Warrick Dunn (left) has now graced a Sports Illustrated cover and the inside of the famous swimsuit issue
Warrick Dunn is in that relatively small society of athletes that has graced the cover of Sports Illustrated. Now, he's got a near-back page SI credit, too, as well as another coveted distinction: swimsuit model.
Dunn and safety John Lynch were among a handful of NFL players who spent an afternoon at the beach in Hawaii during Pro Bowl week, at Sports Illustrated's behest. SI flew in ultra-famous swimsuit model Heidi Klum, the NFL shuttled over seven or eight of its greatest stars and the photographers did the rest.
The result was the final photo shoot in this year's SI swimsuit issue, annually the largest selling magazine edition in the world. The shoot – titled 'The Heidi Game' in an allusion to the Oakland Raiders-New York Jets game in 1968 that NBC infamously cut away from to take viewers to the movie Heidi - produced a series of snapshots of Klum in silvery suits flanked by the NFL standouts.
Dunn, who was featured on the SI cover after the Bucs' 5-0 start in 1997, and Kansas City TE Tony Gonzalez are pictured in a reclined pose with Klum while Lynch is shown chasing the football-toting model as if she was a breakaway back. The shoot came right after one of the week's morning practices for the Pro Bowl, but was probably not viewed as too much of a hardship by the players involved.
Back on the mainland, it's less fun and games and more grinding preparation for the Bucs' personnel staff which, in addition to the impending free agency period, is doing all the necessary legwork for the NFL draft, coming in April.
Last year, the Bucs' made only five picks in the draft, thanks to the first-round Keyshawn Johnson mega-deal and a resulting smaller move upward in the second round to nab guard Cosey Coleman. The Bucs surrendered their fourth-round selection to Carolina to make that move.
This year, however, Tampa Bay walks into the draft with eight picks, though that obviously could change once offers begin flying. The Bucs have each of their own picks in the seven rounds, rotating between the 20th and 23rd pick in each round (beginning at number 21 in round one, then cycling backward to 22, 23 and back to 20), plus an extra sixth-round pick.
The additional sixth-rounder is a product of the 1999 trade of DE Regan Upshaw to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Upshaw, a former first-round selection by the Bucs in 1996, was shipped to the Jaguars on October 19 of that year for an undisclosed, conditional pick. The eventual value of the pick was tied to Upshaw's playing time in Jacksonville; he appeared in eight games with no starts and amassed eight total tackles. Upshaw then signed with Oakland for the 2000 season.
That sixth-round pick from Jacksonville is the 12th pick of the round. The current draft order from the NFL does not include compensatory picks, which will reflect last season's free agent gains and losses. That information will likely be released during the first half of March. Generally, compensatory picks begin to show up at the end of the fourth round and are more abundant at the end of each round hence.
The Buccaneers could pick up a compensatory pick in this manner but it is not likely to be a particularly early pick. The team's main free agency loss of 2000 was that of LB Hardy Nickerson (again, to the Jaguars), but that would be balanced by the signing of unrestricted free agent C Jeff Christy from the Minnesota Vikings. The method for assigning and ranking compensatory picks takes into account the contracts and playing time of the players lost and gained.
General Rich McKay has been in Indianapolis since Monday evening, as has the Bucs' video staff. Coordinator of Pro Personnel Mark Dominik joined them on Wednesday and the rest of the team's personnel staff will hit town over the next 24 hours.
It's time for the NFL scouting combine, a long-anticipated but actually quite brief experience. Because of the rapid schedule – players will begin submitting to physicals Friday morning and will be mostly done with tryouts and interviews by Saturday afternoon – it's a rather intense work period for the Buc staffers.
While the Bucs will have their own men on the sidelines with stopwatches and clipboards for the various drills and much-hyped speed trials, the most valuable aspect of the weekend is in the team's private meeting room. McKay, Director of Player Personnel Jerry Angelo and Director of College Scouting Tim Ruskell will lead private interviews with dozens of potential draftees. Here, opinions are formed on the intangible qualities of players who have already been scouted very thoroughly on the field.
To read a thorough preview of the NFL scouting combine, click here.