TE Rickey Dudley has caught four touchdown passes in 19 regular-season games as a Buccaneer
For the third time in 18 months, veteran tight end Rickey Dudley has signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Dudley, who first joined the Buccaneers in September of 2002 and was a significant contributor in Tampa Bay's Super Bowl run that season, re-upped with the team on Friday, three days into the 2004 free agency period. Though the deal had been rumored for several days, it was not completed until Friday morning; as is team policy, details of the contract were not disclosed.
Dudley has been productive for the Buccaneers when healthy. Last year, he appeared to be on the verge of an even bigger role in Head Coach Jon Gruden's offense before he suffered a severe ankle sprain in the final preseason games. Dudley and the team eventually reached an injury settlement, prohibiting the tight end from re-signing with the Bucs until 10 weeks of the regular season had passed. He used the interim to return to health, then re-signed with the Buccaneers on November 11, appearing in the team's final seven games.
Dudley became an unrestricted free agent (UFA) on Wednesday, free to sign with any team. However, he quickly became the first of a dozen UFAs to re-sign with Tampa Bay. Big (6-6, 255), athletic and fast, Dudley is a good bet to remain productive in the Bucs' offense.
In 19 games and five starts as a Buccaneer, Dudley has hauled in 22 passes for 228 yards and four touchdowns. With top-notch speed for a tight end, he excels at exploiting the middle of the field vertically.
Dudley had crossed paths with Gruden previously, during the latter's first three seasons (1998-2000) as head coach of the Oakland Raiders. During those three campaigns, Dudley averaged 35 receptions for 485 yards and six touchdowns.
The former two-sport star at Ohio State (he averaged 13.3 points and 7.5 rebounds in three seasons on the Buckeyes' basketball team), Dudley joined the Raiders as a first-round draft pick in 1996. The ninth player selected overall, he jumped immediately into the Raiders' starting lineup and produced a 34-386-4 season. His follow-up campaign was even stronger, as he scored seven touchdowns and set career highs for receptions (48) and receiving yards (787). In all, Dudley played five seasons in Oakland and racked up 187 catches for 2,633 yards and 29 touchdowns.
The Cleveland Browns signed Dudley as an unrestricted free agent in 2001 but he lost most of that season to a foot sprain, catching just nine passes for 115 yards. After the Browns released Dudley on August 31, 2002, the Bucs signed him two weeks later and he went on to catch 15 passes for 186 yards and three touchdowns in 12 games. In Tampa Bay's divisional playoff victory over San Francisco, the win that launched the Bucs on their postseason run to the title, Dudley contributed a 12-yard touchdown catch.
No position on the Bucs' roster has seen more attention in the days just before and after the beginning of free agency than tight end. On Tuesday, the team released five players on the eve of free agency, including tight ends Ken Dilger and Roland Williams. On Wednesday, the first day of the opening market, the Bucs began their signing efforts with Buffalo Bills tight end Dave Moore, who played his first 10 seasons in Tampa. Dudley's signing followed two days later. In addition, reserve tight end Todd Yoder signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars on Friday.