With DE Simeon Rice onboard, the Buccaneers could field an imposing defensive line of all number-one draft picks
In the last five NFL seasons, only six players have managed to record sack totals of 16.5 or better. Two of them are now Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Buccaneers' remarkable 2001 offseason took another startling turn on Wednesday when the team announced the signing of Pro Bowl defensive end Simeon Rice. Terms of the contract were not disclosed, as per team policy, but it is known to be a five-year pact.
Rice officially signed his contract with Tampa Bay on Friday, shortly after noon. Though the team and Rice's agent worked on the deal for most of Thursday, various portions of the contract's language took some extra time to work out.
Contrary to reports from outside sources, the deal was not held up by league concerns about an attempt to circumvent the spirit of the salary cap. For a more detailed explanation, please click here.
Rice (6-5, 268) had a career-best 16.5 sacks for the Arizona Cardinals in 1999, one season before the Bucs' Warren Sapp matched that total with 16.5 of his own. The others to reach that plateau in the last five seasons: New Orleans' La'Roi Glover (17 in 2000), St. Louis' Kevin Carter (17 in 1999), Miami's Trace Armstrong (16.5 in 2000) and Seattle's Michael Sinclair (16.5 in 1998).
Yes, the Buccaneers have crossed up conventional wisdom by using free agency to add to an area that is already a strength, but according to Head Coach Tony Dungy, Rice gives the Buccaneers a dimension they have lacked.
"We've never had a pure speed right end like that before," said Dungy. "I think it's going to be a luxury that we've never had. When you've got guys that have all had double-digit sack years, it does make it interesting for you as a coach and probably a problem for the other team."
Adding Rice means the Buccaneers could field a defensive line of all first-round draft picks. Sapp, Marcus Jones (13 sacks last season) and Anthony McFarland (6.5) are all former first-round selections of the Buccaneers. Those three plus Chidi Ahanotu (3.5) created a formidable defensive line last season and helped the Bucs set a new team record with 55 sacks.
Last season, the presence of so many strong pass rushers made it difficult for opposing offenses to determine which Buccaneer required extra blocking. If that was a headache in 2000, it should be a migraine in 2001. With highly respected Defensive Line Coach Rod Marinelli leading the way, expect to hear predictions of a run at the NFL sack record of 72.
Rice, 27, was an unrestricted free agent who played his first five seasons with the Cardinals. The third player selected overall in the 1996 draft, he has 51.5 career sacks, including that 16.5 in 1999, which earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl. 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.
Rice made the trip to Honolulu in '99 when Dungy, heading up the Pro Bowl staff, chose him as the NFC's 'need' player. Apparently, Dungy once again felt the need to add Rice's potent pass-rushing skills to his defense.
"We had Simeon in the Pro Bowl after the '99 season," said Dungy. "I think that was really our first exposure to him, and we got a chance to work with him for a week. We just felt like some of the skills that he had, the speed and the quickness, would fit right into what we're trying to do. He visited here and liked it, and felt like he was going to be a good match to what our guys do."
Dungy and his staff have always felt that the most critical aspect of a strong defense is pressure up front.
"You always look at the defensive front seven as being a unit that can control the game," said Dungy. "We've always tried to keep that strong. It may look like a little bit of an overload, but we feel like he can really help us."
Rice is the second one-time Pro Bowler added to the Bucs' roster this offseason and the fifth in the past two years. Earlier in March, Tampa Bay inked 1999 Pro Bowl quarterback Brad Johnson to a five-year deal. Last offseason, the team picked up three multiple Pro Bowlers in wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, guard Randall McDaniel and center Jeff Christy. In all, there are 12 players currently on the Bucs' roster who have been to at least one Pro Bowl.