S John Howell, a sure tackler and accomplished special teamer, was a restricted free agent before re-signing Thursday
At Ole Miss, Doug Zeigler played with the talented son of a former NFL passing great. Now, in Tampa, Ziegler has the opportunity to mingle with two more famous quarterbacking bloodlines.
On Thursday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced the signing of Zeigler, the former University of Mississippi tight end who sat out the 2003 NFL season while recovering from a leg injury. The Bucs also announced the re-signing of fourth-year safety John Howell, a restricted free agent. As is team policy, terms were not disclosed for either deal.
Zeigler's junior and senior seasons with the Rebels (2001-02) coincided with the first two starting seasons of quarterback Eli Manning, son of former NFL star Archie Manning and younger brother of Indianapolis Colts all-star Peyton Manning. With the Bucs, Zeigler will catch passes from Chris Simms, son of former New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms, and Brian Griese, son of former Miami Dolphins quarterback Bob Griese.
Zeigler (6-4, 257) also worked under the tutelage of new Bucs Tight Ends Coach Ron Middleton, who served in the same capacity at Ole Miss from 1999-2001. Under Middleton, Zeigler developed into one of the nation's better pass-catching tight ends. He was a preseason All-America choice as a senior in 2002 but his collegiate career came to a premature end when he suffered a fractured left leg in the season's fourth game. In his four-year career with the Rebels, Zeigler caught 48 passes for 612 yards and five touchdowns.
The 24-year-old Zeigler hails from Wilmington, Ohio, where he was a standout quarterback and free safety.
Howell, a fourth-round draft pick in 2001, has enjoyed three fine seasons in Tampa as a reserve safety and special teamer. Though he missed eight of the last nine games in 2003 due to a hamstring sprain, and another two contests due to injury as a rookie, Howell has recorded 46 tackles and three passes defensed, plus 31 stops and a fumble recovery on special teams.
Howell played eight games last year, contributing three tackles, a pass defensed and seven kick-coverage stops. He started one game each in 2001 and 2002, the former at free safety and the latter at strong safety. Howell provided one of the enduring highlights from the Bucs' championship season in 2002 when he made a diving solo tackle of Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick on a designed scramble, just minutes after replacing injured strong safety John Lynch.
A two-year starter at Colorado State, Howell registered career collegiate marks of 233 tackles, nine sacks and three interceptions. He hails from Mullen, Nebraska.
Howell became a restricted free agent on March 3, meaning he could negotiate with other teams but the Bucs would retain a right-of-first-refusal on any offers, as well as a right to draft-pick compensation if he signed elsewhere. Three other Buccaneers were scheduled to become restricted free agents in 2004, but defensive end Ellis Wyms re-signed with the team prior ot the beginning of the free agency period. Fullback Jameel Cook and defensive tackle Chartric Darby received qualifying offers from the Bucs and will likely join Howell shortly. Most restricted free agents around the NFL eventually re-sign with their original teams.