Bucs could stick with Jones at RB
Charlie Garner's departure from Oakland doesn't necessarily mean he's headed for a reunion with Bucs coach Jon Gruden.
With the report this week that Charlie Garner will pay the Oakland Raiders $400,000 to void the final season of his contract and become a free agent, the people who try hard to connect the dots between some players and coaches are already linking the tailback to Jon Gruden, a man under whose leadership he enjoyed great success.
At first blush, it seems like a logical marriage, since Garner had more than 1,400 yards of offense when he and Gruden were together with the Raiders in 2001. And most observers would acknowledge that Gruden's current team, Tampa Bay, could use a tailback of Garner's pedigree. But before anyone starts to fit Garner for a pewter uniform, and to suggest he will re-emerge as the kind of versatile back he proved to be for the Raiders, take a deep breath.
Because sometimes, folks, the dot-connectors are wrong. And this might be one of those occasions when one and one doesn't necessarily add up to two.
More important don't bank on it because, Gruden being Gruden, sometimes things are not what they appear to be. That may be especially true this offseason when Gruden could say one thing and do another. And the tailback position could well be reflective of that.
While reports are that the Bucs want to bolster their backfield, Gruden was actually very impressed in 2003 with Thomas Jones, and wants desperately to re-sign him before he hits the free agent market early next month. The former first-round bust, acquired from Arizona in a training camp trade when Tampa Bay officials feared that Michael Pittman was headed to jail, quietly rushed for a career-best 627 yards and 4.6 yards per carry.
In three late-season starts, the former University of Virginia standout and seventh overall player selected in the 2000 draft averaged 98.7 yards, and had two games of 134 yards each in the second half of the campaign. Jones, 25, demonstrated more toughness and grit than at any time during his three years with the Cardinals, and it would not be shocking if he opened the 2004 season as the Tampa Bay starter, provided he re-signs there.
"All the talk about (Garner) coming here, part of it is just Jon being himself, and a lot of it is media-produced," said one Tampa Bay insider. "He really likes Jones. But you know how Jon is, right? He's a grass-is-always-greener guy. But a lot of that is just talk. He'll say something and might not mean it at all."
Fact is, there's a lot of that going on these days with the Bucs, a team still plenty good enough to rebound in 2004, but one for whom the Super Bowl window of opportunity is beginning to close. A few other examples of Gruden or the Bucs hinting at changes but not trying too hard, actually, to promulgate upheaval:
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Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.
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