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This article originally appeared in Scott Reynolds' End Zone column in the March 2008 issue of Pewter Report.
So you are disappointed about the lack of activity in free agency from the Buccaneers, and you are wondering why the team passed on almost every big name available on the open market in March. Well the reason is because Tampa Bay thought its future playmakers were better than the so-called playmakers available in free agency.
I say future playmakers because the Bucs believe the young nucelus of talent consisting of tight end Alex Smith, wide receivers Michael Clayton and Maurice Stovall, offensive linemen Jeremy Trueblood, Davin Joseph and Arron Sears, defensive linemen Gaines Adams, Jovan Haye and Greg White, linebackers Cato June and Barrett Ruud and defensive backs Tanard Jackson and Sabby Piscitelli have star potential, and will be the catalysts to make Tampa Bay a perennial playoff contender. By the way, all of those players are under the age of 29.
By 2011, only Adams is scheduled to be under contract with Tampa Bay. That’s only four years away.
In 2010, the contracts for Smith, Clayton, Stovall, Trueblood, Haye, White, June and Ruud will all have expired, and Joseph, Sears, Jackson and Piscitelli will be in the final years of their deals. That means that over the next two years, those players will need contract extensions, and the expectation is that they will have performed so well while turning Tampa Bay into a consistent winner that they will command top dollar in free agency.
The Bucs have to have money available to pay for those players with whom the team has invested time, money and draft picks in. How does that impact what the Bucs are doing – or not doing – in free agency in 2008?
Well, most contracts are backloaded, so if the Buccaneers were to overpay for mediocre talent, such as Javon Walker, who still has knee problems stemming from his torn ACL in 2005, or Donte` Stallworth, who is somehow considered an elite receiver despite being on his fourth team in four years, or Drayton Florence, who was paid $6 million per year to be Jacksonville’s nickel corner, those deals would end up squeezing the Bucs out of the money it needs to re-sign its own free agents in 2009 and 2010.
As one team official told Pewter Report, free agency should be used to keep a team intact and to add a few necessary players, such as Tampa Bay did this year with the signing of center Jeff Faine. Keep in mind that the Bucs budgeted some of the $41 million in cap room they had at the start of free agency to extend the contracts of quarterback Jeff Garcia, halfback Earnest Graham, cornerback Phillip Buchanon and possibly the likes of Haye and White, too.
If a non-Pro Bowl defensive end like Justin Smith gets a six-year, $45 million deal with $20 million in guarantees in 2008, what is a player like White going to command in 2011 when he would be eligible to test free agency (provided he has not signed a long-term extension with the Bucs by then)?
If a middle of the road guard like Jacob Bell cashes in on a six-year, $36 million deal with $13 million in guaranteed money, what will the market bear for potential Pro Bowlers like Joseph and Sears in 2011?
These are future scenarios the Bucs are thinking about in the present day. It is better for a team to keep its good, proven players than to go out and try to replace those players in free agency. Signing a player like Stallworth or Florence in 2008 may come at the expense of losing Ruud or Trueblood in 2010.
SR’s 2-POINT CONVERSION
• Quarterback Brian Griese has only been gone from Tampa Bay for two years, but upon his return he will have an entirely new offensive line to protect him. None of the Bucs’ starting offensive linemen were on the team in 2005 when Griese was the team’s starting signal caller.
• The Bucs would be wise to sign exclusive rights DE Greg White to a modest, long-term deal right now. The tender of just under $300,000 does not reward White for the great 2007 season he had. I don’t think White would hold out, but he does have some real leverage.
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