TAMPA — Thirty minutes after his teammates began their first training camp workout Friday, Carl Nicks announced he had decided to ''step away from football'' — although limping away may be more accurate.
Nicks and the Bucs reached an undisclosed financial settlement to end his career with the team.
The two-time All-Pro guard signed a five-year, $47.5 million contract as a Saints free agent in 2012 but appeared in only nine games in the last two seasons. He missed all but two games in 2013 with a toe injury and a MRSA infection.
Nicks attempted a comeback but nerve damage that resulted from a second surgery on his toe for a recurrence of MRSA kept him from participating in the off-season workouts. He was scheduled to make $7 million in 2014, $6 million guaranteed.
After Nicks failed to report to training camp with the team Thursday, the Bucs said he was excused for ''personal reasons.'' But it turns out Nicks may have needed more time to consider whether to end his short tenure with the Bucs.
"I'd like to thank the Buccaneers organization for working with me as I have attempted to get myself back on the football field," Nicks, 29, said in a statement released by the team. "However, after careful consideration, I have made the decision to step away from the game. This was by no means an easy decision to step away from the game. This was by no means an easy decision, but I believe it is what is best for me and my family as well as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers."
Coach Lovie Smith spoke with Nicks on Friday and applauded his efforts to attempt a return this season. "I think most of you know about Carl Nicks not being able to play football anymore," Smith said. "It's a shame we didn't get a chance to work with him on the football field. Carl worked hard this summer to try to get back and sometimes your body just won't allow you to do that. I had a good conversation with him but I understand the decision he had to make."
Although doctors cleared Nicks to resume football activity and he was seen attempting to jog at One Buc Place in recent weeks, he could never recapture the form that made him one of the NFL's most dominating run blockers, a two-time Pro Bowl player and Super Bowl champion with the Saints. The Bucs went 3-6 with Nicks in the starting lineup and 8-15 without him.
"Carl was an elite player, and sometimes these prideful, elite players, if they can't feel they're 100 percent, they don't want to expose themselves," Bucs general manager Jason Licht said.
The ''amicable agreement'' protects the Bucs from litigation over the damage to Nicks' left foot after two procedures to eradicate MRSA, a flesh-eating staph infection that was contracted by three Bucs players last season.
Kicker Lawrence Tynes was the first to discover the infection after a procedure for an ingrown toenail. He was placed on the nonfootball injury list and eventually filed a grievance against the team. Cornerback Johnthan Banks contracted MRSA but did not miss a game.
Nicks' status had been uncertain for some time, and his departure leaves the Bucs with no certain starters at guard. Jamon Meredith took first-team reps at left guard and Oniel Cousins was at right guard. Rookie Kadeem Edwards, second-year pro Patrick Omameh and rookie Andrew Miller also are competing for spots.
"I can honestly say Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks helped transform my game," defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. "Davin has been pushing me since I was a rookie and Carl Nicks was able to come in, being what I thought was the best guard in football, he was able to help me take my game to another level. So you just hate to see what happened. He's a great teammate, always smiling. He loved the game and loved his teammates. So you hate to see him go. But it was a mutual decision and it was made. So we're going to miss him."
Times staff writer Greg Auman contributed to this report.