Marcus Jones wanted to stay with his teammates in Tampa and the Bucs didn't want to let him go
On Wednesday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers revealed that they had re-signed the NFC's fourth-leading sack artist to a seven-year contract extension. They did it without a staged press conference, a prepared speech or even a podium.
That's the way defensive end Marcus Jones, now perhaps a Buccaneer for life, wanted it.
Jones, the breakthrough star on Tampa Bay's unstoppable defensive line, has signed a seven-year contract extension to remain in Tampa Bay. Terms of the contract, as usual, were not disclosed by the team. Jones was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2000 season and could have sought a new, lucrative deal with any team in the National Football League.
Instead, Jones will remain with the team that has seen him develop from a player who had a total of 32 tackles and one sack in his first three NFL seasons into one of the league's most feared pass rushers. Jones currently has 10 sacks and is on pace for 16, which would establish a new Buccaneer single-season record (teammate Warren Sapp is also on pace for 18 sacks this season).
"I always wanted to be a part of this team," said Jones. "I could never see myself going any place else. I'm just happy that we had an opportunity to get this done and get it out of the way, because I'm not too keen on the business side of football. That's why I hired an agent. We just went in there and got it done. Now I'll have the opportunity to be a Buccaneer for the rest of my career, hopefully.
Jones has found true happiness in the Bay area since moving from tackle to right defensive end before the 1999 season. He is now part of a fearsome front four that needs just three more sacks to break the team's single-season record. Jones felt he had numerous reasons to pursue an extension that would keep him with the Buccaneers.
"It was a combination of everything," he said. "I like the system because, if you're a player and you can rush, you have an opportunity to do that and shine. I love the people. These guys, I matured with. I came out here five years ago, and we went from ground zero and worked our way up to being the defense we are today. It's a lot of things taken into consideration. I love Tampa. I know it sounds funny, but I enjoy the coaching staff here. They really want to win and they don't care who you are. If you're good, they'll let you play. If you aren't, they won't.
"They had a little confidence in me to keep me around as long as they did. A couple of years ago, I would have cut myself."
General Manager Rich McKay, who in recent years has presided over a successful push to keep the team's star players within the organization, did not fully expect to have Jones re-signed before the offseason. When Pro Bowl S John Lynch agreed to a six-year extension of his own in September, McKay figured the signings were finished until the 2000 season was over. McKay also agreed with Jones' feelings about downplaying the deal.
"You don't like to talk about them a lot, and that's why we haven't, because you're focused on the season, focused on the Bears," said McKay. "It was something that I didn't expect we would get done, but we did, so we're happy about it."
So how did the Bucs and Jones come to this agreement while the team was in the middle of a crucial point in the season?
"One, it was a deal where both sides were very motivated," explained McKay. "Two, it was the nature of the position and the ability to find that position. It's very, very difficult. You have to make choices, and you're never quite sure how those choices are going to work out.
"These deals seem to be getting harder and harder to do during the season, but this one just kind of had a life of it's own. As I say, there was motivation coming from the other direction also to get it done. But I would have thought this would happen after the season."
Head Coach Tony Dungy, who steadfastly believes in building a team from within, was pleased with the development.
"That's something we're excited about," said Dungy. "I think Marcus has worked very hard since he's been here, overcome a little adversity. He's kind of the success story that you like, a guy that develops and is playing real well.
"I know Marcus kind of wants to keep this low key, but we're definitely excited."
Jones joins a long list of core players who have, at one point or another during the last five years, chosen to sign contract extensions rather than test the free agent waters. That list includes, but is not limited to, Lynch, DT Warren Sapp, LB Derrick Brooks, FB Mike Alstott and CB Donnie Abraham.
"Continuity's important," said Dungy. "You get the same guys in, working together, in the same system…that's how you get better. The more you can keep your players, generally the better off you're going to be."
Despite another prominent player signed to an extension, McKay believes the Buccaneers can continue to pursue this policy of keeping the team's core intact.
"We really feel like we're still in a position to do some more things, some more players, if you will, early next year," he said. "Cap-wise, we'll be tight, but we pretty much planned for '01 and what we could fit, and we still think we can fit a couple more players in. Maybe we can't, based on what those contracts will be, but we're pretty confident we can."