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Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Antonio Bryant's play will force Bucs to make a decision



For much of this season, it was fair to question whether WR Antonio Bryant was worthy of the $9.88 million franchise-player contract he was given in February.

We of course knew all along that Bryant's preseason knee surgery and the aftereffects were the main reason for his rather mundane performance for most of 2009. But now that he's healthy, Bryant has looked absolutely brilliant.

You could argue he has been the best player on the field in each of the past two games (for either team) after registering a combined 207 yards worth of catches. He has two receptions in that span of 40 yards or longer, including a 42-yard touchdown against the Falcons. Among his catches are several sideline-straddling, balancing acts that displayed Bryant's great athleticism. These two games have accounted for nearly half of Bryant's 476 receiving yards this season.

Clearly, Bryant is coming along and we finally are seeing the same player we enjoyed watching for much of 2008.

"He’s healthy," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "We noticed it in practice last week. In (last) Thursday’s practice, he ran the best he’s run. He looked great. So, you kind of cross your fingers and hope there are no lingering effects and (the knee) doesn't swell or anything.

"To me, that’s the biggest thing. He’s healthy. He’s always had tremendous ability to catch the football and track the football. In his two games at Carolina, he’s made some phenomenal catches when you look back to last year and that game (and) some of the catches he made. His ability to catch the football is exceptional."

On that everyone agrees. But an agreement will be harder to reach when the season is over. Bryant wanted a long-term contract extension after last season and didn't get it. He almost certainly will test the market this offseason unless the team decides to prevent it by franchising him again, something that seems like a remote possibility.

So, what's Bryant worth to the Bucs? That's a question no one can answer right now. It depends, in part, on what everyone else thinks he's worth. And if that price is relatively high, how willing will Tampa Bay be to pay it?

This is an important question. Having targets like Bryant is key to the development of Josh Freeman. If the Bucs want their rookie quarterback to succeed, the best way to speed up that process is by surrounding him with great athletes -- like Bryant. 

For a team that has had few offensive playmakers like Bryant in recent seasons, he is a rare find. Now, the question is how willing is the team to do what it must to retain him?

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 3:51pm]


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