Quarles' comeback hopes over as he signs scouting contract

Former standout middle linebacker Shelton Quarles, a fixture in the Tampa Bay defense before being released earlier this spring because of injuries, was hired by the Bucs on Wednesday as a pro scout.

Quarles, 35, joins a Bucs' personnel department that features several former NFL players, including personnel executive Doug Williams and college scout Reggie Cobb. The move essentially ends Quarles' playing career but allows him to stay in the game.

A 10-year veteran, Quarles was released by Tampa Bay after he failed a physical exam. The release had been anticipated in the offseason, since there had been considerable speculation about his health.

The Bucs did not disclose why Quarles, who missed four games in 2006 with knee, ankle and groin injuries, did not pass the physical exam. There were offseason rumors that a neck or hip injury might force him into retirement.

Quarles had been seeking medical opinions about his injuries and what they might mean for his future. Several teams in the league discussed the possibility of signing Quarles, but never offered a contract.

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 starts, 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.

Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com