TE Jerramy Stevens was second on the team last year with four touchdown receptions
Jerramy Stevens came on strong for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the end of the 2007 season. Now he'll have a chance to build on that finish in 2008.
On Friday, the Buccaneers announced that they have re-signed Stevens, a seventh-year tight end who had been an unrestricted free agent since February 29. To make room for Stevens on the 80-man offseason roster, the team released quarterback Bruce Gradkowski.
Stevens first signed with the Buccaneers in April of 2007 after spending his first five seasons with the Seattle Seahawks. Though his reps in the offense were infrequent during the first half of the 2007 campaign, he became a more prominent weapon in the last month of the season. Of his 18 catches, 10 came in his last four games played, including four each in the season-capping contests against San Francisco and Carolina. He also scored all four of his touchdowns during that span, including the game-winning TD in the Bucs' come-from-behind victory at New Orleans in Week 13.
Only Joey Galloway, with six, caught more touchdown passes for the Buccaneers than Stevens last season.
The 6-7, 260-pound Stevens has impressive agility for his size and has always been considered a dangerous pass-catcher. He was a first-round draft pick (28th overall) for Seattle in 2002, and in five seasons with the Seahawks he snared 130 passes for 1,458 yards and 15 touchdowns. He added 19 catches for 215 yards and four scores in seven playoff games from 2003-06.
Stevens established most of his career highs during the 2005 season that culminated in the Seahawks' trip to Super Bowl XL, including starts (11), receptions (45), yards (554) and touchdowns (five). During the Seahawks' three-game run to the Super Bowl, he added 11 receptions for 104 yards and two more scores.
Friday's moves added even more talent to the Bucs' tight end corps, which was clearly an area of focus this offseason. Earlier in free agency, Tampa Bay signed John Gilmore, known as one of the league's better blocking tight ends, and Ben Troupe, a fifth-year player who turned in a 55-catch season as recently as 2005. The Bucs also return starter Alex Smith, who has 76 receptions in his first two NFL seasons.
The moves also thinned the crowd at quarterback, where the Buccaneers had six players under contract (not counting Jake Plummer, for whom the team still owns contract rights). After releasing Gradkowski, the Bucs now have a field of five, including 2007 starter Jeff Garcia as well as Brian Griese, Luke McCown, Chris Simms and 2008 draftee Josh Johnson. Last year, the Buccaneers took four quarterbacks to training camp.
Gradkowski played two seasons for the Buccaneers and was the team's primary starter as a rookie in 2006. He opened 11 games during his first NFL season after injuries to Simms and McCown but appeared in just four contests in reserve action last fall. In 17 games (11 starts), Gradkowski completed 190 of 352 passes (54.0%) for 1,791 yards, nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also ran 48 times for 181 yards.