Wide receiver skips camp in contract dispute

Continuing to boycott offseason workouts until his contract grievances are addressed to his satisfaction, Tampa Bay Bucs veteran wide receiver Keenan McCardell failed to report Tuesday morning for the beginning of the team's lone mandatory mincamp.

And the 12-year veteran, who has two seasons remaining on his contract, suggested that the boycott could last into training camp next month.

McCardell, 34, skipped all 14 of the Bucs' voluntary organized workouts this spring and there was little Tampa Bay officials could do. He can, however, be fined for his absence from the mandatory three-day minicamp, which will feature five practice sessions.

If he adheres to his current stance, McCardell would be the first Tampa Bay player under contract to miss the opening of camp since 2001, when linebacker Derrick Brooks sought and eventually received an upgraded contract.

"I'm fighting over a principle," McCardell told the St. Petersburg Times in his first public comments on his status. "For what is fair and what is just. Sometimes you have to take some risks. Stand up for what you believe. I understand there are negatives, including fines and other economic sanctions that go along with my situation, and I have to do what I know is in my heart."

Beyond some generic comments from coach Jon Gruden, the Bucs have not commented on the boycott by McCardell, who is due $2.5 million this season in bonuses and salary and who has a base salary of $2.75 million for 2005. It would be unusual for the Bucs to renegotiate the deal of a player who still has two years remaining on his contract.

McCardell signed a four-year, $10 million contract in 2002, after he was released by the Jacksonville Jaguars for salary cap reasons. In two years with Tampa Bay, he has posted 145 catches for 1,844 yards and 15 touchdowns.

For his career, McCardell, who doesn't have great speed but is one of the game's premier technicians, has 724 catches for 9,370 yards and 52 touchdowns. Last year marked the fifth time McCardell registered a 1,000-yard season and he had 75 or more receptions in six of the last eight years.

He pointed out that, when he signed with the Bucs, he was added as a complement to Keyshawn Johnson, essentially as the No. 2 wideout. But even before the departure of Johnson late last season, McCardell had emerged as the Bucs' "lead" receiver and he now wants to be rewarded as such.

"I'm not trying to break the bank," McCardell said. "But it's fair for any employee in any line of work to get a raise when he gets a promotion or increased responsibility."

While McCardell has continued his boycott, Tampa Bay officials have hardly sat back and done nothing about the wideout position. The Bucs acquired veteran Joey Galloway in the deal that sent Johnson to Dallas and used their first-round choice in the April draft to add former LSU star Michael Clayton.

In addition, the Bucs signed five veteran free agents, including former Kansas City first-round pick Sylvester Morris, with varying degrees of NFL tenure.

Tampa Bay opens training camp July 30 and, in an ominous statement released through his agent, McCardell left little doubt that he will remain at home in Houston unless he has an upgraded contract.

"I hope that this situation can be resolved so I can be in camp and help my teammates return to the Super Bowl," read the statement, in part. "But I also need to be treated fairly. I am prepared to wait as long as necessary to make sure that happens."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.