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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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The Buccaneers got their draft-pick signing off to the perfect start on Thursday, taking care of first-rounder Michael Clayton more than a week before camp


Head Coach Jon Gruden congratulated WR Michael Clayton on his impending deal at a team function Wednesday night

First things first.

That, apparently, was the approach of Bruce Allen and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when it came time to get the team's 2004 draft class under contract. First-round picks generally present the only significant obstacle in rookie signings, but that won't be a problem for Allen and the Buccaneers this year.

One week before training camp and only a few days into negotiations, the Buccaneers and first-round draft pick Michael Clayton have reached contract agreement.

As always, the Buccaneers have declined to release contract terms. However, the most important detail is clear: Clayton will report to training camp on time and continue the on-field work that has so impressed the Bucs' coaching staff. It is likely that the rest of the Bucs' draft class will be under contract and in camp on time, as well.

The Bucs haven't endured a training-camp holdout by their top pick since the mid-'90s. Still, Clayton's early agreement is encouraging and perhaps symbolic of the young receiver's commitment. Compare his early signings to those of the Bucs' top pick in each of the previous five drafts: four inked their deals on the opening day of training camp and one signed on just three days before camp.

Tampa Bay management was certainly thrilled by the development. Though the contract work was not officially completed until Friday morning, Allen and Head Coach Jon Gruden were eager to spread the good news of an impending deal Wednesday night at a season kickoff party for the team's Pewter Partners. Clayton showed up at the gathering, as well, and thanked team owners for bringing him into the Buccaneer family.

The Buccaneers will hold an 11:00 a.m. press conference on Friday morning to discuss Clayton's signing. That press conference will be carried live on (look under the top story and in the Buccaneers Broadcast Network for a link, which will become active when the press conference begins).

The Buccaneers are one of the first teams to take care of their first-round business. As of 10:00 a.m. on Friday, only two other first-round picks around the NFL had also signed: New England DT Vince Wilfork and Houston LB Jason Babin. Wilfork and Babin were the 21st and 27th players drafted in April, respectively. Clayton is thus the highest-drafted pick already under contract.

Clayton was taken 15th overall, representing the highest pick the Buccaneers have ever used on a wide receiver. He was one of seven receivers selected in the first round of what many consider the deepest draft ever at the position.

Since Clayton became a Buccaneer, he has repeatedly impressed Gruden and the team's coaching staff with both his work ethic and his rapid absorption of the offense. At the end of the team's mandatory mini-camp in June, Gruden said that he was "impressed with every aspect" of his young receiver.

"He's a big, physical, tough guy with great hands, and he learns quick," said Gruden.

On draft weekend, the Bucs were impressed with Clayton's all-around game. At 6-3, 197, he has the size to be an outstanding blocker, and he is more than willing to use it. He also uses his big frame to catch passes in traffic, another duty he is more than willing to shoulder.

Considered a team leader at Louisiana State, Clayton helped the Tigers win a share of the 2003 National Championship, as well as a pair of SEC titles. In three seasons at LSU, he caught 182 passes for 2,582 yards and 21 touchdowns, breaking the school's career record for scoring catches. Clayton left LSU after his junior season but still finished second in team annals with his 182 catches, just one behind Wendell Davis' 182.

The Buccaneers have seven other draft picks to sign and are motivated to do so over the next eight days. The team opens training camp in Central Florida on Friday, July 30, and players who are not under contract are not permitted to report. There is no reason to expect significant delays in the rest of the rookie signings.

One thing is certain: The Bucs will not have to worry about a holdout by their first-rounder. They took care of that bit of business first.

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