The National Football League owners and the NFL Players Association agreed once again Sunday to delay the start of free agency by 72 hours in an effort to extend the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The free-agent signing period was originally scheduled to begin on Friday, but was postponed to 12:01 a.m. ET on Monday while labor negotiations continued. On Sunday afternoon, the two sides agreed to push the deadline to release players back from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., and then again to 11:30 p.m. before agreeing to postpone the start of free agency to 12:01 a.m. ET on Thursday.

Bucs general manager Bruce Allen, who held a press conference at One Buc Place on Sunday night, said he was confident that the CBA, which is set to expire at the end of the 2007 season, would eventually be extended.

“We have great trust in those two – [NFLPA executive director] Gene Upshaw is the best leader of any professional players association in our country and the Commissioner has always shown the ability to get things done,” said Allen. “We can assume that they will get an agreement done at some point, but our agreement does not expire until after the 2007 season.”

According to Allen, the Bucs are prepared for life with or without an extended CBA.

“We’re happy either way,” said Allen. “It doesn’t matter. We’ve been working on it for a couple of years and we feel we’re in good shape. With our fan support that we have, in this stadium, in this city, in this state we are going to be the most attractive team for free agents. Whether you have a salary cap or no salary cap, we have the resources to compete either way. It doesn’t matter. Just tell us what the rules are and we’ll play by them.”

Tampa Bay is also ready to get itself in compliance with the league-mandated salary cap of $94.5 million by Thursday.

The Bucs have restructured the contracts of Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks, tight end Anthony Becht, defensive tackle Anthony McFarland and center John Wade over the past several days in order to get themselves in compliance with the league-mandated salary cap of $94.5 million.

“We’ve had several of our players restructure their contracts,” said Allen. “We will be salary-cap compliant, whenever the deadline is.”

However, the Bucs will have to make a few more moves to actually be in compliance with the cap by midnight Wednesday.

The team was going to announce a few cap-related roster cuts Sunday before the start of free agency got pushed by 72 more hours. Among the Bucs players expected to be released sometime before the deadline for waiver cuts, which is now 9:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday, are LB Jeff Gooch and guard Matt Stinchcomb.

“We’ve made some decisions, but it wouldn’t be appropriate to talk about them until it was final,” said Allen.

That’s not to say the Bucs will have nothing to do between now and Wednesday evening. The team will continue talking with agents in an effort to free up more cap room through reworked deals.

Allen plans to continue negotiations with quarterback Brian Griese’s agent, Ralph Cindrich. Griese is scheduled to receive a $2.6 million roster bonus and has a cap value of $7.083 million in 2006. The Bucs can create approximately $4.55 million by releasing or trading Griese, but they’re still looking for ways to retain the veteran signal caller.

“I said earlier that I was going to talk to the top 15 players, and he’s obviously in there,” Allen said. “We’ll continue. It doesn’t end tonight. Being compliant for the salary cap means very little for your planning purposes. You have to plan through the last game of the 2006 season and what cap room you need. Those conversations will continue.

“I’ve had conversations with his agent. I always have great conversations with him. They’ve been very fruitful.”

Tampa Bay is also expected to continue negotiations with David Levine, who is the agent for defensive end Greg Spires. Spires is due a $2 million roster bonus and is scheduled to have a $3.467 million cap value in 2006.

Any cap room Tampa Bay frees up from this point forward will likely be used to sign free agents. Of course, this includes the team’s own unrestricted free agents.

According to ProFootballTalk.com, the Bucs and defensive tackle Chris Hovan have reached an agreement on a contract that averages $3.5 million per season. Allen made it clear that the Bucs want Hovan back for the 2006 season and beyond.

“We hope to have Chris Hovan,” said Allen. “If he walked in the backdoor right now we’d sign him.”

Tampa Bay is also interested in re-signing fullback Mike Alstott, whose contract is set to void on the first day of the new league year. Alstott, who has been contemplating retirement, is interested in returning to Tampa Bay, but he’s believed to be looking for a salary of $1.5 million, which might be more than the Bucs are willing to pay him.

“We’ve constantly talked and I’m looking forward to talking to Mike again – just him and I – in the near future,” Allen said of Alstott. “Nothing’s been determined yet on that. Mike is a free agent (at the start of free agency). We’re hoping for a positive answer out of that.”

Allen said Tampa Bay is focused on adding other free agents to the Bucs’ roster in order to help the team build on its 11-5 record from last season.

“We’re just under $94.5 (million),” said Allen. “That’s the plan. We think we have a plan that is not only great for this year, but the Bucs are in great position for 2007 whether they put a salary cap on it or they don’t. We’re looking forward to seeing the free agents that are out there that we think will make a great impact for our team not only this season but next year, too.

“What we’re looking forward to is seeing the free agents who are out there who we think can make a great impact for our team not only this season but next year. Depending upon what the waiver wire looks like [Thursday], I think it could be an exciting evening and morning, because the crop of free agents could grow by over a hundred players.”


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