Defensive end Simeon Rice, one of the NFL's most dominant pass rushers over the past decade, was placed on injured reserve by Tampa Bay on Wednesday, prematurely ending his 2006 season and possibly his six-year tenure with the Bucs.
Rice, 32, missed the past two games with a left shoulder injury. The 11-year veteran had missed just two games total, neither because of injury, in his previous 10 NFL seasons.
The exact nature of the injury, suffered on Oct. 8 at New Orleans, has never been divulged. In recent days, though, both Rice and coach Jon Gruden strongly suggested the three-time Pro Bowl performer might need surgery to correct it. While it has not been confirmed Rice will undergo surgery, the move to place him on injured reserve certainly indicates that is a strong possibility.
Two weeks ago, when he was attempting to play through the pain, Rice acknowledged he was struggling and said he was being forced to "play like a one-armed bandit."
Fourth-year veteran Dewayne White, who has played well the past two weeks and had an especially strong outing in last Sunday's victory over Washington, will replace Rice in the lineup.
There were whispers this spring that Rice's time in Tampa Bay might be growing short, even suggestions the Bucs would entertain trading him, and he was the subject of trade speculation right before the league's trade deadline last month. The shoulder injury, which could mean a long rehabilitation, and the fact Rice will be 33 in February will add to the speculation about his future with the franchise.
Rice has one season remaining on his contract, at a base salary of $7.25 million for 2007, and an exorbitant salary cap charge.
A superb pass-rusher, Rice will finish this season with a career-low two sacks. He also had 21 tackles, four forced fumbles and one pass defensed.
The former Illinois star, a first-round draft choice of the Arizona Cardinals in 1996, Rice has 121 career sacks. He has posted eight seasons of double-digit sacks, with a career high of 16½ in 1999, and entered 2006 with five straight seasons of 10 or more sacks.
The colorful and eminently quotable Rice, who this summer told ESPN.com that he was "the bar" by which all pass-rushers should be measured, was often criticized early in his career for being a one-dimensional defender, a guy who ignored the run and only wanted to collect sacks. But when he left Arizona and signed with Tampa Bay as an unrestricted free agent in 2001, he improved his play against the run, even if most of his critics never gave him ample credit for doing so.
In 160 games, Rice has 584 tackles, 37 forced fumbles, eight fumble recoveries and five interceptions.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.