S John Lynch played 11 seasons for the Buccaneers
On Thursday afternoon, late in what he termed an 'emotional day' for all involved, Tampa Bay Buccaneers General Manager Bruce Allen confirmed that safety John Lynch would not be with the Buccaneers in 2004.
"It's at this time that we're going to move forward," said Allen, following a press conference by Lynch in San Diego. "John and I, as I'm sure he referred to, had a conversation – I think it was a couple of nights ago – and we decided the best way to move forward is to allow him the opportunity to talk to other teams and find a home that is best for him and his family."
As one would expect, this conclusion was not one the Bucs came to easily.
"It was with a heavy heart (that this decision was reached) because of what he does mean to the game of football," said Allen. "I had discussions with (Executive Vice President) Joel Glazer and (Head Coach) Jon Gruden and (Defensive Coordinator) Monte (Kiffin). This is the tough part about sports sometimes. Some of our great players move from team to team toward the end of (their) careers – I think he announced he was going to play another 11 years. God bless him, I hope it happens. But that's where we're at today."
How Lynch will be replaced in the Bucs' lineup in the short term will be determined in the next few months. Given Lynch's years of excellent service to the team, however, his long-term impact will not soon be forgotten.
"Let me just start (by saying): You don't replace John Lynch, the all-pro on and off the field," said Allen. "He has meant a lot to so many people in the community and across the country. I've been working in the NFL elsewhere, and everybody respects who he is and what he has brought to the game of football."
In 11 seasons as a Buccaneer, Lynch was elected to five Pro Bowls (1997, 1999-2002 seasons), including three times as a starter. He was a first-team AP All-Pro selection in 1999 and 2000 and a second-team choice in 2001 and 2002. He ranks third on the team's all-time tackles list (973), fourth on the interception chart (23) and second on the games played list (164).
Lynch was also one of the team's most civic-minded players, basing much of his community work around the very active John Lynch Foundation. He was a finalist for the prestigious NFL Man of the Year award in 2002.
As of Thursday, the Buccaneers had taken no official action on Lynch's roster status. He will be allowed to negotiate with other teams, a process on which Allen expects Lynch and his agent to take the lead.
Allen answered questions at length about the team's decision on John Lynch on Thursday. Below is a complete transcript of the Q&A session.
Bruce Allen on John Lynch, March 11, 2004
On if the Bucs felt John Lynch didn't have one good year left and what led to the decision to part ways with him: "Well, Roy I didn't say that. I just think at this time it's the best. We're going to allow someone else to take over the position. We think Jermaine Phillips has a bright future, and this might be best for John. That's what we talked about the other night: What is going to be the best thing for John Lynch? What's the best way to handle this situation for him? Because he's earned that. He's earned everything he's gotten in this league. If it's a chance to go somewhere else and energize his career again, that's what he's going to do."
On if Lynch had lost something in his play: "When you evaluate any player in the league you take into consideration every aspect. It doesn't matter which player it is. John and I had a good dialogue about it the other night. He didn't necessarily agree with what I was doing. His agent has always been helpful in the conversations. Instead of getting into all of that, I think it's much more important to recognize who he is and wish him well from here on in."
On if Lynch was given a chance to finish his career as a Buccaneer: "Well, when his career is over we'll find out if he retires a Buccaneer or not. I'm not really interested in getting into our discussion. We're really at this point because we couldn't find a common ground in our philosophies during that phone call. Instead of wishing something could have been different or changed, I think it's best just to allow us to step forward into the future."
More on the same question: "I don't get into my contract negotiations with any player. I think that's between the player and the team. If the player wants to discuss it, we always, obviously, allow the player to discuss anything he wants to. We respect who John Lynch is, but right now for this football team this is the best move we can do as a football team. We feel good about Jermaine Phillips and we're looking forward to this year."
More on the same question: "John Lynch's contract was large, and I know all of you have written about it before and it's because of his performance. Making four or five Pro Bowls entitles you to a large contract. I have a feeling he believes that he's going to get a large contract from another team in the NFL. If John Lynch feels this is the best thing for him, that's what we support."
On if Lynch was asked to take a pay cut: "Once again, there are a lot of different words for what a renegotiation is. There's 'pay cut,' 'restructuring,' there's 'deferrals.' There's this or that. The conversation we had with John was more about some other issues that we see in our team for the future, and less of dotting the Is and crossing the Ts of a contract."
On the timeline of a Lynch roster decision: "Well, they really are leading the dance now. They're going to pick their dance partners and decide where they might look to play. I'll have conversations with teams about different issues and we'll see what takes place. There's no hurry from our standpoint. We want what's best for him and we said we would work with him on whatever team he elects to sign with."
On Lynch saying that he felt his best option was to stay in Tampa: "In many ways, it would be. And it would be so wonderful if Michael Jordan stayed with the Bulls the whole time and if Junior Seau stayed with the Chargers, and so on. But that's not where we're at. Hopefully some team can benefit from the type of leadership and ability he can bring to their team. I know this team has prospered from it. He was selected a captain because he is a great man."
On if he's worried about losing Lynch's leadership in the locker room: "I'm always worried about leadership, and that's why we get accused sometimes of bringing in too many veterans, and the type of veterans we're looking for are leaders on the team. You don't replace John Lynch. You don't. He's John Lynch, and that's why someday he'll be considered for the Hall of Fame. And maybe someday he'll have an office next to Doug Williams in here. He's a special person."
On if the Bucs are not releasing Lynch at the moment in order to see if they can get something in return for him: "Yes, that's the way we're going to handle it right now. That's what we had discussed."
On if he has discussed with Lynch's agent on what the Bucs want in return: "David (Dunn) is going to first talk to some teams and see the parameters of a contract structure that John would accept. We'll talk to the teams, but I don't think that would be a problem."
On if there is a timeline on the possible transaction: "No."
On why Jon Gruden isn't in the room: "I'm sure Jon will speak to this. This wasn't a decision that the coaches opposed, but it's a decision that is very emotional to a lot of those men as well. My wife heard John Lynch's press conference and she's crying about this. This is a tough time, but that's the nature of the business that we're in, and it's not just the NFL, it's every sport."
On if Jon Gruden was on the same page as Bruce Allen with this decision: "Yes, we discussed it. As I said earlier, I discussed it with Joel, Monte and (Defensive Backs Coach) Mike Tomlin and everyone is going forward with and believing it's the best thing for us and also the best thing for John."
On if age was a factor in the decision, and if Lynch's neck was a factor in the decision: "I'm not going to discuss the injury or the surgery, once again. I think the last time we were here talking about it, I referred you to Dr. Watkins, the surgeon who operated on John. Everything goes into a decision – the ability to play, the person, the amount of money – on every decision you make. It doesn't matter if it's the punter we're looking to get or if it's a safety."
On if the team would have kept Lynch until training camp if he hadn't contacted them: "No, that was more of a defining moment, that phone call. It's been an ongoing conversation for the last week or two with his agent. No one was trying to mislead him. I'm not interested in holding John for cap purposes. I think there's been a reference to a June cut – that was never the intention."
On if this was a cap decision: "Everything is related to the salary cap and everything is related to the team. We believe that we have a chance to be a stronger team this year. We want to improve over what we were last year. But everything's always intertwined."
On if it's accurate that the Bucs didn't want Lynch in Tampa at any price: "I think you're trying to read into something that probably wasn't said. I don't know that to be true. John Lynch has to make some decisions that are good for him and his family. I'm not going to superimpose my thoughts on his decision-making process."
More on the same question: "We discussed a lot of things. Really what it came down to was that it was clear that the best way to handle this was to let John look for another team, and that's what we're doing. I really don't want to get into my personal conversations with a player. If he wants to, once again, he can elect to talk."
On how the Bucs have any leverage in trade talks: "It's to ensure that they get him. If you release a player, he's a free agent and can go anywhere. Very similar to Junior Seau last year; Miami felt it was best to try to strike a deal with him instead of allowing him to be a free agent, and then they might not have signed the player."
On Lynch instructing to his agent to 'make it work' and how the Bucs responded: "John Lynch has some issues that he wants to accomplish. He wants to be able to obtain certain things that John can speak to. From our standpoint, we discussed various ways that it could work, but really, at the end of the conversation, it was clear that, to accomplish both parties' goals and objectives, (the best thing) was to allow him to search for a new team and allow us to give an opportunity to some younger players to step into his role."
On if the Bucs are a better team without John Lynch: "You don't replace John Lynch. I understand what that means. We really do. You don't replace the person, John Lynch. There are plenty of other great veterans in this league who are facing the twilights of their careers, and you don't replace those types of players. We will overcome this and we will become a better team."
On if Lynch was told that he wouldn't be a starter: "I'm not going to get into the conversation and different, individual things. I'm not trying to be evasive. It's just the way John and I left it with each other, and it's the best way to handle it. In this big, gigantic, billion-dollar business, I believe there's a code of ethics that applies still between a team and the players."
More on the perception that Lynch wanted to be in Tampa at any price: "I understand, and I'm sure that John didn't want to speak about our conversation, and I'm going to respect that."
On if there was any way Lynch could have played for the Bucs in 2004: "Is there any way? Well, I'm sure, yes. Once again, I think you asked me a question the other day – nothing's impossible."
On given that, why didn't it happen: "Because the decision was made on what is important to John, what is going to be important for his career and his future. The best way to accomplish that was to let him look for other teams."
On Allen characterizing it as a mutual decision and Lynch sounding differently…was it a mutual decision? "Obviously, there were certain things that I said that he didn't agree with, and that made this the wise route to take at this time. We didn't agree on a lot of the things we discussed. It was very professional, very cordial, but we had a different viewpoint."
On if the Bucs have contacted other teams: "No. Once again, I'm going to let them lead on that and see what is the best thing for him."
On if Allen thinks there will be a market for Lynch: "I believe he feels there will be. I think his representative believes there will be. We'll have to see."
On if Allen is concerned about the public perception: "No. I think there's a great belief that we're going to do everything we can to make this the best football team we possibly can. We will stretch and massage the salary cap every way possible in order to acquire talent. I understand where John Lynch is. I understand that John Unitas did not finish with the Baltimore Colts. I understand that. It's a tough time, but that's the sport we live in. I respect so much what that man has done off the field, even more than on the field. He's probably a 10-time Pro Bowler off the field. But understand this: We feel very confident about some of our young players on this team, and they need an opportunity. They need to be given an opportunity to become their own stars, and if you don't do that, you're going to stunt the growth of your team. We're looking forward to watching Jermaine Phillips play the position."
On if it's hard for Allen, personally, to make this move: "As I said, my wife was crying, so that's not going to be good at home. It's tough because of who he is. At some point, Jerry Rice might have to retire from this game. It's going to be difficult to watch that occur. The game has such passion and love and is played by these tremendous warriors. I respect the heck out of the guy. So that's difficult, but it's a decision we're very comfortable with and we feel it's in the best interest of the team. I don't know if it's in the best interest of John, but it's in the best interest of the team, and that's what we're in charge of."
On how much cap space will be saved: "How much cap space? It will be a considerable amount of cap space."
On if it's $4.1 million: "Yes, somewhere in that area, but we're still trying to sign quite a few players and at every position. There's not one position at which we feel we have our full complement of players."
On if this opens up money to sign David Boston or Orlando Brown or others: "We're not in the David Boston sweepstakes. But it allows us an opportunity, obviously, to get at least two to four more players with that space."
On if the coaching staff was on board with the decision, across the board: "Yes. They understood the decision. They've had conversations with John Lynch as well, so they understood what was taking place."
On if the coaches were simply told this was taking place or if they were involved in the decision: "As I think I said in one of the earlier briefings, we involve our personnel department and our coaching staff in the evaluations of anyone, whether we're looking at a punter or evaluating the current players on our team. Those discussions have been ongoing since the day I came here. We had a personnel meeting that evening after our press conference to discuss the players on this team and what needed to be upgraded from a talent standpoint."
On if the decision was unanimous: "We don't live in that type of society in football. It doesn't have to be unanimous. But it was a decision that everyone understands what we're doing and we're looking forward to it. It's a great challenge to get other people to play up to the level of the play of a John Lynch. That's what we're about. That's why there's a draft. That's why you look for young players to come here and develop them to be superstars."
On if he is saying today that Jermaine Phillips is a starter: "Yes, since we have two safeties on the team, I would say that's it."
On Rogers Beckett: "We did visit with him. No, we have not signed him."
On if the Lynch decision was part of the game plan at the start of free agency: "Evaluating our team properly and what we needed to do to improve our team happened before (the start of free agency) and yes, this has been a subject that needed to be addressed. Right now we're doing it in the best way and hopefully John and his family are going to work out some terrific arrangement somewhere else."
On Warren Sapp: "It frees up money to sign any number of players."
On if Sapp is one of those: "Warren's a free agent still, I hear."
On if the Bucs are interested in Sapp: "You can't be uninterested in people who play at his level."
On if Allen is worried about repercussions within the team: "No."
On if he has talked to any of the players: "Yes."
On Dwight Smith: "Right now, Dwight's looking at the free safety spot."
On why having Lynch competing in training camp would hurt the team, if he wanted to be here: "That was part of the discussion the other night, and I'm going to have to use client privilege on it. We discussed that with John, and what would be the situation if one thing occurred versus another. We felt it was best where he could develop a new relationship with a team right now. John has earned the right to make that decision, and I'll leave it at that."
On it being Lynch's choice to remain in Tampa: "It's his choice right now to look for other teams. We agreed on that, that that would be the best way to handle it at this time."
On if Lynch is 'holding on too long': "No. I've seen players who have been released who have actually been rejuvenated when they go to a new team. Ronnie Lott went from the 49ers to the Raiders and became a Pro Bowler again. We had Rod Woodson in the safety position (in Oakland) and he became a Pro Bowler once he got to a new team after being released from Baltimore. (That's) two Hall of Fame players, as well. No, that's for him to determine. He has a great amount of pride about the level of play that he feels he must perform at in order to keep playing. He said that's his goal, to stay at that level. If he feels he's slipping from it, he said he wouldn't play anymore."
On how quickly he would like to see this resolved: "That's his timetable. It's up to him."
On if he would like to see the situation changed to avoid situations like this: "It is something that's been discussed. We've made proposals before that players who have been with a team a consecutive six or more years, that there would be some type of salary-cap break that you would get."
On if he's in favor of that: "Yes, I'm in favor of players staying with their teams. I think it's good. However, when you talk about some of those players that we've mentioned before, those before the salary cap era – John Unitas left and he wasn't in a salary cap era. And Joe Willie (Namath) playing for the Rams, and Deacon Jones playing for the Redskins. It's always been part of the game where teams have thought it's time to move forward. Sometimes the player wants to move in a different direction and keep playing. That's the nature of the business, and it's not going to change whether we have a salary cap exemption or not."