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Clayton Stays in Pewter and Red

WR Michael Clayton, the hard-nosed receiver who re-emerged as an important part of the Buccaneers' passing attack in 2008, is the first of the team's own unrestricted free agents to re-sign after the start of free agency on Friday


WR Michael Clayton had a 58-yard touchdown catch in the Bucs' season finale against Oakland in 2008

He produced the greatest rookie receiving season in franchise history, and now he may be around long enough to rank as one of the top career pass-catchers in Tampa Bay Buccaneers annals.

Clayton, already 14th and 11th, respectively on the Buccaneers' all-time receptions and receiving yards charts, signed a long-term deal to remain with the team on Sunday. Clayton has played for only one NFL team; he was Tampa Bay's first-round draft pick in 2004.

That was a magical first season for Clayton, who produced the fifth most prolific debut receiving season in NFL history with his 80 catches for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns. Injuries and the occasional role reduction have kept Clayton from matching that output in the last four seasons, but his 38 grabs for 484 yards last fall were his high-water mark since that '04 campaign. He finished the season strong, too, with two catches for 87 yards against the Oakland Raiders in Week 17, including a 58-yard touchdown.

Clayton actually became an unrestricted free agent on Friday and thus could have signed with any team in the league. His decision to remain in Tampa likely indicates that he believes he can be productive in the new offense being installed by first-year Head Coach Raheem Morris and incoming offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski.

Of course, Clayton often finds ways to help the offense without filling up his own stat line. He is known as one of the best blocking receivers in the game, and his willingness to put his whole body into every play has been a trademark since that standout rookie campaign. The Buccaneers' desire to keep Clayton in pewter and red signals an appreciation for that dedication to the team's success.

In 71 career NFL games and 45 starts, Clayton has racked up 205 catches for 2,706 yards and nine touchdowns. He needs just 35 receptions and 39 yards to move into the team's top 10 in both career categories.

Last year, Clayton began the year as a reserve, behind Joey Galloway at split end and Antonio Bryant at flanker. After an injury to Galloway and Bryant's subsequent move to split end, Clayton moved into the starting role at flanker in Week Four and eventually opened nine games at that spot.

After his breakout rookie season, Clayton missed time due to injuries in each of the next two years and produced 32 and 33 catch seasons. His role diminished in 2007 with both Galloway and Ike Hilliard enjoying strong campaigns, but he re-emerged as a significant part of the passing attack in 2008.

Clayton was the 15th overall pick in a receiver-heavy first round in 2004 (he was the fifth wideout taken). At LSU, he helped the Tigers win two SEC championships and a share of the national title in 2003. He is the school's all-time leader in receiving touchdowns (21) and he finished his career with 182 receptions for 2,582 yards.

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