By Jeff Berlinicke
One of the intriguing stories to keep an eye on as training camp rolls around is the status if defensive tackle Anthony McFarland.
No one questions McFarland’s skills. He’s been the plug in the middle of the defensive line since being drafted out of LSU in the first round of the 1999 draft. He was a big reason the Bucs were able to allow Warren Sapp to leave for the Oakland Raiders as a free agent last season.
McFarland, however, can’t seem to stay healthy. He also has a salary cap figure of $4.7 million for 2005 and the Bucs are desperate to move some money. McFarland has dominated when healthy and the Bucs are certain to ask him to renegotiate, but if he isn’t willing, he may have to go.
Other defensive standouts Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber, and Simeon Rice have all balked at renegotiating, so the Bucs may be forced to make a move.
McFarland could be the odd man out. With the public relations beatings the franchise has taken over the past two seasons after letting popular players walk away, it would be tough to move Brooks, Barber, or Rice even through they may have all seen their best days. All three are immensely popular in the Tampa Bay area and their release would cause an outcry. Because of their ages, none would bring a significant amount in a trade, so that leaves McFarland, 27, as expendable, but only if the Bucs decided to start clearing the decks this year instead of next year.
Free agent Chris Hovan and versatile Ellis Wyms are the only other defensive tackles on the roster with any significant NFL experience, so McFarland may be safe. The Bucs allowed Chartric Darby to walk as a free agent, but the team can’t let it slip that McFarland has played only sparingly the past two years.
Coach Jon Gruden said McFarland appears ready to go into training camp at top speed, but he is also keeping an eye on the salary cap. He will likely be going over the waiver wires as well, with an emphasis on the defensive front.