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Friday, May 10
Tampa Bay was hurting for experienced punters

By Len Pasquarelli

The Tampa Bay Bucs addressed their need for a veteran punter Friday, reaching an agreement with free agent Tom Tupa, who was released early this spring by the New York Jets for salary cap reasons.

Tupa, 36, will sign a one-year contract. Although financial details were not released by the team, the contract likely is for the minimum base salary of $750,000. A 13-year veteran, Tupa would count only $450,000 to $475,000 against the team's 2002 cap, depending on whether he received a signing bonus.

Tampa Bay had just two untested punters on the roster. Mike Abrams is an undrafted free agent and the team recently acquired former University of Tennessee star David Leaverton in a trade.

The Bucs lost Mark Royals, their punter for the previous three years, to the Miami Dolphins in free agency.

A former Ohio State star, Tupa has punted 596 times in his career, for a gross average of 43.4 yards and a 37.9-yard net average. With the Jets in 2001, he had a 38.4-yard gross average and a net average of 33.5 yards. Both numbers were the lowest of his career. He did have 21 punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line.

Tupa will be playing for his sixth NFL team. Before joining Tampa Bay, Tupa played for the Arizona Cardinals (1988-91), Indianapolis Colts (1992), Cleveland Browns (1993-95), New England Patriots (1996-98) and the Jets (1999-2001).

He was a third-round draft choice of the Cardinals in 1989, entering the league as a quarterback. Most of his action at that position occurred during his first four seasons. He has started 13 games at quarterback and has completed 259 of 503 passes for 3,430 yards, with 12 touchdown passes and 24 interceptions.

Over the past eight seasons, Tupa has made just one appearance at quarterback and the Bucs have no plans to use him at the position.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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