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Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Clayton lands 5-year, $26-million deal with Bucs



Receiver Michael Clayton was in Minneapolis about to board a flight to Seattle late Saturday night when the Bucs finally punched his ticket back to Tampa Bay.

Clayton agreed to terms on a 5-year contract that  could be worth as much as $26-million if certain performance bonuses are met, according to people familiar with the negotiations.

More importantly, the Bucs agreed to include $10.5-million of guarantees in the deal.

Despite having just two touchdowns since his rookie season, Clayton was among the more coveted free agent receivers when the signing period began Friday.

He visited the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings over the weekend and was headed to Seattle, where Seahawks president Tim Ruskell was set to make Clayton an offer that would've likely ended his career in Tampa Bay.

But general manager Mark Dominik stepped up before Clayton had to board a flight to Seattle. He will spend the night in Minneapolis before returning to Tampa Sunday to begin the second chapter of his career in Tampa.

Clayton's signing means the Bucs will return both starting receivers for the 2009 season. Antonio Bryant signed his franchise player tender, a one-year $9.88-million deal.

Clayton was the second free agent Saturday to reach an agreement to return to the Bucs. Earlier in the day, safety Will Allen signed a one-year, $2.3-million contract.

The new contract averages about $4.8-million per season and could be worth more if Clayton reaches certain performance incentives for receptions and making the Pro Bowl.

The Bucs denied a report Saturday that receiver T.J. Houshmanzadeh is scheduled to visit the team. Tampa Bay had expressed some interest in Steelers receiver Nate Washington, but it's unclear how Clayton's new deal would impact their efforts to land another free agent receiver.

The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Clayton was a first round pick by the Bucs in 2004 and led all rookies in receiving with 80 catches for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns. But injuries cut into his production as he struggled to catch just two touchdown passes over the next four seasons.

Bucs receivers coach Richard Mann has been instrumental in convincing the Bucs to retain Clayton, who caught 38 passes for 484 yards and a touchdown last season.

Mann argued that Clayton is willing to do 'the dirty things,' like blocking in the running game. He also noted that Clayton fell into Jon Gruden's doghouse and received fewer opportunities with the emergence of Joey Galloway and later Bryant.

It's likely that Clayton would have received a better offer from the Seahawks and Dominik knew it. That's why the deal was likely reached  just prior to Clayton boarding a plane to Seattle.

But during the free agent process, Clayton's representatives remained in close contact with Dominik and made it clear his first preference was to remain in Tampa Bay.

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


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