Team-By-Team Offseason Analysis

Today: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Next: Tennessee Titans

Offseason Recap: Buccaneers

Coach: Jon Gruden (entering third season with team)

Players Released

Dwayne Rudd, LB

Karl Williams, WR

Roland Williams, TE

Than Merrill, S

John Lynch, S

Cecil Martin, FB

Carlos Martinez, K

Tony Taylor, RB

Tim Wansley, CB

Craig Jarrett, P

Altroy Bodrick, LB

Delbert Cowsette, DT

Ryan Benjamin, LS

Free Agents Lost

Thomas Jones, RB (Chicago)

Nate Webster, LB (Cincinnati)

Aaron Stecker, RB (New Orleans)

Todd Yoder, TE (Jacksonville)

Tom Tupa, P (Washington)

Shaun King, QB (Arizona)

Warren Sapp, DT (Oakland)

Cornell Green, T (Denver)

Free Agents Added

Greg Comella, FB (Houston)

Dave Moore, TE (Buffalo)

Derrick Deese, T (San Francisco)

Matt Stinchcomb, T (Oakland)

Charlie Garner, RB (Oakland)

Keith Burns, LB (Denver)

Matt O'Dwyer, OL (Cincinnati)

Jeff Gooch, LB (Detroit)

Josh Bidwell, P (Green Bay)

Todd Steussie, T (Carolina)

Jason Garrett, QB (N.Y. Giants)

Tom Knight, CB (Baltimore)

Brian Griese, QB (Miami)

Brandon Bennett, RB (Cincinnati)

Jamel White, RB (Cleveland)

Darrell Russell, DT (Washington)

Mario Edwards, CB (Dallas)

Ian Gold, LB (Denver)

Devone Claybrooks, DT (Atlanta)

Lamar King, DE (Seattle)

Edward Thomas, LB (Jacksonville)

Free Agents Re-Signed

Rickey Dudley, TE

Cosey Coleman, G

Ken Dilger, TE

Traded

Keyshawn Johnson, WR (Dallas)

Traded For

Joey Galloway, WR (Dallas)

Draft Picks

Rd. 1 (No. 15 overall) Michael Clayton, WR, LSU

3 (79) Marquis Cooper, LB, Washington

4 (111) Will Allen, S, Ohio State

5 (146) Jeb Terry, G, UNC

6 (181) Nate Lawrie, TE, Yale

7 (206) Mark Jones, WR, Tennessee

7 (228) Casey Cramer, FB, Dartmouth

7 (252) Lenny Williams, CB, Southern

Maybe Bruce Allen, the new general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is being paid by the transaction.

The Buccaneers have been the NFL's busiest team this offseason, remaking their front office and overhauling their roster. It was to be expected after they went from Super Bowl champion in the 2002 season to 7-9 afterthought last season. And it probably was necessary, given their aging core of players. But it didn't seem to make the team's fans particularly happy, especially when Allen told popular safety John Lynch that he no longer was needed and would be released, even if he agreed to accept a pay cut.

Lynch, defensive tackle Warren Sapp and linebacker Derrick Brooks were the cornerstones of a defense that lifted the Buccaneers from NFL laughingstock to champion. They had been together since 1995 yet now only Brooks remains, with Lynch signing with the Denver Broncos and Sapp signing with the Oakland Raiders.

The organization reinvented itself this offseason. Allen, formerly a senior assistant to Raiders owner Al Davis, was hired after former GM Rich McKay bolted for the Atlanta Falcons. The relationship between McKay and Coach Jon Gruden was an uneasy one; Allen and Gruden seem comfortable with one another from their days together in Oakland. The Buccaneers also added their former quarterback, Doug Williams, to their front office, as Williams decided to leave his coaching job at Grambling to join Allen and perhaps begin to learn how to be an NFL general manager. Allen immediately delegated meaningful tasks to Williams, such as negotiating a contract with agent Ralph Cindrich for free-agent quarterback Brian Griese.

The Buccaneers signed 21 free agents from other teams and re-signed three of their own. They rebuilt their offensive line by adding free agents Derrick Deese, Matt Stinchcomb, Matt O'Dwyer and Todd Steussie. They reunited Gruden with veteran tailback Charlie Garner. They gave one more chance to troubled defensive tackle Darrell Russell, another former Raider; they added depth to the secondary with cornerback Mario Edwards; and they acquired linebacker Ian Gold after his high asking price scared off other clubs.

They got something in return for Keyshawn Johnson, put on the inactive list by Gruden at the end of last season for insubordination, by trading him to the Dallas Cowboys for fellow wide receiver Joey Galloway.

So is the result a better team, or just a different-but-still-mediocre team?

It most likely is a better team that's good enough to get back into the playoffs, but not good enough to contend for another Super Bowl.

Galloway remains among the league's swiftest receivers, even at 32. He said during a post-trade conference call with reporters that when he tests himself in offseason speed drills, he knows that he hasn't lost a step since his early days in the league. He never was the player in Dallas that the Cowboys envisioned when they sent a pair of first-round draft choices to Seattle in 2000 to acquire him. He probably never again will be the player that he was for the Seahawks in the mid- to late 1990s. But he gives Tampa Bay a dangerous punt returner and a deep threat of a receiver to stretch defenses and allow Keenan McCardell and Joe Jurevicius to work underneath.

McCardell is unhappy about his contract and was absent from offseason workouts, and Jurevicius is coming back from a knee injury. But they're solid, dependable pros. The Buccaneers further strengthened themselves at wideout by using their first-round draft selection on LSU's Michael Clayton, the fifth receiver to come off the board in the draft's initial 15 choices.

Garner remains a reliable two-way threat as a runner and receiver while the Buccaneers' leading rusher the past two seasons, Michael Pittman, faces a likely suspension by the NFL after serving jail time for felony endangerment resulting from an incident in which, according to authorities, he used his vehicle to ram a car that included his wife, child and a babysitter. Garner is 32 and hasn't had a 1,000-yard rushing season since 2000. But Gruden's short-passing offense doesn't require a workhorse runner. Pittman led the Buccaneers with 718 rushing yards in their Super Bowl-winning season.

The upgrades at receiver and along the offensive line should help quarterback Brad Johnson, but he first must discard any issues that he might have about the latest attempt to replace him. The Buccaneers tried and failed to sign quarterback Jeff Garcia when he was a free agent and there were rumblings around the league -- denied by Allen -- that they would pursue Rich Gannon if the 2002 league most valuable player were to be released by Oakland in the aftermath of the Raiders' signing of Kerry Collins. Johnson repeatedly has had to deal with such snubs by different teams, so it shouldn't be too much of a problem for him. Still, the Buccaneers added Griese, a former starter in Denver, and Gruden seems enamored with second-year quarterback Chris Simms.

Sapp remains a good player but isn't dominant any longer, so his loss isn't insurmountable. Russell was a Pro Bowl player in Oakland for Gruden and played for Buccaneers defensive line coach Rod Marinelli in college at USC. The team dispatched Marinelli to meet with Russell early in the free-agent signing period and later signed Russell to a one-year, minimum-salary deal. Russell is smart and highly personable, but he has made a string of poor off-the-field decisions that led to a lengthy drug suspension by the league and felony sexual-abuse charges that were dropped by prosecutors because of a lack of evidence. He failed to revive his career in Washington last season, and the Redskins said they wouldn't make any attempt to re-sign him after he showed up late for a practice. But he is a rare talent and if Gruden and Marinelli can get through to him, the Buccaneers actually could be better off this season with Russell and Anthony McFarland at defensive tackle than they were last year with Sapp and McFarland.

Buccaneers fans have been particularly stung by the ouster of Lynch, but club officials had doubts about his ability to remain a productive player after undergoing surgery in January for a neck injury that plagued him last season. Jermaine Phillips likely will replace him in the starting lineup alongside Dwight Smith, and Tampa Bay chose Ohio State safety Will Allen in the fourth round of the draft. Edwards gives the team a capable third cornerback to go with Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly.

Gold could end up being the best of the Buccaneers' free-agent additions if he can prove that he has recovered from a torn right anterior cruciate ligament, an injury that cut short his 2003 season in Denver. He signed a six-year contract with Tampa Bay that likely will end up being a one- or two-year arrangement because of the way the deal is structured.

This was a retooling, not a rebuilding, performed by Allen and Gruden. The Buccaneers will enter the season with a 13-year veteran at quarterback in Johnson and an 11-year veteran at running back in Garner. They have experienced players practically across the board, and Gruden likely will eliminate the locker-room discord that helped to undo the club last season. The defense still contains established standouts like Brooks, end Simeon Rice and Barber. But if the Buccaneers struggle again, a youth movement -- beginning with a change to Simms at quarterback -- could be in store.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

The long standoff involving two teams -- Cleveland and Green Bay -- and quarterback Tim Couch ended this afternoon when the Browns released Couch, the top overall selection in the 1999 draft. Couch and agent Tom Condon were informed of the move today, a source close to the situation said. The Packers, who tried to trade for Couch to have him back up and perhaps eventually succeed Brett Favre, plan to be among the teams trying to sign him as a free agent.

Couch struggled throughout his Browns tenure and lost his starting job to Garcia when Cleveland signed the free agent. Couch and Condon had refused to accept a pay cut proposed by the Browns. Couch was to have salaries of $7.6 million for the upcoming season and $8 million in the 2005 season from the Browns. The Browns will save $7.6 million on this season's salary cap by cutting him.

The Packers were willing to trade a mid-round draft choice to Cleveland to obtain Couch but first needed to work out a new contract with Condon and Couch. Those talks reached an impasse, however, with Couch and Condon seeking a one-year contract that would enable Couch to be an unrestricted free agent next offseason, and the Packers wanting Couch to sign a two-year deal.

The Browns didn't want to release Couch before rival Baltimore signed a quarterback to replace the injured Anthony Wright backing up Kyle Boller. The Ravens have signed Kordell Stewart. By late last week, it was clear that the Browns were considering releasing Couch to simply be rid of the distraction. Couch had filed a grievance against the Browns for being denied the use of their facilities to work out and prepare for the season.

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Defensive tackle Daryl Gardener, released by Denver last week, completed a visit to Cincinnati on Tuesday without an announcement by the Bengals that they'd signed him. Gardener and agent Neil Schwartz lined up a four-year, $9.3-million contract with the Bengals after being given permission by the Broncos to talk to other clubs before his release became official.

Gardener has a history of back troubles, producing some speculation around the league that the deal is being held up by the team's concerns about Gardener's health. But Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis knows Gardener -- and the condition of his back -- well from spending the 2002 season with him in Washington. The Redskins had concerns about Gardener's back, and his injuries flared up during training camp that year. But once the season started, Gardener stayed healthy and was the Redskins' best player, winning the club's MVP award.

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Disgruntled cornerback Mike McKenzie hired agent Drew Rosenhaus to facilitate a trade that would get him out of Green Bay. But with the Packers asking for a first-round draft choice and perhaps another late-round pick in return, a deal appears unlikely. . . . {lcub}hellip{rcub}. Indianapolis agreed to a one-year contract with quarterback Joe Hamilton, the former Georgia Tech standout who was drafted by Colts Coach Tony Dungy in 2000 when he was in Tampa Bay. . . . Minnesota signed free-agent linebacker Keith Newman, a starter in Atlanta for most of last season. Linebackers E.J. Henderson and Mike Nattiel were among the three Vikings players arrested over the weekend for a fight outside a Minneapolis nightclub. . . . Dallas wide receiver Antonio Bryant reportedly was ejected from the Cowboys' practice Tuesday after having a heated exchange with Coach Bill Parcells in which Bryant at one point threw his jersey in Parcells's face. . . .

Tampa Bay traded offensive tackle Roman Oben to San Diego today for a fifth-round draft choice next year. Oben (from Gonzaga High School) played two seasons for the Buccaneers and started their Jan. 26, 2003, Super Bowl triumph over Oakland at left tackle. He also has had stints with the New York Giants and Cleveland in his eight-year NFL career.