Tampa Bay Buccaneers will end ties with receiver Antonio Bryant

INDIANAPOLIS — The Bucs want to surround QB Josh Freeman with playmakers, but they won't include his best and most experienced receiver.

Coach Raheem Morris said Thursday that Antonio Bryant's career in Tampa Bay is over.

"Antonio missed a significant amount of time last year," Morris said. "And I'm not going to blame Antonio, but … we're going in a young direction. We're going to choose to move on."

Bryant, who turns 29 on March 9 and was the Bucs' franchise player last season, will become an unrestricted free agent March 5. He struggled to recover from arthroscopic knee surgery that forced him to miss the preseason. He caught just 39 passes for 600 yards and four touchdowns in 13 games.

That's significantly fewer than the 83 receptions for 1,248 yards and seven touchdowns that Bryant produced in 2008, his first season with the Bucs.

Concerns over Bryant's knee and a commitment to build through the draft led to the decision not to offer him a contract. Bryant, who has played with four teams in his seven-year career, earned $9.88 million as the franchise player in 2009.

Bryant's agent, Lamont Smith, told the St. Petersburg Times that he learned of the decision through media inquiries. Smith, who also represents Bucs WR Maurice Stovall, said he was scheduled to meet with GM Mark Dominik later this week in Indianapolis.

But Morris made it clear that the team had no intention of bringing Bryant back.

"He's going to go out and test his free agent market," Morris said. "Obviously, we won't do the (franchise) tag and all that kind of stuff. We don't need to do that. It's going to be our decision."

The Bucs own the No. 3 overall pick in the draft in April and five selections in the top 99. The highest rated receiver is Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant, but he is projected to go in the top 10.

That means Freeman will be surrounded by mostly young or unproductive receivers such as Stovall, Michael Clayton and Sammie Stroughter. TE Kellen Winslow led the Bucs in receiving last season (77 catches, 884 yards).

"A long time ago — we were just talking about those guys — but people grew together," Morris said. "Marques Colston. Devery Henderson. Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman, Alvin Harper, Reggie Wayne, Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison … guys grew together.

"Josh Freeman, Sammie Stroughter. Here we go. Let's go grow."

LION-HEARTED? The Lions don't appear wedded to keeping the No. 2 overall pick. "We're open to just about everything," coach Jim Schwartz said. "Whether you keep the second pick or you trade down, it doesn't change what you have to do and that's make good decisions in the draft." There was even talk of making a run at recently released RB LaDainian Tomlinson.

Head check: For the first time, all 329 invited players will be given a baseline brain activity exam and likely face questions about their concussion histories. The league is looking to have a more standardized way of evaluating players and collecting data about repeated hits to the head.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers will end ties with receiver Antonio Bryant 02/25/10 [Last modified: Thursday, February 25, 2010 9:28pm]

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