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Bucs sign Simms; Griese likely gone

Chris Simms says it is finally his time. It also is his team.

The 25-year-old Bucs quarterback signed a one-year, $2.1-million contract Wednesday, declaring himself the starter two days before he was set to become a restricted free agent.

"It's great just going into offseason workouts knowing that I am the starter and the organization is looking to me," Simms said. "Of course, I'm extremely excited about that opportunity. I haven't been in this position in a few years, since college really, and I think again, it just goes back to the direction our team is trying to go right now. We've got a good nucleus and we're just trying to build from there."

Simms' signing and the probable lack of an extension to the NFL collective bargaining agreement will likely result in the release of quarterback Brian Griese today.

In order to keep Simms, who started the last 10 games in 2005, the Bucs made the maximum tender. Simms could have waited into the summer to see if any teams might extend him an offer. The Bucs would have been able to match any contract or demand a first- and third-round draft pick as compensation.

But Simms wanted to go into the offseason workout program preparing to be the Bucs' No. 1 quarterback.

"I've got some old school qualities to me," Simms said. "I want to be here for my whole career. I've always planned on that. I just like what we've got here. I don't see anything better out there than what we've got right here. Like I said, we've got a great coaching staff, we've got young guys like Michael Clayton, Cadillac (Williams), we've got the building blocks in place and I like our chances.

"Hopefully, I'll go out there this next year and be successful and maybe get a chance to really strike it rich next year."

As for Griese, he is owed a $2.6-million roster bonus Friday and the team has been unable to reduce his salary cap value of nearly $7.1-million. By releasing him, the Bucs would free up about $4.55-million toward the $19-million they need to trim to reach the projected $95-million salary cap by the midnight Friday deadline.

Other Bucs may be told to walk the plank today. Almost certain to be released are linebacker Jeff Gooch ($1.85-million savings on the salary cap) and offensive lineman Matt Stinchcomb ($1.8-million savings). Players who might be forced to restructure contracts to remain with the team include defensive tackle Ellis Wyms, running back Michael Pittman and linebacker Shelton Quarles.

With so many players expected to be dumped for salary cap reasons, today has been dubbed "Bloody Thursday" by some NFL executives.

The Bucs' two highest-paid players - linebacker Derrick Brooks ($11.65-million salary cap value) and defensive end Simeon Rice ($9.2-million) - have been the target of speculation one or both might be released today.

Rice's agent, Tom Condon, said he has had no conversations regarding the status of the Pro Bowl player and expects him to remain with the team.

Brooks, a nine-time Pro Bowl player and the team captain, doesn't figure to be going anywhere. But coach Jon Gruden didn't put the matter to rest.

"I already said we're going to do all we can," Gruden said. "You have to understand what the playing field is. With no extension in place, what are the dimensions of the field that we are playing on? So I can't really speculate or comment further than we will, hopefully, find out what the playing field is and I will assure everyone that we will do everything we can to keep those two guys here. Once again, it is a difficult time. A lot of us are uneasy. Some of us are uneasy to start with."

Fullback Mike Alstott, who voided the final three years of his contract, is an unrestricted free agent. He would like to return for an 11th season, but the Bucs have not reached his salary demands believed to be about $1.5-million.

And it appears that placekicker Matt Bryant, tackle Kenyatta Walker and nose tackle Chris Hovan will become free agents Friday.

The Bucs signed cornerback Juran Bolden on Monday to a five-year contract worth at least $5.36-million, according to the NFL Players' Association. His agent, Jeffrey Guerriero, said the team is considering working him at safety as well as cornerback.

Given all the uncertainty, Gruden felt fortunate to have Simms locked up.

"There's change circulating throughout the league and for us to sign Chris Simms for our future is something that is extremely exciting," Gruden said. "He's a young man that's continued to improve and helped take our team to the playoffs and win an NFC South championship and is a guy we will continue to build our football team around."

In his 11 games, including 10 starts last season, Simms completed 61 percent of his passes for 2,035 yards with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions, finishing with a passer rating of 81.4. He went 5-1 against the NFC South, leading the Bucs to a division title.

"I believe this at least solidifies me," Simms said, "the way I played at least towards the end of the year. It's a one-year deal. I'm sure the coaches would still like to see a little bit more out of me. I did only play 10 or 11 games last year, but had a good start and we'll just keep it going next year."

It would be fine with Gruden if he kept it going for years to come.

"For the first time in a long time, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have players on the offensive side of the ball that can grow together," Gruden said. "Certainly, Chris Simms' return is paramount in allowing that to happen. It doesn't mean that we don't want Brian Griese back. It doesn't mean that we are not going to try to get Tom Brady in here.

"I think Chris and I both understand the business well enough to know that this is a collaboration. We have to do everything we can as an organization to build our football team around our quarterback, and that involves bringing in the right players, the right coaches to suit the style of our quarterback."

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