What to do with Michael Clayton?

Perhaps the most interesting thing out of Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris in his media session after Saturday night’s preseason game against Jacksonville came when he was asked about receiver Michael Clayton.

ClaytonClaytonMorris confirmed that Clayton dressed for the game but did not play, and provided an explanation that didn’t include any sort of injury to the veteran receiver who might be on the roster bubble.

“We got a chance to evaluate some of Reggie (Brown) and we were able to evaluate some of Arrelious Benn,’’ Morris said. “Really, we got a chance to look at those guys. We’ve already seen a lot of Michael Clayton, and we’re going to get a chance to see a little bit of Michael Clayton next week as well. All those guys, we’re going to find out who’s going to play Z for us, who’s going to be our starter.’’

That’s probably all true, the Bucs haven’t settled on a starting Z receiver, although rookie Mike Williams has locked up the starting spot on the other side and Sammie Stroughter is going to get significant time as the slot receiver.

But was there a little more to why Clayton never got on the field Saturday night? Perhaps. Anytime a veteran, who is on the bubble and not injured, doesn’t play this time of year, you have to wonder if his team is trying to trade him and making sure he doesn’t get hurt before a deal goes down.

Does Clayton, with the massive contract the Bucs gave him last season, really have much, or any, trade value? Actually, he might.

The Bucs pretty much stunned the NFL world last offseason when they handed Clayton a new five-year contract that could be worth as much as $26 million. They gave him a $2 million signing bonus, a $1.5 million roster bonus and $3 million in 2009 base salary. That money already is in Clayton’s pocket, and there’s nothing the Bucs can do about that.

They also guaranteed him $3 million in base salary for this season, and a lot of people think that -- along with base salaries that amount to about $13 million combined for 2012, 2013 and 2014 -- will be enough to scare off any potential trade partner. There also some escalators and incentives in those years that could earn Clayton even more money.

But is his contract really such an obstacle to a potential trade? Maybe not as much as many think. There’s no doubt Clayton’s been a disappointment. But there are some teams out there that are desperate for help at wide receiver, and the guy does have some talent. Really, all a trade partner would be taking on for sure this season would be Clayton’s $3 million guaranteed base salary. That might be a little high for a guy that’s a fourth or fifth receiver. But, in an uncapped year, it might not be all that much for a team that thinks Clayton could be a No. 3 receiver, or maybe even a little more than that.

Yeah, the rest of the contract isn’t too appealing. But nothing else is guaranteed, and another team could cut Clayton after this season and be responsible for absolutely nothing going forward, even if a salary cap returns.

If the cap returns in 2011, the Bucs would be responsible for $1.8 million in pro-rated bonus money for Clayton, but that would be it. If they can’t get someone to trade for Clayton and decide not to keep him, they still have to pay him $3 million for this season and would be responsible for the pro-rated bonus money next year.

In a best-case scenario, if the Bucs truly have given up on Clayton, they can get some sort of late-round pick for him in a trade and pass that $3 million guarantee off to another team.