Bucs add veteran blocker Sowell to backfield

Adding another veteran player at a position where coach Jon Gruden always likes to have depth, the Tampa Bay Bucs have reached a contract agreement with unrestricted free agent fullback Jerald Sowell, a nine-year veteran who was released by the New York Jets two months ago for salary cap reasons.

The acquisition of Sowell, one of the NFL's top lead-blockers and an excellent receiver in the short passing game, is perhaps a move for both the present and the future.

Tampa Bay lost its best blocking fullback, Jameel Cook, in free agency when the five-year veteran signed with the Houston Texans earlier this spring. And this figures to be the final season for Mike Alstott, the six-time Pro Bowl fullback who has considered retiring after each of the last two campaigns.

Plus, Sowell will give the Bucs a different skills-set at the position, since Alstott is more a short-yardage and goal-line specialist at this point in his career, and isn't often used to block anymore. The Bucs also have youngster Rick Razzano on the fullback depth chart, but he played sparingly as a rookie in 2005 and might need more time to develop.

Sowell, 32, is a proven commodity, a blocker who can knock linebackers out of the hole, who is very good in pass protection, and an accomplished receiver. For years, he served as the escort for New York tailback Curtis Martin and he is an unselfish veteran who embraces his role.

Because of his offensive design, Gruden likes to have a lot of fullbacks and tight ends on the roster. He often used the two positions interchangeably, utilizing players as H-backs in an offense that relies heavily on motion and shifts. In that regard, Sowell should be a good fit.

A seventh-round pick of the Green Bay Packers in 1997, Sowell was claimed on waivers by the Jets that season and went on to establish himself as a fixture in the New York lineup. He appeared in 137 games and started 48 of them, including 46 starts over the past three seasons.

The former Tulane star registered just 61 rushes for 244 yards and one touchdown. Outside of 1998, when Sowell had a career-best 40 carries, he never posted more than four attempts in a season, instead paving the way for Martin to carve up defenses. Sowell also has 147 receptions for 1,188 yards and five touchdowns.

Details on the contract to which he agreed were not immediately available.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.