Just hours after Gaines Adams signed his contract with Tampa Bay, Rice was released after he failed a physical, according to the Buccaneers.
But other sources, including Foxsports.com's Jay Glazer, reported that Rice was released because, in a meeting with team officials, he refused to take a pay cut.
He was to make $7.25 million this season in base salary, and count about $10 million against the salary cap, the final year of his seven-year deal with Tampa Bay, signed in 2001.
Buccaneers general manager Bruce Allen, who spoke after the announcement, said Rice agreed with the physical assessment of his injured shoulder.
"We anticipated that he would be healthy and coming to camp," Allen said. "We held him out of offseason workouts. He needs more time to recover, and he agreed."
Rice was not available for comment, but was reportedly on his way back to Chicago on Thursday night.
He had reported to the team hotel in Celebration on Thursday on time and in a good mood, as he smiled with teammates outside the hotel entrance upon his arrival.
Allen said the Buccaneers released Rice because they had players they needed to see at Rice's position. Plus he felt keeping Rice and releasing him later might be disadvantageous to Rice.
The Buccaneers did not have to release Rice, as they were under the salary cap with him on the roster. They also could have put him on the physically unable to perform list, but Allen felt the time was now to make a decision.
Whether it was his shoulder or his contract, Rice's release is a blow to a team trying to bolster its pass rush after an anemic 2006, in which it only sacked the quarterback 25 times.
A healthy Rice, plus Adams and free agents like Kevin Carter, were supposed to rejuvenate that pass rush. Rice's presence would also have lessened the pressure on Adams and eased his transition to the NFL.
"We have players that need the playing time," Allen said.
Rice leaves the Buccaneers with a Super Bowl ring from Super Bowl XXXVII and 121 career sacks (69 ½ of which came in Tampa Bay). The 121 career sacks is the 13th most in NFL history. He also has 584 career tackles, 37 forced fumbles, eight fumble recoveries, five interceptions and 58 passes defensed. He was especially durable, starting 160 of the 166 career games he played in.
But that durability took a hit last year when he played in only eight games, registering two sacks. He had season-ending shoulder surgery, and by all accounts was pointed toward being on the field for the first practice of training camp on Friday.
Adams signed a six-year contract, in spite of the fact that the top three picks ahead of him in the draft have not signed. He chose not to wait for the market to be set, like many top picks do.
"The main reason I wanted to be here on time was to earn the respect of the coaches and the players," Adams said. "I wanted to be here and I wanted to let them know that I'm willing to work hard."
Adams, his agent, Fletcher Smith, and the Buccaneers would not release the terms of the deal.
Smith did say that Adams was happy with the deal, and that he didn't believe that Adams' deal would be leapfrogged by the No. 5 pick, Arizona's Levi Jones, an offensive lineman.
"We didn't mind being first, as long as we got the deal we wanted, or close to it," Smith said. "If we hadn't gotten it, we would have waited."
The Bucs made Adams the No. 4 overall pick for his speed rushing skills. At 6-foot-5, 258 pounds, Adams was a first-team All-American in 2006 and finished his time with the Tigers with 28 sacks (12 ½ in 2006). He was the first defensive player taken in the draft and clearly selected to address the Bucs' failing pass rush of a year ago, which notched only 25 sacks.
He anticipated learning the pass rushing ropes from a veteran like Rice.
Want to read more? Here's Matthew Postins' commentary.
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. Included among his more than two dozen writing and editing awards are national awards from the PFWA, the National Newspaper Association and the Associated Press Sports Editors, and state awards from the Florida Press Club and the Florida Sports Writers Association, for his coverage of the Buccaneers since 2004.