The Tampa Bay Buccaneers entered into preliminary contract discussions with the agent for New England free agent tackle Tom Ashworth on Tuesday.

“We’ve engaged in preliminary talks about numbers,” said Ashworth’s agent, Tom Mills. “They’ve submitted some numbers, and we’ve submitted some. I don’t think we’re really close. We’re really just talking broad concepts more than anything else.”

Ashworth, 28, has the versatility to play both tackle positions, but he’s spent most of his career at right tackle. He started 30 of the 37 career games he played in since entering the NFL in 2002.

The 6-foot-6, 305-pound Ashworth spent the weekend visiting the New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Miami Dolphins. Mills said all three teams are interested in signing his client.

“We’re still engaged in talks with all three clubs that brought him in over the weekend,” said Mills. “We’re not really close yet. He liked all three visits, and all three of them do have needs. The clubs are just trying to figure out contract terms, really. ‘How can we get a deal that will satisfy Tom and also work for the team?'”

Although Tampa Bay is under the NFL-mandated salary cap of $102 million, Mills said the Bucs have a limited amount of cap room to work with, which could make it challenging for the team to sign Ashworth.

“They’re more limited in their 2006 cap than some other teams,” Mills said of the Bucs. “We have to be creative with them, and that’s fine. That’s basically what we’re working on.”

In addition to Ashworth, the Bucs have met with free agent Ts Brad Hopkins (Tennessee), Jason Fabini (New York Jets) and Mike Pearson (Jacksonville).


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