The big surprise wasn't that the Bucs let tight end Patrick Hape leave Tampa Bay. It's that they let him leave with so little money in his pocket.
Hape, 26, a valuable blocker who participated in 43 percent of the Bucs' offensive plays last season, signed a three-year, $1.7-million contract Wednesday with the Broncos.
The Bucs were interested in re-signing Hape, according to agent Russ Campbell, but had other priorities.
"We gave them every opportunity," Campbell said. "We raised the issue at midseason, at the end of last season and then again last week. They never said they were not interested in re-signing him, but they couldn't do it at this time. He went out there to Denver and they gave him the hard sell. And they have a lot to sell."
Hape, who was paid $472,000 last season, according to the NFLPA Web site, is the second unrestricted free agent to leave the Bucs. Linebacker Don Davis signed with the Rams two weeks ago.
Hape spent his first four seasons with Tampa Bay after being drafted in the fifth round in 1997 (137th overall). The 6-foot-4, 262-pound tight end has played in 61 games (with eight starts) and caught 19 passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns. He also was used as a fullback. Last season, he played in 16 games (with two starts) and caught a career-best six passes for 39 yards.
Hape is not the only Bucs free agent drawing interest from other teams. Cornerback Ronde Barber visited the Bengals on Tuesday, but agent Ethan Locke would not say if he received an offer.
Barber's desire to remain with a winning team would not eliminate Cincinnati, because "in this league, everyone is close when it comes to talent," he said.
Barber hopes he can return to the Bucs, but it's clear the team has other priorities.
The Bucs are negotiating with the agent for Cardinals defensive end Simeon Rice on a one-year deal worth about $3-million. They also hope to re-sign tackle Jerry Wunsch.
Wednesday, another intriguing player became available when the Vikings released Pro Bowl left tackle Todd Steussie.
Tampa Bay's biggest need this off-season is at left tackle, and it is expected to explore the possibility of signing Steussie, who said he would consider taking a one-year deal and re-entering the free-agent market next spring.
Last season, the Bucs signed two Vikings free agents, center Jeff Christy and guard Randall McDaniel.
SUPER ODDS: Since signing free-agent quarterback Brad Johnson, the Bucs' odds of winning the Super Bowl have gone from 15-1 to 8-1. "Brad makes Tampa a legitimate Super Bowl contender," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "This move makes them viable."
Vikings waive Steussie
MINNEAPOLIS _ Tackle Todd Steussie, one of the anchors of Minnesota's offensive line since 1994, was released to make salary-cap space.
Steussie was named to the Pro Bowl in 1998. The first-round pick from Cal in 1994 played in 111 games for the Vikings. He joins a long list of prominent NFL players who have been released for cap reasons this season, including long-time Vikings defensive tackle John Randle.
"Releasing Todd was not our first option," coach Dennis Green said. "We did all we could, given our economic situation under the salary cap, to sign Todd to an extension. After exploring all our options, this was a tough decision we felt we had to make.
The team faced a 3 p.m. deadline to release him and avoid paying a $1-million roster bonus.
Steussie would have counted more than $7-million against the Vikings' 2001 salary cap. As of late last week, the team was $2.256-million below the $67.4-million cap and is seeking further relief to fill out its roster and sign draft choices.
The Vikings will save more than $3.6-million by releasing Steussie, which would make him an unrestricted free agent and would make Brad Badger the starting left tackle. Teams around the league had expressed little interest in trading for Steussie, likely anticipating him becoming a free agent.
BRONCOS: Gus Frerotte, Denver's backup quarterback last season, signed a one-year, $1-million contact with the club after a two-week job search that proved to be a mix of temptation and frustration. His deal includes a $500,000 signing bonus and could be worth as much as $2-million with incentives. Among the teams Frerotte visited was the Dolphins. "I wish I wouldn't have gone down there," he said. "I wasted two days out of my life basically on vacation. They said one thing, and then when I got down there, they said another."
DOLPHINS: Miami re-signed quarterback Mike Quinn to a two-year contract and waived tight end Hunter Goodwin. Goodwin, 28, started all regular-season and playoff games last season, recording six catches for 36 yards and one score.
LIONS: Detroit released tackle Ray Roberts, 31.
RAMS: Cornerback Dre Bly was convicted of reckless driving for going 105 mph in a 55 mph zone July 4 in Virginia Beach, Va.
Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura's days as the league's lead commentator may be numbered. "He's on thin ice," XFL founder Vince McMahon said. "We've made mistakes, and I think our biggest one was our selection of announcers. We need football announcers, not WWF announcers." Ventura was not available for comment.
PACKERS: Quarterback Doug Pederson signed a one-year contract. Pederson, 33, played for the Browns last season. He was a Packer from 1996-98.
_ Information from Times wires was used in this report.