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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A Side of Rice?

After adding Brad Johnson to the offense, the Bucs could be looking for an equally large defensive impact with Simeon Rice


DE Simeon Rice, who has 51.5 sacks in five seasons with the Arizona Cardinals, was at One Buc Place on Tuesday

Rich McKay didn't attend dinner with visiting free agent Simeon Rice on Monday night, but it was nothing personal.

At the same time that Head Coach Tony Dungy, Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin and Defensive Line Coach Rod Marinelli were wooing Rice at Armani's, McKay was closing a deal with QB Brad Johnson. Johnson, the plum quarterback on the free agent market this year, eventually signed a sizeable five-year contract to pump up the Bucs' offense.

Adding Rice would be a similar boon for the Bucs' already stellar defense.

Rice is an unrestricted free agent who has played his first five seasons with the Arizona Cardinals. The third player selected overall in the 1996 draft, Rice has 51.5 career sacks, including 16.5 in 1999, when he fell just a half-sack shy of NFL leader Kevin Carter. As a rookie in '96, Rice burst out of the box with 12.5 sacks to tie the NFL rookie record, since broken by Tennessee's Jevon Kearse.

Do the Bucs have a shot at Rice? Well, would they have been considered the likely destination of Johnson a week ago? When it came down to it, Johnson felt Tampa Bay gave him the best chance at earning a Super Bowl ring. If Rice is convinced of the same, and if the Buccaneers are definitely interested in signing him, it's conceivable the team could pull of its second big coup of the offseason.

It certainly doesn't hurt that Dungy chose to add Rice to the Pro Bowl roster after the 1999 season as the one 'need' player he was allowed to select. Rice got to know the Bucs' coaching staff during that week last February, and the Bucs got a good look at what the former Illinois standout can bring to the table.

"We had him at the Pro Bowl two years ago, so we kind of know him from that," said Kiffin on Tuesday, after finally seeing Rice on his way. "Rod coached him over there, and it was clear that he has a lot of talent. We think he can be a superstar and fit in so well here with our defensive line. We would have four number-ones on the defensive line, and they all play like number ones."

As Kiffin indicated, the Bucs would be able to field a defensive line comprised solely of first-round draft picks if Rice were added to a unit that also includes 1999 NFL Defensive Player of the year Warren Sapp plus DE Marcus Jones and DT Anthony McFarland. Sapp, Jones and McFarland combined for 36 sacks last season, with Sapp's franchise-record 16.5 leading the way.

The Bucs had one of the most dominant defensive fronts in part because it was difficult for opponents to choose which player deserved extra attention. Sapp, who stopped by One Buc Place on Tuesday during Rice's visit, understands that another dominant pass-rusher on the front line would make it even more difficult for opposing teams to use double-teams on him or his compatriots.

"That's a good dilemma to have," said Sapp. "It's a real good dilemma to have. I guess that's why we're bringing him in here for a visit, to see if he really wants to come hunt with the big dogs."

Just before finishing up his day with Rice, Kiffin told that the visit was going 'very well.' Rice is expected to visit the New York Giants next. His impression of the Bucs, or the willingness on either side to craft a deal, is not yet known. Kiffin, however, wouldn't need convincing.

"it would give us a pretty good rush," he said, winking at his understatement. "I would like our chances."

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