Bucs to release starting middle linebacker Quarles

Standout middle linebacker Shelton Quarles, a fixture in the Tampa Bay defense since he moved into the starting lineup in 1999, will be released before Saturday's draft, Bucs general manager Bruce Allen said on Tuesday afternoon.

The announcement came after Quarles failed a team physical examination, and it is not unexpected, since there has been considerable speculation about the health and viability of the 10-year veteran. The Bucs did not disclose why Quarles did not pass the physical exam.

Quarles, 35, missed four games in 2006 with knee, ankle and groin injuries. There have been rumors in the offseason that a neck or hip injury might force Quarles into retirement. But it is believed he wants to continue playing, if possible, and Quarles has been seeking medical opinions about his injuries and what they might mean for his future.

Once he is officially released, Quarles will be free to sign with another team. Quarles was entering the final year of his contract with the Bucs and scheduled to have a base salary of $1.3 million for 2007.

The pending release of Quarles means that third-year veteran Barrett Ruud, a second-round choice in the 2005 draft, will inherit the starting middle linebacker spot.

Even before the move with Quarles, it was obvious the Tampa Bay linebacker corps was facing changes, given the offseason addition of unrestricted free agent Cato June, a former Pro Bowl performer from the Indianapolis Colts.

"Shelton has been a great contributor for the Bucs," Allen said. "It's been 10 years of solid football. He's provided a spark for the team. He's a football player. If we were sitting here in 2017, he'd still want to be playing football."

A former Vanderbilt standout, Quarles originally entered the NFL with the Miami Dolphins as an undrafted free agent in 1994. He was released, spent two seasons in the CFL and then signed with the Bucs in 1997.

He first broke into the starting lineup in 1999 as a strongside linebacker but moved into the middle in 2002, when he earned a Pro Bowl spot and helped Tampa Bay win Super Bowl XXXVII. Quarles was a superb fit for the Tampa-2 defense, in large part because of his speed and his ability to cover the deep middle zone.

In 148 games, including 113 starting assignments, Quarles notched 953 tackles, 13 sacks, four interceptions, 18 passes defensed, seven forced fumbles and eight recoveries. He had 100-plus tackles in each of the past five seasons, including 104 stops in 2006, and posted a career-high 196 tackles in 2005.

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