Sources tell PewterReport.com that veteran Bucs left tackle Donald Penn is expected to hold out of the OTAs and possibly the team's mandatory mini-camp in a contract dispute. Penn, who has shed 40 pounds this offseason, is a restricted free agent who has been seeking a long-term contract extension.
The Buccaneers will hold their first wave of OTAs (organized team activities) during the 2010 offseason beginning on Monday at One Buccaneer Place, but team sources have told PewterReport.com that veteran left tackle Donald Penn is not expected to attend.
The OTAs are voluntary, but Penn, who is a restricted free agent and has not signed his one-year tender yet, is angling for a long-term contract extension and will hold out of the OTAs. The Buccaneers tendered Penn the league’s highest offer of $3.168 million, which represents a 110 percent increase over what he made a year ago during his first year as a restricted free agent. The Bucs would have been entitled to first- and third-round picks as compensation had another team signed Penn to an offer sheet during free agency.
Because of the expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association, players must have accrued six seasons in the league before hitting unrestricted free agency rather than four. Penn is only entering his fifth year in the NFL and will be a restricted free agent again in 2011 unless he gets a contract extension or a new CBA is hammered out between the league and the union prior to the start of next season.
Penn’s agent tried in vain to get a long-term extension done last year, asking for just over $6 million per season. That could be considered a bargain now. It is believed that Penn will likely command even more if he has a great 2010 season.
Penn hasn’t made any public comments this offseason, but did tell PewterReport.com at the end of the 2009 season that he hoped to remain in Tampa Bay for the long term.
“I don’t want to talk about contracts at this point, but I would love to start and end my career in Tampa,” Penn said during the week of Tampa Bay's 2009 season finale. “I want to watch Josh Freeman grow as a quarterback and help him grow to where he doesn’t have to worry about his blind side. I would like to be that guy. I’m working to be that guy everyday, but it’s not up to me.”
What is up to Penn is his conditioning. After ballooning up to 365 pounds last year, the 6-foot-4 Penn has lost 40 pounds this offseason and is in the best shape of his career, working out twice per day with personal trainers and dieticians at his home in California. Sources say he is already in ideal playing shape and ready to dominate this fall.
If Penn’s play this season warrants it, the delay by the Buccaneers – who have yet to offer extensions to Penn, middle linebacker Barrett Ruud, running back Cadillac Williams or any 2010 restricted free agent – could cost the team an extra $4 million per season as Philadelphia Pro Bowler Jason Peters and Carolina’s Jordan Gross both earn an average of $10 million per season.
The man charged with the responsibility of protecting of quarterback Josh Freeman’s blindside has started 44 straight games for Tampa Bay since entering the lineup in 2007 when Luke Petitgout suffered a season-ending knee injury. Penn has earned the reputation of becoming one of the league’s elite pass protectors, shutting out the likes of Minnesota’s Jared Allen, New York’s Osi Umenyiora, Carolina’s Julius Peppers and Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware among others over the past three seasons.
It remains to be seen whether or not Penn, who turned 27 on April 27, will show up at the Bucs’ mandatory mini-camp, which will be held from June 21-23 at One Buccaneer Place. Last year, Penn missed approximately half of the OTAs, but did show up for the mandatory mini-camp. That stance may change in 2010 as Penn and his agent have grown increasingly frustrated with Tampa Bay’s refusal to offer a contract extension.
Players that miss the mandatory mini-camp are subject to fines from the team.
If Penn does not participate in the Bucs' on-field work this offseason, it would open the door for Xavier Fulton, last year's fifth-round pick, to get more experience as he would likely be the starting left tackle in practice. However, Fulton missed all of last year after suffering a torn ACL in the preseason finale against Houston and was placed on injured reserve. It remains to be seen if Fulton is completely healed.
If Fulton isn't medically cleared to participate, Freeman's blind side would be protected in practice by either Derek Hardman or James Williams, a pair of undrafted free agents.
Another Bucs player who will not be in attendance during the first week of OTAs will be rookie defensive end Erik Lorig, a seventh-round draft pick out of Stanford. Stanford's spring semester does not end until June 9 and NFL rules prohibit rookies from attending anything other than the rookie mini-camp until their school's respective spring semesters are over – regardless of whether they are still enrolled in school or not.
Lorig, who is recovering from a torn pectoral muscle, missed the rookie mini-camp and is not expected to do any on-field work until at least June anyways.
All of the team’s OTAs and the mandatory mini-camp are closed to the public. Select OTAs will be open to the media, including Monday’s session, which will be covered by PewterReport.com. The entire mandatory mini-camp in late June will be open to the media.
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