Bucs Beat

Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Antonio Bryant's career in Tampa Bay is over. Raheem Morris: "We're going to choose to move on"

25

February

The Bucs want to surround quarterback Josh Freeman with playmakers but they won't include his best and most experienced receiver.

Coach Raheem Morris said Thursday that Antonio Bryant's career in Tampa Bay is over.

"Antonio missed a significant amount of time last year,'' Morris said. "And I'm not going to blame Antonio, but really, right now we're going in a young direction. We're going to choose to move on.''

Bryant, 28, the Bucs' franchise player in 2009, will become an unrestricted free agent March 5. He struggled to recover from arthroscopic knee surgery that forced him to miss the preseason and caught just 39 passes for 600 yards and four touchdowns in 13 games.

That's significantly less than the 83 receptions for 1,248 yards and seven touchdowns that Bryant produced in 2009.

Concerns over Bryant's knee injury and a commitment to build through the draft led to the decision not to offer Bryant a contract. He earned $9.88 million as the Bucs' franchise player in 2009.

Bryant's agent, Lamont Smith, told the Times Thursday that he learned of the Bucs' decision through media inquires. Smith, who also represents Bucs receiver Maurice Stovall, said he was scheduled to meet with general manager Mark Dominik later this week in Indianapolis.

But Morris made it clear that the Bucs had no intention of bringing Bryant back to Tampa Bay.  

"He's going to go out and test his free agent market,''' Morris said. "Obviously, we won't do the (franchise) tag and all that kind of stuff. We don't need to do that. It's going to be our decision. We're going our direction. We're going a different direction and we wish nothing but the best of luck to Antonio. We're very proud of what he was able to do here in Tampa. He had a very productive year in 2008. In 2009, it was a rough year for him personally. He's a good football player. We've got to make that decision to move on and off we go.''

The Bucs own the No. 3 overall pick in the NFL draft next April and five selections in the top 99. The highest-rated receiver is Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant, but he is projected to go somewhere in the top 10 selections.

That means Freeman will be surrounded by mostly young or unproductive receivers like Michael Clayton, Stovall and Sammie Stroughter.

"We're going to be young. We're going to be young,'' Morris said. "A long time ago, we were just talking about those guys again, but people grew together. Marques Colston. Devery Henderson. Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman, Alvin Harper, Reggie Wayne, Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison...guys grew together.

"Josh Freeman, Sammie Strougher. Here we go. Let's go grow. 1A, 2A, 2B, 3B...whoever that guy is.''

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 3:55pm]

    

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