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Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Could Jeff Faine's future with Bucs be in danger?



There are some obvious personnel questions for the Bucs this offseason.

What to do with unrestricted free agents Davin Joseph or Barrett Ruud? Does Ronde Barber have a place on the team at 35-years old? Will there be a significant upgrade at defensive end?

Then there are some questions that are, perhaps, less obvious. Among those is the future of center Jeff Faine. You might be surprised to see the question raised considering Faine is a solid player, a character guy and a good leader for his many young teammates. He is an asset to the Bucs in many, many ways.

But football is a business, and even Faine -- a wildly successful entrepreneur -- is smart enough to know that he'll be evaluated this offseason just like every other player on the roster.

Here are the reasons Faine is not a sure thing to return:

While his contract is not expiring, he will will make $4.575 million in base salary next season after earning $5 million in 2010 while playing in just half of the 16 games. Therein lies the next problem. The Bucs certainly are asking themselves whether Faine is capable of staying healthy. He'll be 30 on opening day next season and has missed 12 of the team's past 32 games -- eight of them because of two separate triceps injuries. Then, there's fact the Bucs could conceivably replace him given Jeremy Zuttah's consistency at center during the eight games Faine missed this season. The Bucs are convinced Zuttah's future is at center and not necessarily guard.

"I think he’s a natural center just (from) looking at him from the way he’s played," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said recently. "That’s not to say he wouldn’t be a good guard, but we kind of feel like he’s a natural center. . . From what I’ve seen right now, I think he’s more comfortable at that position and we’re comfortable with him playing there."

Zuttah, 24, is obviously younger and considerably cheaper (he's scheduled to earn $555,000 in 2011). If you don't think those are considerations, then you probably don't know very much about the NFL. What's not totally clear is whether it would be costly to release Faine, particularly since the salary cap could be reinstated in 2011.

But the point is, while there are some offseason decisions we know must be made, there could be others that we never saw coming.

[Last modified: Tuesday, January 4, 2011 5:53pm]


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