Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFC South [Print without images]

Monday, May 17, 2010
Michael Clayton's future

By Pat Yasinskas
ESPN.com

TAMPA, Fla. -- One of the big topics out at Monday’s media session with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was the future of wide receiver Michael Clayton.

Seems like every year since Clayton’s second in the league, everyone’s been wondering why he’s never been able to produce like he did as a rookie. At this point, there are even some people wondering why Clayton remains on the roster. That’s a question that has some validity, and this thing is far from done.

Michael Clayton
Michael Clayton caught just 16 passes for 230 yards last season.
Between now and the start of the regular season, I’m thinking Clayton could end up anywhere from being a starter to being cut.

“He has to define his role, just like we all do,’’ coach Raheem Morris said.

Here’s the situation: The Bucs let their No. 1 wide receiver, Antonio Bryant, walk as a free agent. They don’t have a true No. 1 yet, but they’ve got high hopes for draft picks Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams and second-year pro Sammie Stroughter. In fact, I think there’s a chance those could be the top three guys at wide receiver. The Bucs also like Mark Bradley, and veteran Maurice Stovall has some special-teams value.

But it’s hard to know for sure if Benn and Williams can start immediately. The Bucs could fall back to Clayton as an insurance policy. He knows the system and is a good blocker in the running game. Clayton’s also a good locker-room guy, which is kind of rare for a receiver. Clayton also made a point that the Bucs have had a lot of turnover at quarterback and that could be part of the reason for his dismal statistics. The Bucs now have designated Josh Freeman as their franchise quarterback and they expect big things in his second season.

"When you have a quarterback that is set, and is going to be the guy -- we haven't had that consistency in a long time -- at wide receiver that plays a huge part on what goes on in the perimeter," said Clayton. "[Freeman] is going to make that easy for all of us. [What] it is going to all boil down to is, who is out there at a specific time to make the plays? The ball is definitely going to be thrown there. We are all going to have opportunities."

Morris and general manager Mark Dominik gave Clayton a big contract extension last year, and Morris wouldn’t argue with the talk of past inconsistency and uncertainty at quarterback.

"That is very valid," Morris said. “I would never sit up here and give an excuse for anybody, but Clayton has had three changes at the quarterback position in any given season. Those guys usually don't end up with the luxury that they would like to have or the success that they'd like to have in the win-loss record for the most part. I'm going to have to agree with him that would have to affect him, but you have to overcome your deal. That's the beauty of Josh Freeman, so to speak -- going into the offseason knowing who your guy is."

The Bucs know who their guy is at quarterback. Over the next few months, they’re going to find out if Clayton still is one of their guys at wide receiver.