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Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Deal between Bucs, Zuttah is imminent



Bucs coach Greg Schiano has formed a solid opinion on at least one of his new players. Then again, to Schiano, guard Jeremy Zuttah isn’t so new.

The Tampa Bay Times has learned Zuttah and the Bucs are putting the finishing touches on a contract extension that will keep Zuttah off the free agent market when the signing period begins on March 13. Zuttah, an all-purpose offensive lineman capable of playing all line positions, was drafted in the third round by the Bucs in 2008 after playing for Schiano at Rutgers. He was scheduled to become a free agent later this month with his rookie contract scheduled to expire.

Instead, the Bucs expect to strike a deal with a player they considered their top priority among their in-house free agents. Kicker Connor Barth is a close second, with his fate expected to be decided Monday with the Bucs facing an afternoon franchise-tag deadline. General manager Mark Dominik has said he intended to place the franchise tag on Barth if a deal on a multi-year contract couldn’t be reached, thereby also keeping his kicker off the market.

Zuttah has started 44 games in four seasons for the Bucs and is almost as likely to play center as he is guard. Zuttah started 14 games in 2011, mostly at left guard. But when injury-prone center Jeff Faine has gone down in recent seasons, Zuttah has effortlessly stepped in as the starter and performed well. In fact, center is arguably Zuttah’s best position. At Rutgers, Zuttah often played tackle, too.

Terms of Zuttah’s deal weren’t available.

Once Zuttah signs, the Bucs will have locked several key linemen on long-term deals. Left tackle Donald Penn signed a six-year deal in 2010 while left guard Davin Joseph signed a seven-year agreement in 2011.

Zuttah, 25, gives the Bucs another offensive-line building block as the team looks to build a solid offense around quarterback Josh Freeman. Zuttah’s athleticism and flexibility set him apart from most players at his position, making him invaluable to the Bucs.

Zuttah’s “versatility is a big piece, knowing he can be inside at guard, or inside at center, that brings a lot of importance to us,” Dominik said during the NFL Combine last week. “And certainly his track record with coach Schiano is a positive.”

[Last modified: Sunday, March 4, 2012 9:57pm]


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