Tampa Bay had until 4:00 p.m. ET Thursday to decide whether to place the franchise tag on wide receiver Antonio Bryant, but the team's decision came one day early.
PewterReport.com is reporting the Buccaneers have officially placed the franchise tag on Bryant, who was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on Feb. 27.
Bucs general manager Mark Dominik and agent Peter Schaffer have been negotiating on a long-term contract for Bryant, but the two sides were not close enough on a deal to convince Tampa Bay not to place the franchise tag on the star receiver, a move that blocks other teams from attempting to sign him in free agency.
It is also a move that will increase Bryant's base salary from $605,000 to $9.884 million (assuming he at some point signs his one-year tender), which is the average salary of the league's top 5 receivers for the 2009 season, and marks the first time Tampa Bay, which was approximately $46 million under the salary cap, has used its franchise tag on a player since the Bucs tagged defensive end Chidi Ahanotu in 1999.
Bryant, 27, led the Bucs and established some career highs in 2008 with 83 catches for 1,248 yards and seven touchdowns in his first year with Tampa Bay.