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Big-name Bucs might not be back

Safety John Lynch and running back Mike Alstott have nothing left to prove in the NFL.

They have been to numerous Pro Bowls, were regarded as the top players at their position and won a Super Bowl. They are rich, have beautiful families and successful outside business ventures.

They also have had surgery on their necks, procedures to alleviate recurring numbness in their limbs.

If their careers ended today, they would be complete.

Yet both hope to play next season.

Why? Wouldn't it be smarter to walk away while they still can, under their own power?

Perhaps, and there are likely many who wish they would.

Which brings us to general manager Bruce Allen.

He is in the process of trying to create some salary-cap room, and certainly Lynch and Alstott have contracts the Bucs would like to restructure.

But first he has to wait to see what the Bucs will be paying for.

Lynch, who had bone fragments removed from his neck that caused him to have recurring stingers in his arm, only recently was cleared to begin lifting his 1-year-old.

Alstott, who had vertebra fused to repair a herniated disc, recently returned to light workouts at One Buc Place. Neither can say with certainty how he will be physically when training camp opens in July.

"When I was watching the Hall of Fame presentation, I was thinking Tampa has got a few players right now _ John and Mike and Warren (Sapp) _ who someday will be in that group to be voted on," Allen said, shortly after arriving at the Super Bowl on Saturday.

"But absolutely (we're) concerned. We've heard some good medical reports on John. I saw Mike at the facility, and he's working very well. The medical science today, they're able to project."

It might take longer to know what will happen with Sapp.

Allen is scheduled to meet with Sapp's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, in Honolulu this week. But the Bucs' strategy is to let the seven-time Pro Bowl player test the market.

"You never know what's going to happen in free agency," Allen said. "Sometimes some team makes an offer to someone that no one else does. Sometimes a player, when he actually looks on the other side of the fence, realizes the grass isn't always greener. It's still an open dialogue."

Allen reportedly has evaluated the roster and is not overly impressed with the talent level.

"We have some holes, and we have to fill them," he said. "When you look at the starters and the backups whole, as positions, just spaces, we have a number of areas that we need to address. We're going to be as aggressive as we can with our cap, but it's going to be difficult. We're going to have to recruit some players to come here, and I think we have something great to sell. We have the best coaching staff in the NFL."

Allen has continued to harp on the lousy state of the Bucs' salary-cap situation, although Tampa Bay is only about $2-million over the projected $78.7-million cap.

"There's some unique contracts that were done recently, in that the option bonuses were all paid this year, which hits the cap negatively. The nice part is some of the players we like," Allen said. "It makes it a more rigid situation than I'm accustomed to."

Here's something else that might be hard to get accustomed to: Can you imagine the Bucs not having Lynch, Alstott or Sapp in 2004? Neither can they.