It’s no secret that I haven’t been one of Michael Clayton’s most ardent supporters over the years. The Louisiana wideout has been a failure since his breakout rookie season in 2004. That year, Clayton led all NFL rookies in receptions (80) and scored 7 TDs. He was one of the few bright spots on an ugly 5-11 football team and looked to be on his way to justifying the 15th overall selection.
But that’s as good as it got for Clayton. He’s caught a whopping 141 passes over the last 5 seasons (that’s an average of 28 per year) and has found the endzone just 3 more times than I have from the comfortable confines of my couch. His blocking has always been his best asset, but when you pay a receiver $24 million for 5 years of service, I don’t think asking him to score twice in a season is too big of a request.
His conditioning, health, and attitude problems are connected and ever-present. It’s obvious that Clayton couldn’t handle his early success and didn’t/doesn’t have what it takes to be a leader of a football team or the focal point of an offense. The Buccaneers have not improved as a team or an offense by carrying him over on the roster year to year, and it’s no coincidence. Opposite a consistent deep threat in Joey Galloway, the disgruntled receiver was never anything more than a disappointing offensive afterthought. Lighting up the boxscore with his 3 catch 28 yard performances, nothing ever seemed to be Clayton’s fault. I don’t find it a coincidence that he was the first Buccaneer to speak out when Jon Gruden was fired. In addition to being consistently unproductive, Clayton’s tendency to find fault anywhere but within has become a pathetic part of life at One Buc Place.
This year, for a change, the Bucs actually have some decent talent that could give the Bucs reason #80 to cut ties with the flopped flanker. Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams were two sound draft choices, and both are making a case to start right out of the gates this season. They’re obviously on the team. With the tight ends expecting to figure prominently in the passing game again, I can’t see them keeping more than 6 receivers. That would leave us 4 players to choose from the following group: Reggie Brown, Micheal Spurlock, Maurice Stovall, Sammie Stroughter, Mario Urrutia, Terrence Nunn, and Preston Parker.
Stroughter is a lock to make the team and will see the field a ton in 3 wide sets. Barring an injury, Brown will be on the roster as well. That leaves two spots for Spurlock, Stovall, Urrutia, Nunn, Parker, and Clayton. Reports have Stovall playing well, and while he hasn’t blossomed into the receiver the Bucs were hoping to get when they spent a 3rd round pick on him in 2006, he’s one of the team’s best special teams players.
If the final roster receiver spot does indeed come down to Clayton, Spurlock, Urrutia, Nunn, and Parker, why in the world would you decide to keep Clayton? It’s obvious that if he’s not one of your top 4 options, he’s not going to see the field much. The Bucs can reportedly save $3 million by cutting him, so why pay for him to stand on the sidelines, again? Keep one of the younger players who hasn’t yet shown us the depth of their disappointment.
I for one will never forget this quote when asked about being criticized for his lack of production:
“I ain't worried about that. People who say stuff, they're not out there on the field. Nobody who writes (stuff) or says (stuff) can say anything about a player because they're not on the field. It's real serious out there. That's why I don't pay any attention to that stuff because the mentality is that you make up for it and you come back and catch the next one. I mean, regardless of what they say, the check is in the bank. That's not changing."
That says it all doesn’t it? A man the Bucs were likely hoping would develop into the Derrick Brooks of their offense never became anything even remotely resembling the all-time great defensive captain. When presented with the opportunity to cut the cord with the Clayton era last offseason, they inexplicably kept him from fleeing to Seattle by giving away millions of dollars that could have been spent elsewhere, anywhere else. It’s not a “do over”, but the Bucs are once again at the precipice of a decision with the failed veteran. If I had any advice for the Bucs it would be to not let a bad investment remain a lingering liability. Turn the page. No one but Michael Clayton would blame you.