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Still working to preserve the core of last year’s division championship team, the Bucs have re-signed two more of their own free agents, WR Ike Hilliard and CB Torrie Cox


WR Ike Hilliard caught his 400th career pass last December at New England

The list of Tampa Bay Buccaneers who became free agents on March 11 is quickly being whittled away. Most of those erstwhile free agents have chosen to remain Buccaneers.

On Monday, the Bucs reduced that list by two more men, re-signing veteran wide receiver Ike Hilliard and young cornerback Torrie Cox. Hilliard, the former New York Giant standout, served as Tampa Bay's third receiver in 2005 and Cox, a sixth-round draft pick in 2003, was a special teams ace and part-time kick returner last year.

In keeping with team policy, the Buccaneers did not release details on either player's new contract.

As a 10th-year veteran, Hilliard became an unrestricted free agent when the new league year began on March 11. He had signed a one-year deal with Tampa Bay after playing his first eight seasons in New York. Cox, who has three accrued seasons of free agency credit, would have been a restricted free agent had the Bucs extended the necessary tender offer, but he effectively became unrestricted without that offer.

Both players returned to Tampa after spending little over a week on the open market, however. That continues a trend the Bucs have set this spring of bringing back players who contributed to the team's rise to division champions last year. Since the new league season began, the team has re-signed five of the 11 players from last year's team who became unrestricted free agents. The Bucs also re-signed quarterback Chris Simms and cornerback Juran Bolden before free agency began.

Two of the Bucs who became free agents on March 11, fullback Jameel Cook and safety Dexter Jackson, have left to sign with new teams. Click here for a rundown of where the Bucs' free agents have landed so far.

Hilliard, the fourth-leading receiver in Giants history, played in all 16 games for the Buccaneers last year and started on both occasions that Michael Clayton was unavailable due to injury (versus Washington, Nov. 13, and New Orleans, Jan. 1). He finished fourth on the team and second among wide receivers with 35 catches, producing 282 yards and one touchdown. He was particularly effective when the Bucs needed a catch to secure a first down, as 24 of his 35 receptions moved the chains.

Before joining the Buccaneers, Hilliard played in 98 games and started 92 for the Giants. He caught 368 passes for 4,630 yards and 27 touchdowns for the team that drafted him seventh overall in 1997, leaving him on the verge of several career milestones after joining the Buccaneers. He hit one of those milestones last season when he caught his 400th career pass in a December 17 game at New England, and he enters 2006 needing just 88 yards to hit 5,000 on his career.

Cox was drafted by the Buccaneers out of Pittsburgh in 2003. He missed his rookie season due to a torn ACL in his left knee, suffered in a preseason game at Miami. Cox came back from his injury to earn the Bucs' kickoff return job for much of 2004 and he ranked fourth in the NFL with an average of 26.2 yards per return while also adding six tackles and a fumble recovery on kick coverage.

Cox also filled the nickel back role in the secondary for part of 2004, notching eight tackles and two passes defensed. Against San Francisco on November 21, he returned his only career interception 55 yards for a touchdown. Last year, Cox played in 15 games, primarily as a special teams cover man, ranking third on the team with 19 tackles. He also had a team-leading 24 kickoff returns, averaging 19.3 yards per touch.

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