williams had trouble fitting in. The Bucs plan to utilize the Tampa native exclusively at end.

The Bucs announced 15 cuts Tuesday. The others were quarterback Jared Allen, guards Phil Bogle and Doug Buckles, receiver Chris Davis, defensive tackle Damian Gregory, former University of Florida linebacker Byron "Bam" Hardmon, fullback Steve Kriewald, receiver Derrick Lewis, defensive tackle Lynn McGruder, defensive end Bryant McNeal, long snapper Brian Sawyer, running back Ian Smart, cornerback Ronyell Whitaker, guard Sam Wilder and receiver Kevin Youngblood.

Because Wilder did not make the final 53-man roster, the conditional draft pick that was offered to Dallas in exchange for him remains with the Bucs.

LINE SHUFFLES: Guard Matt Stinchcomb will make his season debut when he starts Thursday's home preseason game against Houston. Stinchcomb hasn't played because of a back strain. Also, third-round pick Chris Colmer will start at right tackle in place of veteran Kenyatta Walker (knee).

PITCHING IN: The loss of linebacker Jeff Gooch to a calf strain leaves a vacancy on special teams. Running back Michael Pittman is among those who will fill the void.

"He's still going to be a running back and a guy we use in different capacities, but he's a big guy and he's got the capabilities to help us," Gruden said. "He's got a lot of pride. I think he'll help us there."