Mark Royals had one of the best seasons by a punter in Buc history in 1999
Late Friday afternoon, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced that they had re-signed 12th-year P Mark Royals, 34, to a three-year contract. It was a fitting end to a week that saw the Buccaneers' offseason plans continue to fall into place.
Roughly three weeks ago, as a busy Buccaneer offseason sped from February into March, Tampa Bay finished a string of three straight press conferences. T Jason Odom was re-signed one day, G Randall McDaniel joined the team on the following afternoon, and QB Eric Zeier was brought back a day later. The Buccaneer brass was understandably pleased at all the activity, but as Zeier's press conference wound down, Head Coach Tony Dungy added one aside to a small knot of reporters.
"Now, if we can just get Dave Moore and Mark Royals re-signed, we'll be in good shape," said Dungy that day, March 1.
Color Dungy happy. With Royals' signing on Friday following Moore's re-signing by just four days, the Bucs have managed to cross off many of the lines on their offseason to-do list. General Manager Rich McKay echoed Dungy's sentiments upon Royals' signing.
"Re-signing Mark was one of our priorities during the free agent period," said McKay. "Last season, Mark had an extremely productive year while providing outstanding veteran leadership on special teams."
Indeed, Royals turned in one of the finest seasons by a punter in franchise history. The seasoned, 6-foot-5, 215-pound veteran established a new Buccaneer record with a 43.1-yard gross average on 90 punts and just missed Tommy Barnhardt's 1996 net average record of 37.8 yards by compiling a 37.4-yard mark. Those totals were good for third in the NFC in gross average and second in net average, and he also pinned 23 punts inside the 20 against just eight touchbacks.
Signed just before training camp after being released by the Saints, Royals was a model of consistency for Tampa Bay in 1999. His gross average dipped below 40 in just one game, to 39.9 at Seattle, and his net average never fell below 33.3. He was not blocked and he completed a 17-yard pass attempt to S Damien Robinson for a first down on a fake punt in Tampa Bay's December victory over Green Bay.
Royals also served as the holder for all of rookie K Martin Gramatica's placekicks, helping the third-round phenom put together an all-rookie campaign. Royals and the 5-foot-8, 24-year-old Gramatica made an unusual locker room pair, but they combined to give Tampa Bay one of the league's most effective kicking games in 1999.
Royals has played for six teams in his NFL career, with his first full seasons coming as a Buccaneer in 1990 and 1991. As a member of the New Orleans Saints, he led the conference in gross punting average in both 1997 and 1998.
In other words, Royals has been at the top of his game and among the conference's leading punters for several years in a row, and has shown no signs of slowing down. The same can be said of the Buccaneers, who have attacked this 2000 NFL offseason with an aggressiveness their fans have rarely seen before. That has meant good news for the team's fans, and for its head coach as well.