RB Charlie Garner has averaged 4.6 yards per carry during his 10-year NFL career
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have tapped into their cross-country pipeline of talent again, this time for an electrifying player at a position of serious need.
On Tuesday, the Buccaneers continued their free agency shopping spree with perhaps their highest-profile acquisition yet, that of former Oakland Raiders running back Charlie Garner. Terms of Garner's contract were not released by the Bucs, as is team policy, but the deal comes just six days into the NFL's 2004 free agency period.
The Buccaneers will introduce Garner at a press conference at 2:15 p.m. ET. That press conference will be carried live on Buccaneers.com.
After snapping up a San Francisco cap casualty in offensive lineman Derrick Deese last week, then plucking free agent lineman Matt Stinchcomb off the Raiders, the Bucs plundered the Bay area again for Garner, a former Pro Bowler with two 1,000-yard seasons and more than 400 career receptions under his belt.
Since becoming a full-time starter with the 49ers in 1999, Garner has emerged as one of the league's premier multi-purpose threats out of the backfield. Over the past five seasons, he has averaged nearly 100 yards of total offense per game (7,812 yards in 78 games) and scored 34 touchdowns. Overall, he has played in 144 games with 86 starts, rushing for 6,986 yards and 39 touchdowns and catching 410 receptions for 3,649 yards and 12 touchdowns.
The Buccaneers are Garner's fourth team. He began his career in Philadelphia in 1994 and played five seasons for the Eagles before joining the San Francisco 49ers. There, Garner had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 1999 and 2000 before moving across the bay to the Raiders.
Heading into his 11th season, Garner has an outstanding career average of 4.6 yards per carry but has always been known as a dual threat thanks to his receiving skills. Over the 2001 and 2002 seasons, both playoff campaigns for the Raiders, Garner had 4,970 combined rushing and receiving yards, a total topped during that span by only Marshall Faulk and Edgerrin James.
Garner is the sixth free agent signed or re-signed by the Buccaneers in six days of the open market. He follows Stinchcomb and Deese plus tight end Dave Moore (Buffalo), fullback Greg Comella (Houston) and tight end Rickey Dudley (re-signed). All were either scheduled unrestricted free agents or in that category after being released by their previous teams in salary-cap moves. Plus, there are indications that the Bucs are from finished in free agency.
Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden is familiar with Garner's talents and how to get the most out of them. Gruden and former Raiders senior assistant Bruce Allen, now the Bucs' general manager, brought Garner to Oakland in 2001 and plugged him immediately into the starting lineup. Garner contributed 1,417 combined yards and helped the Raiders advance to the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Gruden was also Garner's offensive coordinator in Philadelphia from 1995-97.
Gruden left for Tampa in 2002 but Garner remained with the Raiders and was a sparkplug in the NFL's number-one ranked offense. Garner had an enormous season, recording 1,903 combined yards, averaging 5.3 yards per carry and scoring 11 touchdowns. His rushing average, touchdowns, receptions (91) and receiving yards (941) all marked career highs, and he led all NFL backs in receiving. The Raiders advanced to Super Bowl XXXVII that season, losing to Gruden's Buccaneers.
Last season, knee and back injuries, plus a one-game Raiders suspension, limited Garner to 14 games and nine starts. Though he was limited to his lowest rushing (553 yards) and receiving (386 yards) totals in five years, Garner still averaged 4.6 yards per tote and scored four touchdowns.
Garner's signing addresses an offseason priority, as the Bucs' offensive backfield took an immediate hit in free agency. Tailback Thomas Jones, the starter for the last month of 2003, signed with Chicago an hour after becoming a free agent. In addition, fullback Mike Alstott, the team's second all-time leading rusher, is recovering from neck surgery, and reserve Aaron Stecker signed with New Orleans.
In his five seasons in Philadelphia, Garner rarely got a chance to start, opening just 17 games. Though he topped four yards per carry in four of those seasons and five yards per carry twice, he never received more than 116 handoffs or caught more than 24 passes.
Thus, Garner's single-season highs when he jumped to San Francisco as an unrestricted free agent in 1999 were 558 rushing yards, 225 receiving yards and four touchdowns. The 49ers made him a starter and he instantly rewarded them with a career-high 1,229 rushing yards (5.1 avg.), 56 receptions for 535 yards and six total touchdowns. Though his rushing total dropped slightly to 1,142 yards in 2000, he improved his receiving totals to 68 receptions for 647 yards and actually had a higher combined-yardage total than the year before (1,789 to 1,764). He also scored 10 more touchdowns for the Niners.
After his second outstanding season in San Francisco in 2000, he was elected to his first Pro Bowl.
Garner was originally a second-round pick of the Eagles in 1994. At the University of Tennessee, he led the Volunteers in rushing in each of his two seasons after transferring from Scottsdale (AZ) Community College. In 1990, he set junior college records with 430 rushing yards in one game and 765 rushing yards over two consecutive games.
Garner hails from Fairfax, Virginia.
Charlie Garner's Career Rushing Statistics
Charlie Garner's Career Receiving Statistics