DE Kevin Carter impacted the team beyond his stats in 2007
Vacation days. Green lights. Home-cooked meals.
With some things, you can never get enough. Just ask any NFL general manager when he's putting together his team's roster during the offseason.
Pure talent, skill and speed are always highly coveted, of course, but there are other traits that coaches and general managers love to stockpile. Though it may sound cliché, you can add veteran leadership to that list and you won't get any argument. At least not from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' management.
Imported by the Bucs last offseason, well-heeled defensive end Kevin Carter arrived with a remarkable NFL resume, highlighted by almost 100 career sacks. More important to the Buccaneers, Carter possessed some of the qualities you just can't measure with a stopwatch or a bench press session.
A remarkably durable 13-year veteran and two-time Pro Bowler who has posted double-digit sack totals four times in his career, Carter brought his blend of knowledge, passion and leadership to his fourth NFL team when he signed in March.
A period of inflexibility under the salary cap had marked the Bucs' recent forays into the free agent market, making it difficult to target premier players. But with some increased cap space in 2007 and the ever-present emphasis on adding players of good character, the Bucs were proud to add Carter to their club.
"It's hard, if you don't have draft choices and you don't have a salary cap position to allow you to get free agents," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "We targeted some guys in free agency that we knew were going to bolster the locker room and the performance on the field. You don't come across Luke Petitgouts and Kevin Carters and Jeff Garcias and Cato June kind of guys every day.
"The guys that we've been able to draft the last couple of years – the [Jeremy] Truebloods, the Arron Sears, the [Davin] Josephs, the Carnell Williams – have a high degree of not only football character but individual character. That's something you've got to acquire, just like you're trying to acquire a great quarterback or a great running back or whatever. We feel good about the guys we've brought in here."
In his first season as a Buccaneer, Carter posted 73 tackles, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, a pass defensed and three sacks that pushed his career total over the 100-sack plateau. But as he looked back on the season, Carter was more pleased with the additions he felt he made in the locker room, echoing some of the sentiments his head coach had mentioned earlier in the year.
"As I've gotten older, [leadership] is definitely been something that I hang my hat on, as far as achievements," Carter said. "When you talk about Pro Bowls or lofty achievements or whatever, I put the leadership that I was able to bring to this team in a short amount of time, I put it right up there. I really enjoyed it, and it just speaks a lot about Coach to be able to go out and get certain people to make a team complete, not only for playing ability, but also for their intangibles, the ability to lead and help the team come together."
Although usually seen flashing a smile every bit as large as his 6-6, 305-pound frame, Carter did express a hint of remorse as he cleared out his locker after the team's first-round loss to the Super Bowl-bound New York Giants, especially considering the strides the team had made as a group.
"It leaves bitterness because of what we could've done, what we could've accomplished," Carter said. "For whatever reason, we couldn't get it done, and that hurts. You come so close to advancing, and you've come so far over a season, finding common ground and chemistry among guys, coming that far and winning the division with two games left and to be knocked out of the first round, it's heartbreaking, especially for the amount of work that we put in and the chemistry that we found in a short span of time."
But even after a disappointing end to a 13th year in the league, Carter isn't ready to hang up his cleats just yet. Along with the wealth of knowledge he's gained over the years about sacking quarterbacks, Carter has also learned a thing or two about keeping fit and motivated over the offseason. For proof, simply consider the fact that he has a string of 208 consecutive games played dating back to his first game as a rookie in 1995, and that he has started 203 of those games.
"You relax for a little while, get away from football, get your mind on your family, try to get things in order that you've neglected over four to six months," Carter said. "I know that I'm in that category because I've got a list of honey-do's from my wife. But I think more than anything it's important to get away and reflect, but also to make a plan for what you want to do in the future.
"For a lot of these guys, the transition is one of those things that either helps you or hurts you. You can transition properly and get your mind right, get your schedule together as far as when you're going to start training, that kind of thing. It helps your agenda for the year. I've done it for so long, it's kind of a no-brainer to me. I know my own schedule, but it will be key for us to see what we can build here."
Talk of building for the future might sound odd coming from the mouth of a 34-year old veteran, but Carter seemed genuinely excited about what might lie ahead for his team.
"[What we accomplished this year] gives you a better starting point," Carter said. "You have to start momentum or a streak with your first win. I think last year when this team sat in the team meeting room and they talked, they were 4-12. Getting to this point, I think it takes a certain amount of work ethic and belief to get to where we are now. Now, starting from where we are at this point, how much better should we be next year? That's the way you have to look at it."
And Carter certainly is looking ahead to next year. His response when asked if he still possessed the same fire and drive to come back for a 14th season?
"If they'll let me play, I'll play."