By RICK STROUD
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 1, 2001
TAMPA -- The Bucs won't be losing another starting middle linebacker to free agency this off-season.
Jamie Duncan, who adequately filled the cleats of Hardy Nickerson after the Pro Bowl player bolted for Jacksonville a year ago, signed a one-year contract rather than become a restricted free agent Friday.
Terms were not released. The Bucs planned to tender Duncan a one-year contract worth $512,000 in exchange for the right to match any offer he might have received and a third-round draft pick as compensation if he left the team. Duncan's deal is believed to be worth close to $1-million.
A third-round pick from Vanderbilt in '98, Duncan was considered the eventual successor to Nickerson and got his chance earlier than expected. He started the last six games of his rookie season when Nickerson was put on injured reserve with pericarditis.
Last season, Duncan was thrust into the lineup full time. He finished with 97 tackles, seven passes defensed and four interceptions. He returned one interception 31 yards for the lone touchdown in a 16-13 win at Miami on Dec. 10.
The Bucs tendered one-year contracts to four other restricted free agents -- cornerback Brian Kelly, defensive tackle James Cannida, guard/center Todd Washington and running back Rabih Abdullah.
The team did not tender a contract offer to tight end Blake Spence, who spent most of 2000 on injured reserve.
Duncan said he was pleased with his performance last season and wanted to remain in Tampa Bay.
"I hope everybody else feels the same," Duncan said. "I felt like I came on last year and got more comfortable as I got a lot more playing time. I think I'm only going to get better the more I play.
"I gave it (becoming a restricted free agent) some thought, just because I wasn't sure where I would be. I thought about all of my options, but my first option was to stay here and I'm glad that was taken care of. It's good to just get it over with. Now, to know that I'm going to be here for another year, I'm very excited about that."
- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.