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Bryant in no position to demand top dollar

Posted Jan 28, 2010 by Ira Kaufman

Updated Jan 28, 2010 at 10:53 PM

TAMPA—Antonio Bryant may be a wizard near the sidelines, but even he doesn’t have enough wiggle room this spring.

Tampa Bay’s veteran receiver had every reason to think he would cash in as a free agent this spring—but that was before a lingering knee problem and erratic quarterback play contributed to a nondescript 2009 season for Bryant, who turns 29 in March.

After gaining 1,248 yards on 83 catches in 2008, Bryant’s productivity plunged last season as the Bucs started Byron Leftwich, Josh Johnson and Josh Freeman under center and never created an offensive identity en route to a 3-13 mark. Bryant caught only 39 passes for 600 yards, hardly the kind of numbers that will make him a coveted target in the free-agent market.

Less than a year after signing with the Bucs for the league minimum, Bryant was awarded the franchise tag after his spectacular comeback season. That won’t happen again, even though the Bucs lack proven wide receivers to help Freeman develop.

Unless Bryant lowers his expectations, the Bucs are likely to move on without him and add a receiver in April with one of their premium draft picks.

Bryant has done a nice job in Tampa of overcoming his reputation as a disruptive force in the locker room, but a balky knee will be a concern for potential suitors and he was unable to back up his 2008 season with another outstanding year.

Bryant’s best move may be to swallow his pride, re-sign with the Bucs at a much lower wage and help Freeman grow into the kind of quarterback Coach Raheem Morris envisioned when Tampa Bay traded up to land the strong-armed passer out of Kansas State.

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