Several Veterans Pondering Future
The Tampa Tribune, published 1 January 2007

Mike Alstott wasn't the only player likely playing his final game in a Buccaneers uniform Sunday. A host of others, including some notable veterans, could be playing elsewhere next season. The Bucs returned 21 of 22 starters this season, but that number is likely to be a lot less in 2007 as Tampa Bay will have a high draft pick - either third or fourth - and lots of money to spend in free agency.

Some players who could be destined for the cut list include DE Simeon Rice and CB Brian Kelly, both of whom spent the majority of the season on injured reserve. After spending the majority of his time on the sideline, QB Tim Rattay started the final two games for the Bucs, winning one. The seventh-year veteran is scheduled to become a free agent in March.

"You know free agency," Rattay said. "You have to have people want you. I'll sit down and see what happens, but right now, I'm still a little upset about this game. Also, I enjoyed playing with these guys and I enjoyed the games that I had with these guys."

Fifteen-year veteran Dave Moore might have played his last NFL game. Moore finally got his first reception of the season, then coughed it up in the second quarter when Seattle MLB Lofa Tatupu jarred the ball loose. Moore said he's prepared to retire if the Bucs don't have plans for him next season.

"We'll find that out as we do here in the next couple months," CB Ronde Barber said of the possible roster turnover. "Good thing is that we have a lot that we can do. We definitely need players to get better. We need the young players to get better and we need to have a dedicated offseason to do that."

Pitt not stopped
Michael Pittman had 109 yards (73 rushing, 36 receiving) from scrimmage, the second consecutive game he had more than 100 all-purpose yards. Last week against Cleveland, Pittman rushed for 86 yards and caught four passes for 21 yards.

Pittman moved past Reggie Cobb (3,061) into fourth place in franchise history with 3,076 rushing yards as a Buccaneer. With his effort on Sunday, Pittman also surpassed the 5,000 career rushing yards mark. In nine seasons, Pittman has amassed 5,021 yards. Pittman trails only James Wilder (5,957), Alstott (5,088) and Warrick Dunn (4,200) on the Bucs' all-time list.

Cox makes his mark
Special teams standout Torrie Cox may be spending some of his offseason in Hawaii. A Pro Bowl first alternate for the NFC squad's special teams position, Cox demonstrated in the fourth quarter why his peers thought so highly of him this season. Cox, who was ranked fourth in the league two years ago with a 26.2-yard kickoff return average, returned a kickoff 44 yards, the longest for the Bucs this season. The return set up a 52-yard drive that ended with Rattay throwing an incomplete pass to WR Joey Galloway in the end zone.

Injury update
Starting LG Sean Mahan was injured early in the fourth quarter. Mahan sprained an ankle on a second-and-2 play in which Rattay scrambled for 4 yards to set up first-and-goal. Mahan left the field and immediately headed into the locker room. Starting DE Greg Spires was shaken up early in the third quarter but returned later in the quarter and recorded his fourth sack in three games.

Buc notes
For the fifth time this season, WLB Derrick Brooks led the team in tackles. Brooks had 11.

P Josh Bidwell's 43.5-yard punting average is the second highest in team history. Bidwell set the mark last season when he averaged 45.6 and earned a Pro Bowl berth. Bidwell's 93 punts were a career high and tied for fourth most in team history.

2007 Buccaneer Opponents
Home:@ Atlanta, Carolina, New Orleans, Arizona, St. Louis, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Washington.
Away:@ Atlanta, Carolina, New Orleans, San Francisco, Seattle, Houston, Indianapolis, Detroit.

Bucs will pick third or fourth in April
Now that 2006 is in the books, the Bucs immediately will begin looking toward the future. A major part of that will be April's draft, in which the Bucs will pick third or fourth. The Packers' win over the Bears on Sunday means the Bucs will have to wait to find out which.

The Bucs tied the Browns for the third-worst record at 4-12. The primary tiebreaker is the teams' strength of schedule with the team having the weaker schedule getting the higher pick. The Bucs' 22-7 victory over the Browns on Dec. 24 does not matter.

Strength of schedule is determined by the cumulative record of a team's opponents. The Bucs' and Browns' opponents went 137-119. Had the Bears beaten the Packers, the Bucs' opponents would have been 138-118 for the fourth pick. Instead, there will be a coin toss on an undetermined date.

So let the debate begin. Should the Bucs opt for a player such as Georgia Tech receiver Calvin Johnson? Or does the stability of Wisconsin offensive tackle Joe Thomas intrigue them more? Any number of top prospects could be there for the taking. Among the other players projected as high picks are Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn and Clemson defensive end Gaines Adams. Wherever the Bucs wind up picking, it will be their highest since 1990, when they picked linebacker Keith McCants fourth overall.