Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bucs sign versatile lineman Zuttah to four-year deal
TAMPA - New Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano has already brought several of his former Rutgers assistants to Tampa Bay. Now he's lured back one his old Rutgers players, as well. Jeremy Zuttah, a 2008 third-round pick out of Rutgers who has started 44 of the 58 games he's played for the Bucs, signed a new four-year contract with the team Monday that will keep him out of the free-agent marketplace. "Not only am I happy to remain a Buccaneer, but also to be back playing for Coach (Greg) Schiano," Zuttah said in a statement. Zuttah, who started 14 games at left guard for the Bucs last year, was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent March 13, but the Bucs had no intentions of letting the versatile lineman reach the open market.Zuttah has also started games at center and right guard the past four years, and it was that versatility that drove the negotiations from general manager Mark Dominik's perspective. "Mark and I agreed keeping Jeremy on our football team was one of our priorities this offseason," Schiano said. "He is a young, talented player who we both know very well. We are pleased we could get this deal done and secure Jeremy for years to come." The desire to remain in Tampa Bay and once again play for Schiano was one of the driving forces behind Zuttah's decision to stay out of free agency, according to Zuttah's agent, Noel LaMontagne. "The team wants the player and the player wants the team,'' LaMontagne recently told The Tampa Tribune. "That's the most important progress you can have. The rest just comes down to dollars and cents.'' Details of the deal were not available, but it will probably not be the last transaction the Bucs make today. The team is also expected to make a move with projected free-agent place-kicker Connor Barth. Dominik has been negotiating a long-term deal for Barth, but if he and Barth cannot come to an agreement by 4 p.m. today the team is prepared to place the franchise tag Barth. Such a move would keep Barth from reaching free agency and guarantee Barth a 2012 salary of $2.6 million, which is the average for the top five kickers in the league. Barth, 25, made $1.835 million last year when he ranked second in the league in field-goal percentage (92.9) after connecting on 26 of 28 field-goal tries and all 23 of his extra point attempts. Barth came to the Bucs as a free agent on Nov. 3, 2009, and made an immediate impact when he tied an NFL record by kicking three field goals of 50 yards or more during a loss to the Dolphins on Nov. 15. Since then, Barth has made 59 of 70 field-goal tries, including 49 of 56 the past two years for an 87.5 percent success rate that has established him as one of the league's more consistent kickers. Dominik, who last used the tag on wide receiver Antonio Bryant in 2009, said he planned to negotiate with Barth right up to the deadline for assigning the tag and was hopeful a long-term deal could be reached. As of midday Monday, at least 11 teams had already applied the franchise tag to would-be free agents, including New Orleans (quarterback Drew Brees), Baltimore (running back Ray Rice) and Atlanta (cornerback Brent Grimes).