Lynch's 11-year run in Tampa ends

Updated: March 12, 2004, 4:59 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

TAMPA, Fla. -- Five-time Pro Bowl safety John Lynch won't be back with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next season.

Although the Bucs had not yet officially released the 32-year-old, Lynch said Thursday he was given permission to talk to other teams after general manager Bruce Allen turned down his request to restructure a contract that would have paid him $4.1 million in 2004 and $5 million in 2005.

Lynch is expected to be released soon, even though a trade is an option as well. The Jets and Colts have reportedly expressed interest.

Lynch said the Bucs never made him an offer and that Allen made it clear "it wasn't an option to be back in Tampa."

"I take great pride in the fact that in my career in the NFL I have never and will never play for a contract, rather any success I've had is the result of my play, my passion for the game I love, and the game I respect so much," Lynch said in a news conference held at a radio station in his hometown of San Diego and broadcast live in Tampa.

"Those values never changed in this process. This decision was not a result of my unwillingness to restructure my contract. ... As a result, I will be playing football next year for a different team."

Lynch requested an opportunity to talk to other teams before Tampa Bay officially severed ties with him. He likely will be released, although Allen said the Bucs also would explore the prospect of a trade once Lynch settled on his destination.

"Everyone respects who he is and what he's brought to the game of football. But at this time we're going to move forward," Allen said. "We decided the best way to move forward is allow him to talk to other teams and find a home that would be best for him and his family."

Allen declined to discuss specifics about talks with Lynch or whether the Bucs decided they didn't want the veteran safety back at any price.

"I don't discuss contract negotiations," Allen said, adding that it was in the team's best interest to turn to younger players, like fourth-year pro Jermaine Phillips, at Lynch's position.

"You don't replace John Lynch. I understand what this means," the general manager said. "But we will overcome this and we will become a better team."

Tampa Bay released five players and restructured the contracts of linebacker Derrick Brooks, cornerback Brian Kelly and offensive lineman Kerry Jenkins to create room under the NFL's $80.6 million salary cap.

The team has signed eight players in the past week, including former Oakland running back Charlie Garner, while ignoring the highest-profile Tampa Bay free agent on the open market, defensive tackle Warren Sapp.

Sapp's agent said Tuesday that the seven-time Pro Bowl selection had not yet received an offer from the Bucs and would begin talking to other teams.

Lynch has played his entire 11-year career in Tampa Bay and along with Sapp and Brooks helped transform the Bucs from the laughingstock of the league into Super Bowl champions. He was bothered part of last season by a shoulder injury that kept him out of two games and required offseason surgery.

The safety said he's fine and looking forward to a fresh start elsewhere, even though he'll remain a "Buccaneer at heart."

"I was saddened and shocked," Lynch said, "but I'm very much excited for the opportunity."

During the news conference, Lynch thanked former Bucs and current Colts coach Tony Dungy for giving him a chance to become a star, and he retains a close relationship with Jets coach and former Bucs assistant Herman Edwards.

Allen was noncommittal about his plans for the money Lynch's departure will clear under the salary cap.

"It frees up money to sign any number of players," Allen said. "We'll see what happens."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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