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Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Clayton ready to take leadership role



Michael Clayton says he had a conversation with Raheem Morris a couple years ago that confirmed what he suspected: the Bucs needed tougher players that shared his mentality.

"He pulled me aside and I asked him, 'Rah, how many guys on this team do you think would do whatever it takes to win?' '' Clayton said. "He pointed out about five guys. We were going through a lot of things and many of the coaches thought things were going one way and we should maybe go another way.

"Now I see what he's doing, surrounding himself with guys who will fight, who are warriors, who are physical and will change the mentality. When we come out of that locker room, I promise you, with the guys he's putting around him, the other team should be intimidated by how hard we play.''

Clayton is now one of those players Morris is counting on after signing a five-year, $26-million contract Sunday that includes $10.5-million in guarantees.

The Bucs free agent receiver turned down more lucrative offers from the Lions, Vikings and Seahawks.

A first-round pick in 2004 who led all rookies with 80 catches for 1,179 yards and seven touchdowns, Clayton struggled the past four seasons under coach Jon Gruden. He caught just two touchdown passes during that stretch but tried to make the most of his limited opportunities, even volunteering to play special teams.

"It was a long five years and a lot of things didn't go my way,'' Clayton said. "I made the best of the situation and I played hard. Coach Gruden wanted a different role from me. I don't have to play on eggshells. All of that is gone. It's rewarding to get another run at this thing and I'm ready to win some games.

"I love the game of football and I play it with passion. Every coach I met, not one could say anything bad about me during the process. They totally understood what happened. It wasn't all about numbers. It's my work and now we've got to go about the process of changing the mentality of the team.''

Clayton said he has been renewed by the free agent process, commanding a salary that averages about $5-million per year.

He was scheduled to leave Minnesota around 5:30 p.m. Saturday for a flight to Seattle, where the Seahawks were prepared to make a big push to sign him over the weekend. But Clayton said he had remained in close contact with Morris and general manager Mark Dominik and was willing to leave some money on the table for a chance to remain in Tampa.

As talks with the Bucs heated up Saturday, Clayton said he deliberately missed his flight to Seattle and rescheduled for a 9:30 p.m. departure. That was enough time for him to reach an agreement with the Bucs and he returned to Tampa this morning.

"In my heart, I always knew where I wanted to be,'' Clayton said.

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 3:27pm]


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