-- A season of great accomplishment gives way now to an offseason of great uncertainty for the Oakland Raiders. By some estimates, they are as much as $50 million over next season's salary cap of about $75 million, and senior assistant Bruce Allen will have to spend the coming months overhauling his club's veteran-laden roster.
Some decisions will be easy for the Raiders. They likely will rid themselves of defensive lineman Darrell Russell. When they signed defensive tackle Sam Adams as a free agent prior to this season, the two sides set up the deal to be a multiyear contract to ease the salary cap burden, but also structured the pact so Adams would be a free agent again this offseason.
Other decisions will be tougher. There has been plenty of discussion about the future of receivers Jerry Rice, 40, and Tim Brown, 36.
The offensive line could be an area of major turnover. Pro Bowl right tackle Lincoln Kennedy has talked in the past week about retiring. Right guard Mo Collins could be lost via free agency. Pro Bowl center Barret Robbins, who has been placed on the inactive list, put his future with the organization in jeopardy by missing team functions on Saturday. Oakland could carve out $2 million of salary cap space by releasing Robbins.
But if this season had the feel of a last-gasp chance for Oakland's core of veteran players, the Raiders will be able to use last February's Jon Gruden deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to perhaps put a foundation in place for a future Super Bowl run. Raiders owner Al Davis got the Buccaneers to agree to send two first-round draft picks, two second-round selections and $8 million to Oakland for the right to hire Gruden.
The Raiders drafted middle linebacker Napoleon Harris and injured cornerback Phillip Buchanon in the first round last spring. And with the Cincinnati Bengals apparently interested in trading the top overall choice in the draft this coming April, there is talk that the Raiders could be in position to use their wealth of picks to deal for the selection and get Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer of USC as an eventual successor to Rich Gannon.
Public Face, Private Words
After heaping praise on Gruden all week, calling him his close friend and mentor, Raiders Coach Bill Callahan apparently used a different take on Gruden's departure to motivate his team in his speech to his players Saturday night. Callahan reportedly told his players they were betrayed and Gruden left because he didn't feel the Raiders were capable of reaching the Super Bowl.
Redskins' Davis to Tampa Bay?
Sources say that some members of the Buccaneers organization want the club to pursue tailback Stephen Davis as a free agent after he is released by the Washington Redskins. Davis struggled this season in Coach Steve Spurrier's passing offense, and is not always comfortable as a receiver out of the backfield. That could make Gruden wary. But he teamed with Tampa Bay quarterback Brad Johnson to produce a playoff team in Washington and could give the Buccaneers the sort of rushing threat that they lacked this season.
Gannon, Oakland's quarterback, threw five interceptions -- one of several records set in the game.
"We were just absolutely terrible," Gannon said afterward. "It was a nightmarish performance. Give them credit, they had a very good scheme. . . . We were just out of rhythm and out of sync and couldn't generate any offense."
Tampa Bay defensive back Dwight Smith set a Super Bowl record with two interception returns for touchdowns. Other records were the 46 second-half points, and the fewest rushing first downs (seven, one by the Raiders).
Tampa Bay defensive end Simeon Rice had been a major concern for the Raiders' offensive coaches because of his pass-rushing abilities from the outside, and he showed exactly why with two sacks of Gannon.
"I used my speed to get around them, and I felt like I put it all on the line and made the plays our team needed," he said. "They couldn't get on a roll because they couldn't stand the pressure. When you can't stand the pressure, you've got to get out of the kitchen, baby. They weren't prepared for what this defense brings."
Not on His Watch
Raiders guard Frank Middleton used to play for the Bucs, and he spoke all week about his matchup in blocking his former teammate, defensive tackle Warren Sapp.
"I had a good matchup with him today," Middleton said. "I love playing against him. I refused to let him get a sack on me. I just wish it would have turned out better. I thought I did a good job."
A Healthy Contributor
Wide receiver Keenan McCardell was on the injured reserve list the last time he made it to the Super Bowl, with the Washington Redskins his rookie year, in 1992. Tonight, he had two huge touchdown catches late in the first half and early in the second to make a major contribution to the Bucs' victory.
"That was a big one," he said of the first-half score. "We wanted to go in with a score before the half -- either three or seven. Brad saw me one-on-one [with Charles Woodson], and he made a big play. That got us going into the second half and gave us the momentum to come out in the second half and play the way we did."
On the second score, "We were driving and we knew we needed to put some points on the board. I really that that making that score, me being a leader, I have to step up and make a play. Brad gave me a chance to step up and make a play. He saw me, I made a move, and it was a touchdown."