The inevitable happened on Monday morning, as the Atlanta Falcons released 11-year veteran running back Warrick Dunn.
Now the speculation about Dunn’s next destination begins.
The former Florida State and Tampa Bay Buccaneers star doesn’t appear to be pointing toward retirement.
The Bucs are believed to be immediate contenders for his services. Dunn reportedly met with the Buccaneers on Monday night.
His name has been linked to his former pro team in the past few days as speculation grew about his place in Atlanta. Dunn attended a Saturday night gala to honor former Bucs fullback Mike Alstott at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
Dunn, who rushed for 5,979 yards for the Falcons in six seasons, was the victim of the Falcons’ youth movement after the team signed free-agent running back Michael Turner to a six-year contract on Sunday.
"Warrick Dunn holds himself to the highest standards of the National Football League," said Falcons Owner & CEO Arthur Blank. "His contributions, not only to the Falcons but to the entire NFL both on and off the field, have been well documented. The legacy he leaves in Atlanta will be long-remembered and appreciated by his fellow players, fans and the community.”
Dunn spent the first five seasons of his career with the Buccaneers, after being drafted in the 1997 NFL Draft with the 12th overall pick. In Tampa Bay, Dunn combined with Alstott to form one of the NFL’s most productive rushing tandems. He rushed for 1,000 yards twice for the Buccaneers before leaving for Atlanta in free agency after the 2001 season.
With the Falcons he enjoyed three straight 1,000-yard seasons from 2004-06.
Dunn is considered on of the NFL’s consummate off the field ambassadors. He continues to make his home in Tampa, and his work with his “Home for the Holidays” program helped earn him the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award in 2004.
The Buccaneers may not be the only team looking at Dunn. Playoff contenders like Dallas, Indianapolis and now San Diego — Turner’s former home — are in need to second backs to tandem with their starters. Indianapolis could hold some sway since former Bucs head coach Tony Dungy is the head coach of the Colts and Dungy was part of the Bucs when Dunn was drafted.
Dunn's performance last season was highlighted when he eclipsed the 10,000-yard rushing total against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 12, becoming the 22nd running back in the NFL to accomplish the feat. He is currently the only active running back in the League to reach 10,000 yards rushing and 4,000 yards receiving and ranks seventh all-time in the category.
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Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. An award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he appears frequently on Scot Brantley Show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1470-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.