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Bucs plan: keep core of team, add talent

Don't expect any housecleaning at One Buc Place. But finding money to renovate a team that has lost 20 of 32 games since a Super Bowl title won't be easy.

General manager Bruce Allen said Thursday that despite the Bucs being about $14-million over the salary cap, he plans to keep the core of the team and improve the talent level through the draft and some free-agent signings.

Except for owning the fifth overall pick and the full complement of choices in the NFL draft, it's roughly the same approach Allen attempted last year that resulted in a 5-11 season.

"The 5-11 is bad. It's a bad record," Allen said. "I got to enjoy every game and we saw why we were 5-11. But when you looked at the games, a lot of it's not the players that were 5-11. We had bad plays. We had 5-11 plays in each game. We have to improve the talent level on the team.

"Seven of our last 11 first-round (and) second-round picks are not on this team. This year, we have seven of the top 140 players in the draft. We're going to be able to use the draft to acquire some key talent and look at players that we haven't been able to look at before as a franchise."

While the draft offers hope, the Bucs aren't in a position to target high-priced talent in free agency. Veteran busts like Todd Steussie, the release of kicker Martin Gramatica and the rising cost to retain other players have further damaged an already poor salary cap position.

The Bucs' priority would seem to be aimed at reaching a contract extension for quarterback Brian Griese, who is owed a $6-million roster bonus in March and a $2-million salary in 2005.

"He wants to (be back)," Allen said of Griese. "In his talks with us, he says he likes Chris Simms, he really likes coach Gruden and he likes the way he prepares him for the game. Although his agent and I have had some discussions, it's just about what we've (already) discussed."

Allen said Griese, who set club records for completion percentage (69.3) and passer rating (97.5), needs to cut down on turnovers. He was intercepted 12 times in 11 games.

"We seem to throw to very open defensive players and they get good shots at the end zone," Allen said. "Brian made some mistakes and every quarterback in the league is going to make five or six major mistakes in a season. It's just where those happen in a 5-11 season that hurt him."

Allen took responsibility for some poor personnel decisions: the signing of Steussie to a six-year, $20-million contract; the delay in cutting Gramatica; and releasing several young draft picks that caught on with other teams.

"(Steussie) didn't work out. I don't know if that's because we tried to switch his position, but it didn't work out," Allen said. "It didn't work out for him and it didn't work out for us and it's not, in Todd's case, for a lack of effort. But maybe we shouldn't project somebody even though he had what we felt was the ability to do it.

"We're looking at how we evaluated talent and the signings we had. I understand that a couple of guys were cut. I don't know if I would've done that right now because I don't think it helped us this year."

Gramatica will count about $2-million against the Bucs' salary cap in '05. If Steussie is released as expected, the team could inherit another $3-million in "dead" money.

"I feel responsible," Allen said. "I don't know if you bring (a new kicker) into camp because Martin was kicking well. He kicked well in camp and he kicked well in practice. The first few weeks of the season, he was hitting the ball fairly well and I think he hit a mental block.

"If he would've been claimed by another team, it would've caused a ripple effect and it would've been unsettling."

Allen refused Thursday to address specific players who likely could become cap casualties like Brad Johnson, Ian Gold, Greg Spires, Mike Alstott and Joe Jurevicius.

"I've been trying to meet with as many players as I can before I talk to their agents; there's a great desire to come back and win a championship," he said. "There's a great desire for people to get this 5-11 taste out of their mouths."