RB Earnest Graham has managed to expand his role on the team every year since 2003
Amid the whorl of activity aimed at getting all of their 2006 draft picks into training camp on time, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took care of another bit of contractual housekeeping on Wednesday.
Running back Earnest Graham, an exclusive rights free agent since March, officially re-signed with the team on the eve of training camp, making it possible for him to report on time.
If the timing of Graham's re-signing seems dramatic – like the rookies striking their first deals in the 11th hour before camp – it's purely coincidental. Graham accepted the tender offer the team used to retain his exclusive rights, as most free agents in his category do, a piece of housekeeping that could have happened at almost any time in the offseason.
In fact, though he didn't officially count against the team's 80-man roster limit while he was unsigned, the team chose to count him as if he was already re-signed. Of course, that also means that the Bucs didn't have to concurrently release someone on Wednesday in order to make room for Graham on the roster.
Graham's signature on his deal does close the book on the Bucs' own free agents, the players from the 2005 division-championship team who hit the open market, in one form or another, on March 11. The Bucs managed to re-sign the great majority of those free agents: unrestricted free agents Mike Alstott, Matt Bryant, Torrie Cox, Ike Hilliard, Chris Hovan, Dave Moore and Kenyatta Walker; restricted free agent Sean Mahan; and exclusive rights free agents Graham, Anthony Davis, Edell Shepherd and Jeb Terry. Chris Simms and Juran Bolden re-signed just before they could have become free agents, while Jameel Cook, Dexter Jackson, Will Heller and Todd Steussie departed for new teams.
Graham, originally signed by the Bucs as an undrafted free agent in 2003, returns for his fourth season with the team hoping to once again expand his role. After missing most of his rookie season with a shoulder injury, Graham earned a roster spot with a strong camp in 2004 and eventually appeared in nine games. After rushing for 73 yards on 13 carries in '04, Graham once again found a spot in the Bucs' running back stable in 2005 and played in all 16 games with 28 carries for 83 yards. He also took on more special teams duties last year, finishing the season with 18 kick-coverage tackles.
The Bucs also announced another unrelated roster move, as wide receiver Jonathan Carter has been released.
Carter was signed by the Buccaneers in January after four previous seasons split between the Giants and Jets in New York. Tampa Bay allocated him to the NFL Europe League for the 2006 season, but Carter never made it overseas thanks to an injury suffered in the league's stateside joint training camp. He went instead to the NFLEL's facility in Birmingham to recover from his injury.
The Buccaneers were allowed to use Carter's roster exemption on another player from the NFL Europe League who was not already affiliated with an NFL team, with the proviso that, eventually, that exemption would have to be assumed by only one of the two players. Tampa Bay signed defensive end/long-snapper Jordan Hicks in June. When Carter returned to full health, the Bucs chose to leave the exemption with Hicks and released Carter.