Talk about your slumdog millionaires. A year ago at this time Antonio Bryant was sitting at home in exile, an NFL outcast, waiting for someone (anyone) to give him a chance to renew his career.
Now look at him.
With his signature dry on the one-year tender that accompanied the franchise tag that the Bucs placed on him, Bryant is guaranteed to make $9.88 million in 2009.
It's a real life rags-to-riches success story.
With great wealth, however, comes even greater responsibility, particularly in professional sports and especially in the NFL. When you make the big bucks here your team suddenly wants more than just game-winning catches.
Bryant understands his new role. Even better, he's gladly embracing it.
"I know now that I have to be more of a leader," he said. "I have to show some of these young guys and even some of the older guys the way now. I have to step up. And I will. I'm going to do my part."
Antonio Bryant, leader. Some are no doubt laughing out loud at the notion.
Bryant during his early years in the league was a divisive force almost everywhere he went. The Cowboys, Browns and 49ers got rid of him, in part, so that other players wouldn't follow his lead.
Now he plans to lead the Bucs. Don't laugh. He means it.
Even before he signed the one-year tender - and while still upset that he and the Bucs could not agree on a long-term contract - Bryant had committed to participating fully in the Bucs' offseason program.
"I need to be there," he said. "I need to learn this new offense."
It was a risky commitment. The way Bryant figures it, though, the only thing riskier would have been skipping the workouts. After all, he has to set an example now.
He intends to do just that. Both on and off the field.
Bryant talks now of doing more charity work, of becoming more involved in the community that he wants to remain a part of long-term, of giving back to those who have given to him.
"I want to help this team every way I can," Bryant said.
NO SPLASH: The Bucs haven't made the big splash in free agency that many thought they would, but it's not for a lack of trying.
The Bucs, it turns out, were a finalist for DT Albert Haynesworth and made a pretty good run at the likes of WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh and LB Jonathan Vilma, only to be turned down by all three.
Haynesworth's agent, Chad Speck, said Haynesworth's decision came down to a choice between the Bucs and the Redskins, the latter of whom won Haynesworth's services with a seven-year, $100 million offer.
We may never know what the Bucs offered Haynesworth but it was competitive enough to keep them in the running until 3:45 a.m. Friday, when Haynesworth chose to move to Washington instead of Tampa Bay.
The Bucs have yet to lose out on Houshmandzadeh, but he seems more interested in playing elsewhere and is looking at Minnesota, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Seattle.
The Bucs are believed to have offered Vilma a contract very similar to the $34 million deal he signed to stay in New Orleans but Vilma made it clear the Bucs were never anything more than a fall-back should things not work out with the Saints.
RUMOR MILL: The Bucs continue to be the subject of some pretty hot trade rumors. One that turned out to be way off had them making a deal for Patriots QB Matt Cassel, who wound up being moved to Kansas City.
The other has the Bucs looking into a trade for Raiders RB Michael Bush. That one makes sense, because Bush would fit well in the Bucs' new zone-running scheme. We're hearing, though, that Raiders owner Al Davis has no - repeat, no - intention of trading Bush.