McFarland deal might start defensive exodus

By Rick Stroud
Published October 22, 2006

TAMPA - Soon to be discounted at a store near you: Bucs jerseys Nos. 97, 25 and 94.

The trade of Anthony McFarland on Tuesday likely was the first shoe to drop on the defense.

By the offseason, 30-somethings Simeon Rice, Brian Kelly and Greg Spires also could be looking for a new home.

All three are under contract, but like McFarland, age, salary and production will be factors. According to various reports, the Bucs shopped Rice and Kelly before the trade deadline.

The only "untouchables" on defense are linebacker Derrick Brooks and cornerback Ronde Barber.

Rice, 32, has just one sack this season, though he is a notoriously slow starter. He has one year left on a contract that will pay him $7.25-million next season. Spires, 32, who is signed through 2009, is scheduled to make $4.5-million next season.

Kelly, 30, needs surgery to repair a degenerative toe injury and is expected to be placed on injured reserve soon. He is signed through 2008 but has wanted a new contract since Barber signed a five-year, $17.5-million extension in August.

Breaking up the band was inevitable. But the Bucs haven't done much to develop replacements.

Dewayne White could replace Spires but will be an unrestricted free agent. Barrett Ruud appears ready to take over from Shelton Quarles at middle linebacker.

That's about it.

SIMMS UPDATE: Quarterback Chris Simms is unable to stand completely straight. He has trouble sleeping because he must remain on his back due to a 9-inch incision in his abdomen. He is extremely vulnerable to developing a hernia.

In other words, his recovery from spleen surgery isn't going faster than expected.

Simms, 26, would like to play again this season. He has gained about 7 of the 10-15 pounds he lost after surgery. The fourth-year pro has been a fixture at practice and in the locker room.

But it's hard to fathom Simms playing again this season.

No player deserves a chance at a comeback more than Simms. It's understandable why he doesn't want to end 2006 with an 0-3 record, one touchdown and seven interceptions.

Then you realize it probably will be several months before he is able to handle contact again.

"I can't really twist and turn yet," Simms said.

It continues to look as though Simms will go on injured reserve when the Bucs activate quarterback Luke McCown from the physically unable to perform list sometime in the next two weeks.

After that, who knows? Simms will be an unrestricted free agent after the season.

PUT A DRESS ON THEM: The Bengals weren't the only ones trying to explain last week's fourth-quarter roughing the passer penalty on Justin Smith. Mike Pereira, the NFL's vice president of officiating, discussed the controversial call on the NFL Network.

"It's obvious that we're officiating contact on the quarterback different than we did 20 years ago," Pereira said. "But this is a different day and age. And if we're going to lean, we're going to lean on the side of protecting the quarterback.

"The question has been put to the competition committee, and the question has been put to the clubs. And what we're doing is basically following their guidelines to protect quarterbacks. It's an area of the game that involves judgment and involves safety, and we'll live with the judgments that are made by our referees."

Rick Stroud can be reached at stroud@sptimes.com.