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Super Bowl champs release Freeport native

| Friday, Feb. 28, 2003

TAMPA, Fla.: Center Jeff Christy is moving on rather than accept a big pay cut from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Super Bowl champions released the three-time Pro Bowl selection Thursday after Christy, scheduled to earn $3.955 million next season, rejected a proposal that would have chopped his salary to $750,000 with no incentives.

"It was a matter of they thought I was worth a certain amount and that was pretty much it. I didn't really get a chance to restructure. I didn't get a chance to earn any money back with incentives or anything," Christy said. "At this point of my career, I was not willing to take a straight pay cut and play for 750."

The Bucs also released Christy's backup, Todd Washington, to help the club get under the $74.8 million salary cap.

At least three key players -- linebacker Derrick Brooks, cornerback Ronde Barber and kicker Martin Gramatica -- have restructured their contracts since the Super Bowl to provide cap relief. And general manager Rich McKay hopes to redo other deals to create more space to pursue free agents.

"I am not upset about it. I understand their situation. I don't think I was in their plans. I think that's been established for a little bit of time now," said Christy, who signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent in 2000 after spending the first seven years of his career with the Minnesota Vikings.

"They obviously want to go down a different road. They want me back, but at their price. There are a million ways around these salary cap issues with the restructuring and the extensions. ... I was under the impression that they were going to bring somebody else in, not only for the competition part, but for the job. If I really thought they wanted me back, I think they would have done something more."

By releasing Christy and Washington, a fifth-year pro who started one game at center and one at left guard in 2002, signing a center becomes a priority in free agency. McKay said Wednesday the team might wait until July to address the position if Christie was let go.

"We have six months to find players," the general manager said.

There is a greater sense of urgency, though, for McKay to retain some of Tampa Bay's own free agents.

Four starters -- Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson, linebackers Shelton Quarles and Alshermond Singleton and offensive tackle Roman Oben -- are likely to attract attention on the open market. Backup quarterbacks Rob Johnson and Shaun King also are unrestricted free agents.

Christy, meanwhile, is confident he'll wind up somewhere else.

"I have absolutely no hard or bitter feelings," he said. "It's part of the business, and I have been down this road before. I just have to accept the challenge."

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