Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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Setting the Line

With the re-signing of restricted free agent G Sean Mahan on Wednesday, the Bucs have succeeded in retaining all of the starters on their much-improved 2005 offensive line

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Sean Mahan started all 16 games at right guard in 2005 but proved in 2004 that he could also handle the center position

Fourth-year guard Sean Mahan visited One Buccaneer Place on Wednesday in order to put his signature on a new contract for 2006.

And with that, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' restricted free agency to-do list was complete. Mahan, a fifth-round draft pick in 2003 and a 16-game starter at right guard in 2005, was the only Buccaneer player to fall into the restricted free agent category when the new league season began on March 11, so it was one-stop shopping for the team.

As a result, a starting offensive line that remained together for all of the 2005 season is once again intact for 2006, though the team has also added some competition in free agent signees Toniu Fonoti and Torrin Tucker.

The Bucs had to re-sign 60% of that record-setting offensive line from last year. Tampa Bay's front five of left tackle Anthony Davis, left guard Dan Buenning, center John Wade, Mahan at right guard and right tackle Kenyatta Walker started all 16 games together last year, the first time that has happened in franchise history. Only two of those five remained under contract after March 10, however: Buenning and Wade.

As an unrestricted free agent, Walker had the best opportunity to test the market, but he re-signed with the team on March 24. Mahan was a restricted free agent and Davis was an exclusive rights free agent, and most players in those categories eventually re-sign with their previous teams. Davis did so on April 10.

Unlike Davis, Mahan was free to negotiate with other teams, but the Buccaneers retained a right-of-first-refusal by extending the necessary tender offer to Mahan at the beginning of free agency. However, the period for restricted free agents to strike deals with other teams ends on Friday, one week before the draft. As most restricted free agents do, Mahan eventually returned to his original team by signing the original tender offer.

The 6-3, 301-pound Mahan has actually started 24 consecutive games on Tampa Bay's offensive line, as he took over for Wade after Wade's serious knee injury in 2004. Mahan's versatility and hard-nosed play make him a very valuable asset on the team's front line and a player the organization very much wanted to retain.

Selected 168th overall in the 2003 draft, Mahan made the team as a rookie and appeared in nine games, mostly on special teams. In 2004, he stepped in at center on the third play of the team's November 7 win over Kansas City, after Wade went down with a season-ending knee injury. Mahan went on to start the final eight games of the season and helped quarterback Brian Griese lead the league in completion percentage.

The following summer, Mahan was one of the team's most impressive performers in a training camp plagued by injuries to the offensive line. He won the starting spot at right guard and stayed there the entire season, helping the team improve from 29th in rushing offense in 2004 to 14th in 2005.

Mahan's signing means each of the dozen players from the Bucs' 2005 team who became restricted or unrestricted free agents have now found new deals for 2006. Eight of those 12 returned to the Buccaneers: Mahan, Walker, fullback Mike Alstott, kicker Matt Bryant, cornerback Torrie Cox, wide receiver Ike Hilliard, defensive tackle Chris Hovan and tight end Dave Moore. Four signed with other teams: fullback Jameel Cook (Houston), tight end Will Heller (Seattle), safety Dexter Jackson (Cincinnati) and tackle Todd Steussie (St. Louis). The Bucs also re-signed two potential free agents, cornerback Juran Bolden and quarterback Chris Simms, shortly before the free agency period began.

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