Fresh off adding nine draft picks last week, the Bucs continued their dramatic makeover Monday, re-evaluating their roster and releasing six players, among them starting nose tackle Chris Hovan and former starting left guard Arron Sears — the latter of whom had a setback in his comeback effort.
Also released: Fullback B.J. Askew, guard Shawn Murphy, punter Sam Paulescu and cornerback Stoney Woodson.
Hovan, entering his 11th NFL season, spent the past five with the Buccaneers. The addition of tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price with the team's first two picks in the draft made him expendable. The $4 million base salary he was scheduled to earn also did him in, deemed too much for an aging, backup defensive tackle.
The 31-year-old was touted as a key free-agent addition in 2005. Hovan had a career-high 95 tackles in 2007, but his production fell to 69 stops in 2008. In 2009, he had 59 tackles, his fewest since joining the Bucs. He also was creating less push up the middle, which is essential in the Buccaneers' scheme. The Bucs ranked last in the NFL against the run last season.
Hovan's release leaves a leadership void on the defensive line. He took personal responsibility for leading young players such as the late Gaines Adams and Roy Miller.
The Bucs found no interest in a trade for Hovan.
Sears missed all of 2009 after spending it on the non-football illness list because of undisclosed personal problems that at one time left him uncommunicative. He returned to the team late in the season after spending most of it sequestered at his mother's Alabama home, but he was not activated.
Sears was a second-round pick in 2007 and was immediately installed as the starting left guard. He played 31 games, all starts.
Last month, general manager Mark Dominik said with confidence the club thought Sears could help in 2010 as Sears was working out and making an attempt at a comeback. But Sears appeared to have had a setback and now his football future is unclear. He might not play again.
At the NFL owners meetings in March, Dominik said, "He wouldn't be with the organization if we didn't feel like he had the opportunity to come back and help this football team."
The following day, coach Raheem Morris said, "Arron's working and we'll have to see what Arron is when he comes back and we start our offseason. The situation was a private situation and we tried to keep it that way. … I look forward and I'm hopeful to see where he is and to see how he's going to react when he has an opportunity."
The Bucs had hoped Sears could add depth because they're a bit thin on the interior of the offensive line. But second-year man Xavier Fulton, who spent 2009 on injured reserve, Marc Dile and others will be given a chance to contribute.
Askew was also a starter before being placed on the non-football injury list after hurting his neck last season in a car accident.
He joined the Bucs in 2007 as a free agent and was given a contract extension a year later. The addition of Chris Pressley, formerly of the Bengals, coupled with the ability of Earnest Graham to play fullback, made Askew less vital to the offense. Askew had three years remaining on his contract.
Murphy and Woodson were projects that the club chose not to continue to develop.
Paulescu was the team's lone punter by the end of last season after Josh Bidwell and Dirk Johnson sustained season-ending injuries. The Bucs expect sixth-round pick Brent Bowden from Virginia Tech to be their punter this fall, though they could add another before training camp to increase competition at the position.
bucs sign 12: The Bucs signed 12 college free agents who went undrafted.
DE Brandon Gilbeaux (Delaware), OT Derek Hardman (Eastern Kentucky), K Hunter Lawrence (Texas), TE Jeron Mastrud (Kansas State), LB Rico McCoy (Tennessee), WR Preston Parker (North Alabama, formerly Florida State), G Sergio Render (Virginia Tech), G Vladimir Richard (Tennessee), DB Dennis Rogan (Tennessee), DE James Ruffin (Northern Iowa), QB Jevan Snead (Mississippi) and OT James Williams (Harvard) agreed to deals.
Each is expected to participate in this weekend's rookie minicamp along with a number of players on a tryout basis, including former USF quarterback Matt Grothe, who hopes to land a free-agent contract.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.