The Bucs made twin moves Friday that reflected their assessments of two units, re-signing controversial tight end Jerramy Stevens to a one-year contract and releasing long-shot quarterback Bruce Gradkowski.
Despite his legal troubles, Stevens' return perhaps isn't a shock considering his emergence late last season and the team's dissatisfaction with its current group of tight ends. Gradkowski's release, meanwhile, is the first move by the team to whittle its stable of quarterbacks that had totaled seven, including the retired Jake Plummer.
The release of Gradkowski leaves the Bucs with Jeff Garcia, Brian Griese, Luke McCown, rookie Josh Johnson and Chris Simms, who has opted to skip voluntary offseason workouts.
That's the most general manager Bruce Allen is willing to take to training camp in July, although it's practically a given at least one more will be released before the regular season.
Gradkowski, 25, leaves Tampa Bay after a rocky stint that began with him being drafted in the sixth round in 2006 out of Toledo. He started 11 games as a rookie in place of the injured Simms, finishing 3-8 before being benched for Tim Rattay. That stretch began with a debut at New Orleans that had Tampa Bay buzzing. But before long, Gradkowski's struggles resulted in boos at Raymond James Stadium.
It might, however, actually be good news for Gradkowski. He seemed unlikely to make the final roster, and his early release better positions him to find a team willing to sign him if he clears waivers.
Stevens' return is an indication the Bucs seek to increase the level of competition among their top tight ends, currently Alex Smith, Ben Troupe and John Gilmore. Furthermore, the team's inability to add significant playmakers in the offseason means the search for an offensive spark continues.
Stevens provided that in several late-season games, particularly in catching the winning touchdown at New Orleans on Dec. 2 that positioned the Bucs to win their division by two games. An impressively built, 6-foot-7 target, Stevens finished 2007 with 18 receptions for 189 yards. He had 10 catches for 111 yards in his final three regular-season games alone.
His season was interrupted by a one-game NFL suspension assessed after being convicted in a drunk-driving case in Scottsdale, Ariz., and a resulting 30-day jail sentence. Stevens, 28 and entering his seventh season, has a history of DUI offenses.
letter from shooter? A letter reportedly written by a man who says he fired shots into a limousine where cornerback Darrent Williams, 24, was killed in 2007 was published by the Rocky Mountain News. The letter was signed by Willie D. Clark, who Denver police have called a person of interest in the slaying of Williams, a former Broncos cornerback.
Bears: Despite apparent dissatisfaction with his contract, Brian Urlacher attended mandatory minicamp. "When it says mandatory, you're supposed to be at those things, so that's why I'm here," he said. Urlacher has not participated in offseason conditioning drills or voluntary workouts.
Dolphins: Guard Shawn Murphy, a fourth-round draft choice, signed a multiyear deal.
Eagles: General manager Tom Heckert's contract was extended through 2011.
Jets: Scott Cohen has been hired as assistant general manager, the Associated Press reported.
Information from Times wires was used in this report.