Fourth-year back Rabih Abdullah has proven valuable as both a reserve for Warrick Dunn and a special teams player
Running back Rabih Abdullah signed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' one-year tender offer on Tuesday, leaving cornerback Brian Kelly as the team's only remaining restricted free agent. Reports indicate that Kelly may follow suit shortly.
As a restricted free agent, Abdullah was extended a tender offer before the free agency period began in March, guaranteeing the Bucs the right to match any offer he might receive from another team. When Abdullah did not sign with a team before April 17, all negotiating rights reverted to the Buccaneers.
At that point, Abdullah had two main options: accept the tender offer and potentially become an unrestricted free agent next spring or attempt to work out a longer term deal. The vast majority of restricted free agents simply sign the tender offer, as Abdullah did. Before him, defensive tackle James Cannida, linebacker Jamie Duncan and center/guard Todd Washington made basically the same decision.
Of course, the Buccaneers are pleased to have Abdullah back, as he remains a valuable reserve behind Pro Bowl running back Warrick Dunn. Last season, Abdullah saw the most extensive action of his three-year career, toting the ball 16 times for 70 yards, an average of 4.4 yards per carry. He also caught two passes for 14 yards.
Perhaps even more significantly, Abdullah began to emerge as one of the team's more productive special team players last year, as evidenced by his 16 kick-coverage tackles, good for fourth on the team. The three players above Abdullah on the special teams tackle chart were linebacker Jeff Gooch, who is recovering from shoulder surgery and was briefly traded to St. Louis (the trade was rescinded when Gooch failed his physical), linebacker Don Davis, who signed as a free agent with the Rams, and safety Dexter Jackson, who is taking over the starting free safety spot this season.
Abdullah also had exactly 16 special teams tackles in 1999, as well. After sitting on the inactive list for every game of his rookie season, Abdullah has found his way onto the field for 27 of the 32 regular-season games since thanks to his value on kickoff coverage and return units. This season, he may further increase his value by trying his hand at fullback, a position he has been working hard to learn this spring during voluntary workouts.
Though he didn't play as a rookie, the season was still a major accomplishment for Abdullah, who made the 53-man roster as an undrafted free agent out of obscure Lehigh. He is the first Lehigh product ever to play for the Buccaneers. This spring, the Bucs signed 19 college free agents in the week after the draft. Should they choose to, such small-school additions as Carson-Newman linebacker Marq Cerqua, Florida A&M wide receiver Jacquay Nunnally and Arkansas State wide receiver Robert Kilow could look to Abdullah as inspiration for their own roster hopes.
Another undrafted free agent, defensive tackle Matt Sweeney, is making a name for himself in the NFL Europe League this spring.
On Tuesday, Sweeney, who signed with the Buccaneers following the 2000 season and was then allocated to the NFLEL's Amsterdam Admirals, was named the league's defensive player of the week.
Sweeney scored on a 35-yard fumble return with 1:36 remaining in the game to seal a 28-14 win over the Frankfurt Galaxy. Sweeney also claimed a sack of Galaxy quarterback Michael Bishop for a 17-yard loss and posted 2 tackles.
Sweeney was a standout DT at the University of Miami but he did not sign with an NFL team after the draft in 2000. The Bucs brought Sweeney aboard on January 3.
Reidel Anthony's 15 receptions last season were a career-low for the fifth-year player, but he certainly made the most of them.
Among his 15 catches were four touchdowns, second on the team in that category to Keyshawn Johnson's eight. Anthony also averaged an outstanding 15.5 yards per reception.
However, the biggest moment of Anthony's season occurred not in the end zone but at the one-yard line. It was his 22-yard reception at the one-minute mark against St. Louis on December 18 that set up Warrick Dunn's game-winning touchdown dive.
Trailing 35-31 and facing a second-and-10 at the Rams' 23-yard line, QB Shaun King fired a pass on the right sideline toward Anthony, who was well covered by CB Jacoby Shepherd. Still running downfield, Anthony spun nearly 270 degrees to the right to make an acrobatic catch just before he fell out of bounds. Dunn scored two plays later to give the Bucs a 38-35 win.