The Buccaneers are hopeful to get a multi-year deal done with Antonio Bryant before having to place the franchise tag on the team’s star wide receiver, but time is running out.

Tampa Bay has until Thursday to come to terms with Bryant on a long-term deal before deciding whether or not to place the franchise tag on him, which would pay the Bucs’ leading receiver in 2008 a total of $9.884 million, which is the average salary of the league’s top 5 receivers, for the 2009 season.

As of Tuesday, the team was still undecided about whether or not it would use the franchise tag, which the Bucs have not used since tagging defensive end Chidi Ahanotu in 1999, or the transition tag, which would pay Bryant $8.393 million in 2009, which is the average salary of the NFL’s top 10 receivers. The Buccaneers would get the right to match any offer Bryant were to get from another team in either situation, but the difference between both tags is that the franchise tag would net the Buccaneers some draft pick compensation.

When asked if the Bucs were going to place the franchise tag on Bryant, Bucs general manager Mark Dominik said, “That’s still up for debate on what we’re going to do. We are still in discussions with his agent. [Antonio] is an important part of this football team.”

The Buccaneers have been exploring the use of the franchise tag on Bryant, whose base salary in 2008 was just $605,000, for months now, as first reported on Jan 7. But by Thursday, Tampa Bay’s time for thinking about whether to use the franchise tag or the transition tag will be over, and the team must act or risk losing Bryant in free agency, which begins on Feb. 27.'s Pat Kirwan suggested this week that the Buccaneers use the transition tag on Bryant because the market for Bryant's services may not be so great because there is a history with him that suggests some risk.

Bryant led the Bucs and established some career highs in 2008 with 83 catches for 1,248 yards and seven touchdowns in his first year in Tampa Bay. Dominik and Bryant’s agent, Peter Shaffer, are expected to continue contract talks today.

UPDATE: NFL Network's Adam Schefter is reporting that the Bucs will in fact use the franchise tag on Bryant unless both parties come to terms on a long-term deal by Thursday at 4:00 p.m.

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