Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Standing Pat

Tight end Patrick Hape has quietly entered free agency as the focus in Tampa Bay has been on other Bucs testing the waters

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Tight end Patrick Hape has done more for the Bucs with his strong blocking than as a receiving option

Perhaps this will surprise you: Patrick Hape was on the field for 43% of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offensive snaps last fall. That's more than Reidel Anthony, almost as many as George Hegamin, practically identical to Mike Alstott (who, of course, did miss three games).

Hape's name tends to fly under the radar on an offense featuring such multiple Pro Bowlers as Jeff Christy, Randall McDaniel, Keyshawn Johnson, Warrick Dunn and Alstott. Similarly, the fifth-year tight end has slipped onto the free agent scene almost unnoticed, camouflaged behind such starters as Jerry Wunsch, Ronde Barber, Damien Robinson and Frank Middleton.

Of course, as the number-two tight end whose most valuable contribution in four Buc seasons is as a punishing lead blocker, Hape is used to the spotlight pointing elsewhere. The effect is compounded by Hape's low-key, unassuming manner.

As speculation centers on players such as Johnson and Wunsch, one might get the impression that Hape – and other unrestricted free agent Bucs like Floyd Young, Kevin Dogins and Morris Unutoa – are afterthoughts in this process, but it's certain that the team has fully evaluated what these players could offer in 2001. That doesn't mean that either side is rushing to make a deal, which leaves Hape in an uncertain situation.

"I'm actively looking (at free agency possibilities)," he said on Friday, one week after hitting the open market. "I'd love to stay here in Tampa but I don't know what the Bucs are thinking. Actually, I'm taking a trip out to Denver Tuesday. So I'm looking. I can't sit around and wait, but I want the Bucs to keep me. I'd love to stay here but I don't know what's going to happen."

Particularly over the last two seasons, Hape has emerged as an important part of the running game as the most consistent lead blocker the team has had over that span. While he has snared just 19 passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns in his four NFL seasons, he has helped Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott combine for 6,678 rushing yards in that span.

If a return to the Buccaneers is not, eventually, in the cards, then Hape hopes to land on a squad that will appreciate his skills as much as Tony Dungy's crew did. Actually, Hape believes he could actually step into an expanded role on the right team.

"I assume that if you go to another team, they've done their research," he said. "They'll know what you can do and they'll put you in a situation to do it. Also, they might put you in a situation that you might not have been in before and give you a chance to showcase some other skills."

Actually, the Buccaneers might have more opportunity at tight end than most teams. Dave Moore remains under contract after three consecutive years as the team's starter, but there is no obvious number-two man without Hape. Blake Spence, who spent most of 2000 on injured reserve, is a restricted free agent who was not extended a tender offer. Todd Yoder is coming off a rookie season in which he played in nine games and had just one reception for one yard. Damian Vaughn and Randy Palmer, two 'street' free agents signed after the 2000 season ended, round out the current options.

"Hopefully, the next opportunity is here," said Hape. "I'll end up somewhere, but I hope it's here because I've been here for so long. I'd love to stay here and play for Coach Dungy but I don't know if that's going to be the case."

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