TAMPA, Fla. For a change, the Tampa Bay Bucs are thrilled to be playing Dallas this season.
Well, no, not the Cowboys, who host the Bucs in Week 3 of the 2012 campaign and historically have had Tampa Bays number. Its Dallas Clark, the former Indianapolis Colts star tight end whos trading his familiar number 44 for 84 with the Bucs.
The club announced it had signed Clark to a one-year deal late Monday night, while also revealing that tight end Kellen Winslow had been traded to the Seattle Seahawks for an undisclosed draft pick.
The moves came as no major surprise, ever since Winslows Monday morning interview on XMSirius Radio during which he disclosed that the Bucs planned to trade him. Winslow attributed the move to his absence at the first week of offseason workouts and the on-site strength and conditioning program at One Buc Place.
But new Buc head coach Greg Schiano would not offer any insight into Winslows release when he spoke with the media following Tuesdays practice.
Well, one thing Im going to do over time here is when we do make decisions to do things, Im going to hesitate to look back and really just focus on the guys who are here and the guys who are Bucs right now, he said. Certainly theres a business side to this game at this level. And Ill leave it at that.
Schiano was more than happy to talk about Clark, who fits the disciplined style of the new regime well and whose leadership and experience could be a positive force on and off the field.
I think hes definitely a proven player, Schiano said. Hes had some health issues as of late, some things that kept him from playing the level of football that was able to do earlier in his career. But I believe whole-heartedly that hes going to return to his form and play the way hes capable. Hes going to do everything were going to ask him to do. And I think its really good to have a strong, veteran presence in that tight end (position) as well.
Clark, 32, spent nine seasons with the Colts and, as one of quarterback Peyton Mannings favorite targets, was a valuable member of the Super Bowl XLI championship team. During the 2009 regular season leading up to the title, Clark set franchise records for tight ends with 100 receptions and 1,106 yards. That same season, he became only the third tight end in NFL history, along with Tony Gonzales and Todd Christensen, to notch 90 receptions or more, 1,000-plus yards and at least 10 touchdowns.
He started in 111 of the 114 games he has played since entering the league as the 24th overall pick in 2003, amassing 427 catches for 4,887 yards and 46 touchdowns.
But Clarks productivity dropped in 2010 when he suffered a wrist injury, ending his season with 37 catches for 347 yards and three TDs. Clark also battled injuries in 2011, but suffered most from the absence of Manning, who sat out the season while coming back from neck surgery. He wound up with 37 catches for 357 yards and two touchdowns in 11 games.
Still, the 6-3, 250-pounder from Sioux Falls, S.D., is delighted to begin a new chapter in his career wearing pewter and red instead of blue and white.
Its a great opportunity, great team, great organization and its an honor to be a part of it, he said.
Clark tried out for Denver, where he would have been reunited with Manning, and Kansas City but no deal materialized. In the end, he chose the Bucs over several other suitors due to a sense of comfort.
Theres definitely not a guide on how to pick a team, but the best part about it is having options a few teams is better than no teams, he said. It was just a lot of being patient with it and asking a lot of questions, and the bottom line: just feeling most comfortable. Thats where I felt led.
He also liked what he heard about the team. The general consensus was very positive a lot of talent on this team, and thats a huge positive, he said. That just means theres a lot of potential and a lot of opportunity.
Clark stressed that he has no idea yet about the extent of his role with the offense, since his primary focus now is on getting acclimated.
Its just coming to work and working hard every day and letting all that stuff handle itself, he said. Well work on that down the road. Right now, its learning the offense and trying to figure out where I need to be. Thats coming. But there are no promises in this league. Id be hesitant if (Coach Schiano) promised me anything, and hes the type of man who didnt because he knows time will tell. Its (about) learning and seeing where were at when those decisions need to be made.
As for his recent spate of injuries, Clark isnt worried. Injuries are part of the game and Ive had a couple of down years if you will, but it is what it is. Its not slowing me down and not feeling like Im hampered by anything. So I still feel I can come out and perform every day. And thats what Im working hard to do.
How will Clark gauge his level of success this season? Just being consistent and being a player who Josh (Freeman) and the offense can depend on. Thats all Ive ever tried to be. Youre never guaranteed 100 catches, youre never guaranteed 20. So you have to earn every one of them.
Thats the kind of attitude Schiano embraces as he tries to turn around a team that ended the 2011 season with 10 straight losses and a 4-12 record. Clarks potential influence on Freeman and other young players on the offense, including second-year tight end Luke Stocker, was certainly an appeal in bringing him on board.
Dallas Clark is a consummate pro and proven playmaker," said general manager Mark Dominik. "He will be another asset, on and off the field, for our team. In addition to Luke Stocker's continued improvement in his ability as an every-down tight end, we feel we have both talent and depth at the tight end position."
Freeman will no longer have one of his favorite targets in Winslow, but playing without his security blanket may ultimately force him to take a step in his growth as a quarterback. He has no shortage of options at his disposal in Clark and ex-San Diego star wideout Vincent Jackson, in addition to holdovers Mike Williams, Arrelious Benn and Sammie Stroughter.
Meanwhile, Schianos willingness to abruptly cut ties with a proven commodity such as Winslow might be viewed as a message to the team: get with the program or get ready for a change of scenery. But the head coach insisted thats not the case.
Theres really not a message its not one of those situations, he said. The only message I want our guys to (hear) is we need to be the best football team we can be. Time is our enemy.
But suddenly, they have an ally in Dallas.