Bucs Pro Bowler says he wants to be paid like the average No. 1 receiver.
By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer
Published June 22, 2004

TAMPA - He doesn't want to shatter the Bucs' salary cap. He isn't asking to be compensated like Terrell Owens, Marvin Harrison or Randy Moss.

What Bucs receiver Keenan McCardell wants is to be paid close to the average of the league's No. 1 receivers.

Now, he's about to make his point.

After missing all 14 of the "voluntary" offseason team practices, McCardell said Monday he will not take part in the mandatory three-day minicamp that starts today. He said he will stay in Houston until the Bucs make him an offer he can't refuse.

"I just want to be treated fairly," McCardell said from his Houston home. "When I signed (with the Bucs) it was to complement Keyshawn (Johnson), and even prior to his departure I was performing as a top receiver. And I'm still performing as a top receiver. I'm not trying to break the bank. It's fair for any employee in any line of work to get a raise when he gets a promotion or increased responsibility. ... That's fair."

The veteran receiver, who has been silent about his contract situation since the end of the 2003 season, said he is making a stand based on his production and his work ethic.

"I really think I'm a hard-working employee," he said. "I started from the bottom and worked my way to the top. I have never caused a problem in the locker room. I've been a consummate team player. I'm not trying to cash in on last year's season, I'm fighting for what's fair. I think the public would agree I was a Pro Bowl receiver and I deserve to be paid at least the average of the No. 1 receivers."

McCardell, 34, has two years left on a four-year contract. He is due to earn $2.5-million this season and $2.75-million in his final year.

McCardell's absence at this week's minicamp could cost him up to $1,000, the maximum fine allowed by the league's collective bargaining agreement. He could be fined $5,000 a day for any missed time at training camp, according to the CBA.

"I understand that situation, I've been in the league long enough," said McCardell, entering his 13th season. "I'm fighting over a principle. What is fair and just, and sometimes you have to take some risks. Stand up for what you believe. ... I understand that there are negatives, including fines and other economic sanctions that go along with my situation, but I have to do what I know is in my heart."

In keeping with team policy, Bucs general manager Bruce Allen does not comment on contract negotiations. McCardell's Las Vegas agent, Gary Uberstine, also wouldn't comment.

Negotiations between Allen and Uberstine are ongoing with the hope of a resolution before July 30, when the team reports for training camp in Orlando.

Should things not get resolved by then, McCardell could be the first Bucs player to hold out since linebacker Derrick Brooks at the start of the 2001 season.

"I'm going to be here in Houston working out until the Bucs decide to treat me fairly," he said. "How long? I don't know. I want to be with my teammates, but I'm willing to wait it out until the team is ready to bring me back to play football."

In 2003, McCardell had a career year that ended with his second Pro Bowl appearance. With a series of clutch catches, some of them tying touchdowns, McCardell was a bright light in a dark season.

He finished his 12th NFL campaign with 84 catches for 1,174 yards and a career-high eight receiving touchdowns. He added a ninth touchdown on a fumble recovery. McCardell said his 724 career receptions and five 1,000-yard seasons are proof that last year was not a flash.

"In 2003, I had a good year but it wasn't my best," he said. "I've had five seasons of over 80 catches. ... That's production."

Considered one of the league's craftiest receivers, McCardell came to the Bucs with a reputation for professionalism on and off the field.

In his two seasons in Tampa Bay, he has totaled 145 catches for 1,844 yards and 15 touchdowns. He had seven catches for 50 yards and two touchdowns in the Bucs' 48-21 win over the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII.

Off the field, McCardell has been involved in a number of charitable programs involving the American Cancer Society and has provided toys and turkeys for children during the holiday season.

But at 34, is age an issue?

"It's about my production, not my age," said McCardell, who plans to play five more seasons. "My best three seasons have come over the last four seasons. It seems I get better with age. I've got a lot left in my tank. I think I'm in my prime right now and can play at a very, very high level. I showed it last year and will continue to show it.

"I'm not a 4.2 (speed) guy like Joey Galloway. I'm the production guy that comes to work every day and catches everything. I don't think 34 is a matter to me. My production speaks louder than anything. I continue to make plays."

McCardell said he'd prefer not to have missed the OTAs but continues to work out in Houston and will be ready when the contract situation is settled.

"Yes, I could (play right away)," he said. "I've been in the league 12 years and know how to take care of my body and stay in shape. I'm one of those guys who come to camp in shape, not to get in shape. I wish I was getting reps with Brad (Johnson) and the rest of the offense. But, that's why I'm called a veteran. I've been doing it for 12 years."

Still under contract, McCardell said he would like to return to the Bucs but has not ruled out the team trading or releasing him.

"Nothing surprises me in this league," he said. "I had a personal experience about loyalty with (the Jaguars). They released me. I don't think many people thought that John (Lynch) and Warren (Sapp) would be so blatantly dismissed after all the contributions they did for the team and the city of Tampa. ... If I had underperformed or been injured, I probably wouldn't be a Buc, too. It's possible the Bucs could trade me if the situation drags on."

McCardell said he isn't worried about backlash from his teammates.

"A lot of guys know how passionate I feel about this game," he said. "They know I would love to be out there and help them get back to the Super Bowl, but they know the business of the game, too."