Bucs defensive lineman Reuben Davis forged a career stopping ball carriers, but he couldn't slow the incredible run on his job by an unheralded rookie this season.
Davis, whose 28-day holdout led to the emergence of rookie Santana Dotson, was dealt by Tampa Bay to the Phoenix Cardinals in exchange for a third-round draft pick in 1993 just before the league's trading deadline Tuesday.
Assuming there is an NFL draft next season, the trade appears to be a good one for both Phoenix and Tampa Bay.
The Cardinals rank 27th in the league in total defense and against the run, yielding an average of 155 yards per game on the ground. Davis, a fifth-year pro out of North Carolina where he was a ninth-round pick by the Bucs in 1988, had played sparingly behind Dotson and rookie Mark Wheeler.
In three games, Davis had recorded just three tackles and blocked a field goal in Tampa Bay's 24-20 win at Detroit.
Davis arrived in Phoenix on Tuesday and is expected to start at defensive end in the Cardinals' 3-4 scheme Sunday against New Orleans.
Both Davis and the Bucs expressed mixed emotions about the trade.
"I'm sad because I'm going to miss everybody," Davis said. "But I can understand it.
"I don't want this thing with me to affect the team. I'm close to a lot of guys, including Santana and Mark Wheeler. They're good players, and I enjoyed playing with them. I had this happen to me
when a guy I was close to, Pig Goff, was traded (to New Orleans), and I went out and did what I had to do."
The departure of Davis is the latest in a housecleaning of veterans who had long contract holdouts this season. Five of the eight Bucs veterans who were unsigned at the start of training camp _ Davis, linebackers Jesse Solomon and Kevin Murphy, wide receiver Bruce Hill and nose tackle Tim Newton _ were either released or traded.
After missing nearly a month of training camp, Davis eventually signed a two-year, $1.3-million contract. But he reported to the Bucs weighing about 320 pounds _ in violation of a weight clause that fined him for every pound over 285.
Cardinals general manager Larry Wilson said his team was in desperate need of a run-stopper like Davis, especially after a 1-4 start and Sunday's loss to the New York Giants in which they yielded 167 yards rushing to running back Rodney Hampton.
"If you watched our ballgame last week, you understand why we're excited about having Reuben," Wilson said. "I think he's an outstanding player. I know it was something of a concern for the Bucs to trade him, but they made the deal and so did we."
Wilson said the Cardinals also will monitor Davis' weight, but that it was not a concern in making the deal.
"I think it's something we'll certainly monitor," Wilson said. "But he is a big guy, and you know, in the NFC East, you need some big guys."
The trade of Davis leaves Tampa Bay with seven defensive linemen on its 47-man roster. The Bucs are expected eventually to activate free agent Reggie Rogers off injured reserve, perhaps as soon as this week.
But it was the play of Dotson, who leads the club in sacks with six and returned a fumble for a touchdown, who made Davis expendable.
"We made this decision with mixed emotions," said Bucs coach Sam Wyche. "In the final determination, though, we felt this would be the best for Reuben's career as he has an excellent opportunity to move back into a starting role. Santana and Mark have been doing an outstanding job, and we like what we see of our young defensive linemen, so we believe we still have more than adequate depth."