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Warrick Dunn signs two-year deal to return to Bucs

TAMPA — Maybe Warrick Dunn's signing with the Bucs on Monday won't qualify as the league's most newsworthy of this free-agent signing period. And the two-year, $6-million deal is nowhere near the most lucrative considering the mega-money doled out the past couple of weeks.

But in terms of what the acquisition means to the player, franchise and a fan base that recalls so many indelible images of his early career success with Tampa Bay, you won't see many transactions that rank higher.

Dunn is coming home to the team that made him a first-round pick in 1997 and a certified star, a move that sets up a potential storybook ending for the 33-year-old running back.

"I think I said it a while ago: It's full circle to start your career in Tampa and have the opportunity to finish it there," Dunn told the St. Petersburg Times on Monday evening. "I'm just really honored and humbled that the coaches believed in me, and hopefully I can come in and get to know those guys and just continue doing what I've been doing."

The veteran had been released by the Atlanta Falcons on March 3. In the week that passed, Dunn considered other options but found none to be more attractive than the one in the city that still feels like home.

"Based on all the information we have, it's the best fit for Warrick," agent Jim Steiner said. "I think after talking to both (general manager) Bruce Allen and (coach) Jon Gruden, that was clear."

And how did the conversation between Dunn and Gruden play out?

"I just want to fit in and learn my role and help the team," Dunn said. Gruden "told me to just go out and play my game and have fun. That's what he wants me to do."

Dunn, a five-time 1,000-yard rusher, became expendable in Atlanta after six seasons when the Falcons acquired San Diego free agent Michael Turner last week. Dunn is coming off a 720-yard 2007 campaign in which he averaged 3.2 yards per carry, the second lowest of his career. But he might not have to carry a heavy load in Tampa, where the Bucs also have Earnest Graham and Michael Bennett in a backfield that suddenly looks formidable.

Regardless of what Dunn does on the field, the Bucs figure to benefit from his locker-room leadership as much as his running ability.

Perhaps he'll be in position to influence another new signee, troubled receiver Antonio Bryant, who joined the Bucs on Monday as well. Bryant hasn't played in the NFL since 2006 largely because of an incomplete suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy that caused potential suitors to stay away. But Bryant, who filed a federal suit against the league last year saying he couldn't be subject to the policy while not under contract with a team, brokered a deal with the league before moving to have the suit dismissed in December.

Although he wouldn't say whether Bryant, 27, is still enrolled in the substance-abuse program, agent Peter Schaffer said, "There are no legal matters pending" against his client.

Bryant, who displayed his immense talent in 2005 with the Browns by catching 69 passes for 1,009 yards, has been something of a headache in other ways. He was sentenced to one year of probation in San Mateo, Calif., and fined $1,312 when he pleaded no contest to reckless driving after a November 2006 incident in his Lamborghini sports car. The 49ers, his team at the time, released him four months later, a year after giving him a 4-year, $14-million contract.

In 2004, he had a well-publicized run-in with then-Cowboys coach Bill Parcells, throwing a sweaty jersey at the coach's face. He was later traded from Dallas to Cleveland. The Bucs were among the teams that considered signing Bryant in 2007 after working out the Miami native in May.

For Dunn, last year's 4-12 record in Atlanta has created a desire to taste victory again.

"I'm just happy to be playing with a group of guys that have been playing hard, that have played well and are going out each week and competing," the former Florida State star said. "I'm really thrilled about the opportunity to try to win some games and move forward."

Warrick Dunn's career stats

Runs

2,483

Yards

10,181

TDs

47

Catches

463

Yards

4,009

TDs

15

Warrick Dunn signs two-year deal to return to Bucs 03/11/08 [Last modified: Friday, March 14, 2008 2:17pm]

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