Bucs tackle aware of team's cap problems

Updated: February 27, 2004, 9:33 PM ET
Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. -- Warren Sapp hopes his playing days in Tampa Bay aren't over.

The seven-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle is set to become a free agent for the first time next week, but isn't eager to change teams after helping transform the once-laughable Buccaneers into one of the NFL's elite franchises.

A year removed from winning the Super Bowl, Sapp not only wants to remain a part of a perennial playoff contender but is eager to show he's still the league's most dominant player at his position. The Buccaneers aren't sure they can afford to re-sign him as they try to trim their payroll.

"If it's my choice, I'd keep laying bricks right here in Rome. Rome wasn't built in a day, but it was torn down in 20 minutes," Sapp says, breaking into a hearty laugh.

"I created this anticipation of great play and winning seasons. There wasn't that before I got here. I understand what me, Derrick Brooks, John Lynch, Mike Alstott and all of us have done. We dug in and built the doormat of all professional sports into a perennial winner ... Tampa was a place where careers went to die. Now it's where careers flourish and championships are won."

Sapp earned $6.6 million in the final season of six-year, $36 million contract he signed in 1998. He was NFL defensive player of the year in 1999 and with 77 career sacks, he's two shy of Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon's team record.

The 31-year-old tackle believes he can play at a high level for four more years and said he won't seek an unreasonable amount to finish in a Bucs uniform for coach Jon Gruden.

"It's not about the money. I collected $40 million in the last nine years. I'm not going to sit here and tell you I should command a $30 million or $100 million deal. That's not going to come out of my mouth. All I'm going to do is hand them my resume," Sapp said.

"This is the one time in my career that I'm in uncharted waters. I don't have a gut feeling. I've always had a rule that you don't worry about things you can't control."

The Bucs have been trying to restructure the contracts of Brooks, Simeon Rice and others to try to get under the $80.5 million NFL salary cap.

Although Sapp has not received an offer, general manager Bruce Allen said Friday that he had had some discussions with the player's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, at the NFL scouting combine last week.

"We're going to have to see what happens. Warren's been a Buc through some tough times and some great times. He's part of this neighborhood. He likes this neighborhood. He likes this coaching staff," Allen said.

"Love is in the eye of the beholder and he'll fit into a lot of teams' wish list. I know that. His phone will ring."

Sapp will answer.

That's the business side of free agency, although he insists he hasn't compiled of a list of preferred destinations in the event he and the Bucs can't work out a deal.

Sapp said that he was told the Bucs intended to protect him with the tag of "franchise player," but were unable to because they already had used it on Chidi Ahanotu in 1999.

While he is confident Allen and Gruden want him back, Sapp isn't taking anything for granted.

"There are worse situations you could be in, where you have a GM who doesn't covet you ... and you are looking at out the door. You're maybe three-fourths of the way out and they've just got to close it on you," Sapp said.

"I'm inside, and there's a door with an exit sign on it and ain't nobody guarding it. It's my choice to take that door, and that's not my first choice."

Last season's 7-9 finish left a sour taste in Sapp's mouth, another reason he wants to stay in Tampa Bay.

"A 7-9 year defending the title? That wouldn't be my ideal way to go out," Sapp said. "I know Dan Marino looks back and says I wish I had something other than a 62-7 playoff defeat to end my career."


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press