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Sapp Changes Allegiance

Wearing a Raiders cap and Raiders shirt, defensive tackle Warren Sapp sat at the podium at a news conference March 22 in Alameda, Calif. After nine seasons as the driving force of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the seven-time Pro Bowler embraced his new team.

�The big bad silver and black and Warren Sapp coming together - it�s got to be a marriage made in heaven," Sapp told reporters at the Raiders training facility. "Let�s see if we can get this place back to winning where it was winning all the time, and winning was the commitment and the commitment to excellence. The Raiders are back, and I�m going to have something to do with that.�

Welcome to Warren�s world in Oakland.

After passing a physical the day before, Sapp (below) signed a seven-year, $36.6 million contract with the Raiders on March 21. The seven-time Pro Bowler with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers reportedly received a $4.5 million signing bonus, and he could attain another $2.5 million in bonuses so the deal could total $9.5 million over the first two years. Sapp, 31, reportedly earned $6.6 million last season, the final year of a six-year, $36 million contract he signed with the Bucs in 1998.

The former University of Miami star is coming off a five-sack performance last season, his fewest since he had three as a Bucs rookie in 1995. He had 18.5 sacks the past three seasons after recording 29 sacks in 1999-2000. Sapp had a career-high 16.5 sacks in 2000 and 77 in nine seasons with the Bucs - 1.5 sacks shy of Hall of Famer's Lee Roy Selmon's club record.

The Raiders, who had the NFL's worst run defense in 2003 and third-worst overall defense, don't believe Sapp's skills have eroded. "Anyone who doesn't understand the significance of this signing to the Raiders, number one, never had to game-plan against Warren Sapp," Oakland coach Norv Turner said. "Number two, and I'm lucky I haven't had to do this, but three or four of our (offensive) linemen ... came up to me today and said, 'Wow, that's big. The only bad part is we have to practice against him every day.'"

Sapp said: "I haven't (fallen) off the face of the earth. This coaching staff understands that I can play this game and that's why I'm here. But we'll let my play do the talking."

The day before he agreed to contract terms March 20, Sapp (below) was set to sign with the Cincinnati Bengals. He reportedly was offered a four-year, $16 million deal from the Bengals. "I was real close with Cincinnati," Sapp said. "It was just one of those deals that I didn't feel good about. I woke up the next morning and Al Davis was on the line ... I've always admired him from afar. His style speaks for himself. He's smooth as all outdoors."

Sapp's controversial style certainly fits the Raiders' Take No Prisoners persona. The trash-talking lineman had a vicious blind-side hit on Green Bay offensive lineman Chad Clifton in 2002 and compared NFL owners to slave masters this past season in a national TV interview.

Sapp contributed a sack, a forced fumble, two tackles and two passes defensed during Tampa Bay's 48-21 dismantling of Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego on Jan. 26, 2003. Now, the former longtime Bucs star joins a Raiders team that features late 30sish future Hall of Famer receivers Jerry Rice, Tim Brown and safety Rod Woodson.

"You don't get that every day," Sapp said. "You don't get to play with icons of the game, with Hall of Famers. I've got a great opportunity out here, and I'm going to try to seize it."

Sapp was named the 1999 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and chosen All-Pro four times. He helped resurrect the Bucs from NFL also-ran to Super Bowl champion. "I built a doormat into a dynasty," he said. "There's no ill will for me. I have nothing to be ashamed of in the nine years I spent in Tampa."

Updated: 3-24-2004

Warren Sapp photos by
The Associated Press and Tampa Tribune


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