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Bubble watch: Michael Clayton

We’ve moved into preseason games and that means we’re getting closer to roster cuts. With that in mind, I’ll begin an occasional series about players on the bubble. We’ll start it with Tampa Bay receiver Michael Clayton.

A lot of people were mystified when one of the first moves coach Raheem Morris and general manager Mark Dominik made after taking over last season was to hand Clayton a new contract that runs through 2013. Clayton hadn’t done anything of note since his rookie season, and the hope was he would emerge as a factor under a new coaching staff.

That didn’t happen and Clayton clearly is on the bubble as the Bucs have brought in a bunch of young receivers. Clayton has worked hard in camp and hasn’t looked bad. But he hasn’t done anything special, and it would take several injuries for him to end up in a starting role.

Draft picks Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn are going to make the roster. So is Sammie Stroughter. Reggie Brown is a guy the Bucs traded for, and he’s got a roster spot as well. After that, there’s Maurice Stovall and a bunch of young guys.

That’s where it gets down to numbers. Stovall and Clayton are basically the same guy, and either one can help you on special teams. The Buccaneers likely will keep five or six receivers, and that begs one question: Do you keep Clayton as a No. 4, No. 5 or No. 6 receiver?

It’s a tough call, because he’s not a bad guy in the locker room and he’s the most experienced receiver the Bucs have. It’s not uncommon for young receivers to look good in camp and the preseason, but have trouble once the regular season rolls around. Clayton could provide a little insurance.

But let’s throw out one other number that matters – and this could be highly significant. The Bucs are on the hook to Clayton for $3 million this season. That’s guaranteed money that he gets if he makes the roster or not. It would seem like a waste to pay a guy $3 million to go away, but don’t rule out that possibility.

Who knows what’s going to happen with the Collective Bargaining Agreement? There is no salary cap in place this season, but but Clayton’s scheduled base salary for 2011 is $3.75 million. In 2012, he’s to make $4.5 million, and it's $4.75 million in 2013. None of those salaries are guaranteed. There’s a chance the Bucs could look ahead at those numbers and just go ahead and pull the plug on Clayton sooner rather than later.