FB Jameel Cook, an accomplished pass-catcher out of the backfield, started in 2003 after Mike Alstott's injury
Check another item off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' spring to-do list.
With Monday's announcement that fullback Jameel Cook and defensive tackle Chartric Darby have been re-signed, the Bucs have now retained all of their 2004 restricted free agents. Terms of Cook and Darby's contracts were not disclosed.
Monday's news follows the announcement of a new contract for safety John Howell last week. Those three players were the only Bucs to become restricted free agents in early March. A fourth player who was due to attain that status, defensive lineman Ellis Wyms, preempted the process by agreeing to a long-term contract with the team before the opening of free agency.
Of course, it is not unusual for an NFL team to re-sign all of its restricted free agents. As long as a player in this category is extended a qualifying offer, his original team retains a right-of-first refusal on any contract offers from other teams and is in line to receive draft-pick compensation if that player leaves. Many restricted free agents re-sign with their original team for one season simply by agreeing to that original qualifying offer.
Still, the Bucs have finished this task sooner than in previous seasons. Last year, the last restricted free agent (WR Charles Lee) re-signed with Tampa Bay on May 22. The year before, the final re-signing in this category (S Dexter Jackson) was on April 26. In 2001, the last restricted free agent signing (DT James Cannida) came on April 25.
Cook and Darby both played extensively in 2003 and could have large roles in 2004. After Pro Bowl fullback Mike Alstott landed on injured reserve on October 7, Cook inherited the starting role and eventually played in 14 games with eight starts. He contributed 20 receptions for 120 yards and one touchdown and provided lead blocking for a running attack that averaged 111 yards per game over the last seven weeks.
In three seasons with the Buccaneers, Cook has played in 44 games with 12 starts and caught 41 passes for 252 yards and one score. He has carried the ball three times for one yard.
With the departure of Warren Sapp, Darby is one of the players who will fight for a starting defensive tackle job alongside Anthony McFarland. Darby started one game last season, playing nose tackle against Houston on December 14 when McFarland slid over to the under tackle spot to replace an injured Sapp. Darby, known for surprising strength that belies his 6-0, 270-pound frame, contributed four tackles and one of his two sacks of 2003 in that game. In all, he appeared in all 16 games in 2003 and made 13 tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.
Darby also started six games and all three playoff contests at nose tackle in 2002 when McFarland was hurt. In 45 regular season games and seven starts as a Buccaneer, he has recorded 53 tackles, 5.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
Cook, Howell and Wyms comprise one-third of the Bucs' draft class of 2001. Howell was selected in the fourth round while both Cook and Wyms were chosen in the sixth round. First-round pick Kenyatta Walker and third-round pick Dwight Smith have not yet become free agents, and the four other selected players – fifth-rounder Russ Hochstein and seventh-rounders Dauntae` Finger, Than Merrill and Joe Tafoya – are no longer with the team.
Darby first joined the Bucs as a free agent in the summer of 2000 after a fine year for the Barcelona Dragons of the NFL Europe League. He spent that first season on the Bucs' practice squad, but made the active roster in 2001 and has seen increased playing time each year since.