The Buccaneers and the NFL are anxiously awaiting word on the future of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

NFL owners and the NFL Players Association have until 10:00 p.m. ET on Thursday to reach an agreement that would extend the CBA past the 2007 season. If they fail to come to terms on the extension of the CBA, several teams will be forced to jettison big-name players due to cap restraints, and the 2007 season will go uncapped, which could lead to a lockout in 2008.

One of the teams that will find itself in serious cap trouble should the CBA not be extended past the 2006 season is the Bucs, who will be $19 million over the cap without a new CBA.

While labor talks stalled Tuesday, the Bucs remain optimistic that a deal will be reached by Thursday night.

“Numerous things come up in terms of comparing the National Football League to professional baseball and all of those sports,” Gruden said. “I try not to get too much into it. The owners, players have come into agreement in the past. I am confident they will come to an agreement here, soon. I am hopeful of that. If it doesn’t happen, we will have to adjust our thinking like everybody else.”

Tampa Bay quarterback Chris Simms, who signed the one-year, $2 million tender extended to him by the Bucs on Wednesday, said he is confident the team’s player reps, linebacker Derrick Brooks and defensive tackle Anthony McFarland, are looking out for the best interests of the players.

“Honestly, for 95 percent of us, we are probably not really informed,” Simms said of the players in the NFL. “At the same time, like I said before, I completely trust guys like Derrick Brooks, Anthony McFarland, the guys that are in charge of our team. I know Keenan McCardell in San Diego is in charge of his team. Those are guys that I fully believe have the best interest of the players in their hearts. I don’t need to know everything. As long as they know what is going on, guys like John Lynch, they are going to get it all straight and we will get the best deal possible.”

Gruden is regarded as a great recruitor, but he has stopped short of talking to the players that could become cap casualties before Friday.

“No, I won’t do that because the agents play such a different role in this,” Gruden said when asked if he would be calling the players on the phone. “It is wise for me to turn this over to [general manager] Bruce Allen and his team that works with the agents. I do not want to say anything that can or will be used against me. I have been accused of recruiting guys and I don’t understand where the labor agreement is going. I will just say that we are going to do everything we can to keep the best players on our team here. We are going to do everything we can.”

Allen suggested in January that the Bucs players with the top 15 salary cap values in 2006 could be approached about reworking their contracts.

Two of those players are Brooks and defensive Simeon Rice, who carry cap values of $11.657 million and $9.2 million, respectively. Last year, Gruden announced that Brooks would be a Buc in 2005 despite some speculation that suggested he could become a cap casualty. But Gruden couldn’t make that same guarantee on Wednesday.

“We are going to do everything that we can,” Gruden said when asked about keeping both Brooks and Rice. “I already said we are going to do all we can. You have to understand what the playing field is. With no extension in place, what are the dimensions of the field that we are playing in? So I can’t really speculate or comment further than we will, hopefully, find out what the playing field is and I will assure everyone that we will do everything we can to keep those two guys here. Once again, it is a difficult time. A lot of us are uneasy. Some of us are uneasy to start with.”

Other candidates to be released or have their contracts restructured by the Bucs include quarterback Brian Griese, linebackers Jeff Gooch and Shelton Quarles, guard Matt Stinchcomb and defensive tackle Ellis Wyms.

NFL owners will meet in New York on Thursday to discuss the Collective Bargaining Agreement and an increase in the 2006 salary cap. Gruden remains hopeful that the NFL owners and the NFL Players Association will reach an agreement on a deal that would prevent the entire league from traveling down a path that no one seems eager to go down.

“I love the NFL, I love the league and I am very confident as I go to bed tonight that the meeting that takes place will work itself out,” Gruden said. “We will come to an agreement of some kind. I am optimistic, I believe we have got a great league and obviously the players and the owners have to sort this thing out. I will just remain confident that they will do that.”

In other news, has learned that the Buccaneers likely will not tender contract offers to two of their restricted free agents – cornerback Torrie Cox and tight end Will Heller.

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