Starting cornerback Brian Kelly, who has missed four of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' six games this season with a degenerative "turf toe" condition that might eventually require surgery, on Wednesday morning was placed on the injured reserve list.
The move prematurely ends Kelly's 2006 season but, more important, might also end his nine-year tenure with the Bucs.
Tampa Bay officials were shopping the nine-year veteran before the trade deadline, trying to attract suitors, even though Kelly was battling through the toe injury. And Kelly, 30, has indicated that he would like to have his contract upgraded, a move the Bucs don't appear inclined to make. Kelly has a base salary of $2.4 million for this season and then is scheduled to make $2.6 million in 2007 and $3.2 million in 2008.
There is a strong likelihood the Bucs will release Kelly after this season, making him an unrestricted free agent. If Kelly has surgery on his toe and is rehabilitated by the spring, he would probably generate solid interest in the free-agent market.
A second-round choice in the 1998 draft, Kelly has teamed with Ronde Barber to provide the Bucs one of the best, albeit underappreciated, cornerback tandems in the league. The Bucs signed Barber to a contract extension this summer but haven't made any such overtures to Kelly.
In 119 appearances, including 75 starts, Kelly has 404 tackles, 20 interceptions, 111 passes defensed, two forced fumbles and four recoveries. The former Southern California standout is well-suited to the "cover two" scheme deployed by so many teams now and a very good pass defender but also a cornerback who is quick to come up and support against the run.
Kelly missed 11 games in 2003 with a torn pectoral muscle but, other than that injury, had been relatively healthy until the toe problem flared up this season. In his two appearances in 2006, Kelly posted 15 tackles and had two passes defensed.
To take Kelly's spot on the roster, the Bucs elevated defensive end Jovan Haye from their practice squad. Haye was a sixth-round choice of the Carolina Panthers in 2005 and played in two games as a rookie. The former Vanderbilt standout was released by the Panthers this summer ands spent some time this season on the Cleveland Browns' practice squad.
Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com