It took free agency to create some gaping holes in the NFL's best defense.
Bucs linebacker Al Singleton became the second starter to leave the Super Bowl champs in as many days when he signed a four-year contract with the Cowboys on Thursday. Terms weren't released, but the deal was believed to be worth about $8-million and include a $2-million signing bonus.
The 6-foot-2, 228-pound Singleton spent six seasons with Tampa Bay. He became a starter last season when Shelton Quarles moved to middle linebacker. Singleton finished with a career-high 89 tackles.
On Wednesday, Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson signed a five-year, $14-million deal with the Cardinals. As with Jackson, the Bucs expected to lose Singleton because of their salary-cap situation.
Singleton's departure leaves the Bucs without an experienced linebacker. Ryan Nece is recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament that forced him to spend most of his rookie season on injured reserve, and the Bucs did not tender a contract to restricted free agent Jack Golden.
Despite the hit to the defense, the Bucs plowed on with their search for backup quarterbacks.
Former Bears quarterback Jim Miller, recovering from surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff, visited with coach Jon Gruden and had an MRI on his injured throwing shoulder. If the prognosis is good the Bucs could sign him to a one-year contract in time for Gruden's quarterback orientation that begins Monday, according to his agent.
"Jim really liked Jon, and it went as good as it could've gone," said Joe Linta, Miller's agent. "He got an MRI, and they want to get their MRI back and be sure everything is okay. We'll be in business after that, I think.
"He's got a couple more teams to visit, but he wants to wait and see if this comes through. We should hear back from them sometime between tomorrow morning and next week."
The Bucs have two quarterbacks under contract: starter Brad Johnson and free agent Greg Zolman, who last played at Vanderbilt in 2001.
Miller is the latest journeyman to visit One Buc Place. The list includes former Raiders quarterback Bobby Hoying and former Redskins and Bears quarterback Shane Matthews. Hoying, recovering from elbow surgery, is scheduled for a physical today. Pittsburgh free agent Charlie Batch, who visited the Bucs this week, signed a two-year, $2-million contract to remain with the Steelers.
And the Bucs may be bracing for a visit from former Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith next week.
The NFL's all-time rushing leader met with the Cardinals on Thursday and indicated he might visit another team before deciding where to play. Smith had one team removed from his list when Carolina signed former Redskin Stephen Davis.
The Bucs have indicated Smith would have to accept close to a minimum salary and a backup role to running back Michael Pittman. But Smith said winning a Super Bowl, not money, is his primary objective, and the Cardinals have reached the playoffs once since moving to Arizona in 1988.
"It's winning, playing time and then money," Smith said. "If I'm able to play at the level I'm accustomed to playing at, and we are able to do all those things we talked about, then the money will come into play."
Smith declined to disclose the teams he wants to visit.
"I think within the next three or four weeks, we should have some things ironed out, hopefully before the draft," the Pensacola native said. "Then we will go from there."
The Bucs, a little more than $500,000 below the $75-million salary cap, continued talks about restructuring receiver Keyshawn Johnson's contract. And after losing Jackson and Singleton, Tampa Bay hopes to re-sign starting left tackle Roman Oben early next week.