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When the free-agent signing period started last year, Tampa Bay general manager Bruce Allen used the Buccaneers coaching staff, which he considers the best in the National Football League, and the pamphlet for the team’s new training facility, to help lure free agents to One Buccaneer Place for visits.
That sales pitch worked quite well, evidenced by the fact that Tampa Bay signed over 20 new players during the 2004 offseason, and while the Buccaneers are facing some serious salary cap challenges this offseason, Allen and Co. planned to use similar tactics in terms of selling free agents on the idea of playing for the Pewter Pirates.
While that seemed like a good plan, the Bucs haven’t had much luck executing it. In fact, the Bucs haven’t brought in any big-name free agents for visits, and the ones they planned on bringing in, like running backs LaMont Jordan and Derrick Blaylock, never made it to Tampa Bay because they signed with Oakland and the New York Jets, respectively.
What reason(s) might explain the lack of big-name free agents visiting Tampa Bay? Is it Tampa Bay’s 5-11 record from last season? Could it be head coach Jon Gruden, who has been criticized by former players like Keyshawn Johnson and Keenan McCardell upon leaving? Or could it be One Buc Place, which is often referred to as the “The Woodshed” due to its old and rundown look and lack of ammenities?
After talking with several agents since the start of free agency, Pewter Report has learned that players still want to play for Gruden and the Bucs – so scratch those two possibilities – and although the team’s current training facility is the worst in the league, it’s hasn’t stopped big-name free agents, such as defensive end Simeon Rice and quarterback Brad Johnson, from visiting or signing with them in the past.
The biggest factor keeping players away from One Buccaneer Place is Tampa Bay’s woeful salary cap situation, which is a problem that’s well-known around the league and in the agent community.
Allen publicly announced earlier in the week that the Buccaneers would not be as active in free agency as it was last year. However, several agents believe the Bucs’ cap situation is definitely impacting their efforts in terms of scheduling visits.
“Usually we’ll talk numbers before we line up any visits, or at least that’s how I do it,” one agent said. “The Bucs probably aren’t lining up a lot of visits because they don’t have the money to sign anybody.”
According to another agent, a team’s current cap situation is one of his main considerations when deciding whether to send his client(s) on a visit, and Tampa Bay’s cap situation is one he’s very familiar with.
“I’m not going to send my guy 3,000 miles on a plane if they don’t have the cap room to sign him,” he said. “Now, if they say they’re going to cut a guy or two, I might give them the benefit of the doubt. I don’t think it’s any secret that Tampa Bay is in some cap hell right now, and I’m sure it’s impacting the amount of visits they’ve been able to schedule.”
Even with Tampa Bay facing some cap obstacles, some agents are surprised that they haven’t heard from the Bucs yet.
“I’m surprised I haven’t heard from those guys,” said one agent. “I have two or three clients that I thought for sure they’d be interested in. I’m definitely familiar with their cap situation, and it’s not a good one.”
One has to consider the possibility that Tampa Bay could be purposely holding off on scheduling visits. Remember – Allen is the same guy that never offered Warren Sapp a contract because he didn’t want to insult him with what would have likely been a bargain basement offer. In this case, Allen probably isn’t anxious to bring players to Tampa Bay whom he knows they can’t afford. Offering a player like wide receiver Plaxico Burress a deal worth around league minimum would be an insult, and both parties involved know it.
Although some agents aren’t even sending their clients to Tampa to give Tampa Bay a chance to sell their client(s) on playing for the Bucs for less than what they might get playing somewhere else, several agents around the league still believe Allen can create the cap room necessary to sign their client(s).
“Bruce is a genius when it comes to fixing those types of things,” the agent said.
There’s no doubt that Allen and Tampa Bay’s coaching and personnel staff are more than capable of recruiting players, but getting the free agents to One Buc Place for visits has been a obstacle, and it seems to be related to the Bucs’ cap challenges.
Is it any coincidence that just one day after Allen created roughly $2 million more in cap room (currently a total of $3 million under the cap) by giving defensive end Greg Spires a new five-year contract that Tampa Bay has since scheduled a visit with Seattle Seahawks free agent tight end Itula Mili for Monday, and will likely bring tight ends Anthony Becht and Freddie Jones, and cornerback Juran Bolden in for visits next week? I think not.
As Allen has said all along, he’ll cut players and restructure contracts as needed, but creating additional cap space sure seems like it has got the ball rolling in terms of helping the Bucs schedule visits with big-name free agents.
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