Barrett Ruud racked up 205 tackles for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2009, just nine shy of the team record set by Hardy Nickerson in 1993. Perhaps Ruud can catch Nickerson's mark in 2010.
The Buccaneers' sixth-year linebacker will have that opportunity after re-signing with the team on Wednesday, one day before the 2010 NFL Draft. Ruud did so by signing the one-year tender offer the team extended to him as a restricted free agent in March.
Tampa Bay actually ticked two players off their to-do list on Wednesday, also re-signing exclusive rights free agent cornerback Elbert Mack.
Ruud (6-2, 241) has been one of the Buccaneers' most productive defenders since stepping into the starting lineup in 2007, his third season in the league. He had served primarily as a special teamer and a backup to accomplished middle linebacker Shelton Quarles in 2005 and 2006, but has since continued the Bucs' proud history at that position. Both Nickerson and Quarles earned Pro Bowl berths during their tenures as starting MLB's for the Buccaneers, and many feel Ruud, a second-round pick in the 2005 draft, has played on that level over the last three seasons, as well.
Ruud actually started five games in 2006 due to injuries to Quarles, pitching in with 59 tackles. Over the past three campaigns, the former Nebraska star has averaged roughly 184 tackles, two interceptions, one sack and six passes defensed per season. He has been the team's leading tackler in each of the last three seasons and, with his sideline-to-sideline range, is seen as a perfect fit in the Cover Two scheme that makes up a good percentage of what the Buccaneers employ on defense.
Ruud and the more than 200 restricted free agents around the NFL had until last week to negotiate with other teams on potential contracts, with their original teams holding rights-of-first-refusal. After last Wednesday's deadline, those RFAs were free to negotiate only with their original teams. The vast majority of those players already have or soon will re-sign by accepting their one-year tender offers.
Unsigned RFAs can work out with their original teams and are protected from injury by signing waivers. Ruud has been a part of the Buccaneers' offseason program since its beginning in March and plans to participate fully in every step of the process. The Buccaneers will begin their organized team activity days (OTAs) in May after the arrival of most of the players they will draft this week.
"Practicing football is pretty much going to be better than most things you're going to be doing otherwise," he said. "And I've always been a workout guy. I don't like getting out of shape for very long. I take about three or four weeks off and then start right back at it. I've always been a workout guy but you can't substitute football practices for working out. You're still a football player, not a professional fitness guru."
As an exclusive rights free agent (an unsigned player with fewer than three accrued seasons in the NFL), Mack could negotiate only with the Buccaneers after receiving his tender offer. He will return for a third season in Tampa after an impressive rise from undrafted free agent to a frequent choice to play nickel back behind cornerback starters Ronde Barber and Aqib Talib.
In two seasons, Mack has played in 30 games with three starts and contributed 32 tackles, three interceptions and five passes defensed. He has also been a standout on special teams, recording 19 kick-coverage tackles over the past two years.