As soon as he took over as Tampa Bay’s general manager last year on January 16, Mark Dominik has had a plan in place for the Buccaneers regarding free agency and the draft in 2010.
With the strong chance of an uncapped year and the dissolution of the Collective Bargaining Agreement this year, Dominik realized that the free agent talent pool would be severely diluted with NFL players now needing six accrued years in the league before becoming unrestricted free agents instead of four. That is just one of the new rules that Dominik discussed with Pewter Report this week that is a byproduct of an uncapped year.
There will be close to 250 players eligible for unrestricted free agency this year, including the following Buccaneers: wide receiver Antonio Bryant, defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson and linebacker Angelo Crowell. But of that free agent crop, perhaps 20-25 percent of those players may never get another contract with a team due to age (retirement), an erosion of skill or because they will cost too much because of their veteran status.
That leaves around 200 players to choose from in unrestricted free agency with many of them being 29 years of age or older due to the new rule that calls for players to have six years in the league before becoming a UFA. Throw in half the teams that will likely use a franchise tag or a transition tag on players (teams can use both this year if they want to due to a new rule for 2010) and the number is reduced by maybe 20 or so.
Out of the remaining 180 players eligible for free agency, perhaps only 20-30 of those players are actually starting for NFL teams and would be considered prime free agents, such as Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers, New England nose tackle Vince Wilfork and Arizona linebacker Karlos Dansby.
Dominik already disclosed to Pewter Report and the local media at the Senior Bowl that the team’s focus would be on the draft this year and not free agency because with an uncapped year, the pickings would be slim and consist of mostly aging talent while Tampa Bay is currently undergoing a youth movement.
“That was always the thought,” Dominik said. “The year 2010 might be a problem [in free agency], so let’s have a lot of picks because a lot of [underclassmen] are going to come out and free agency is going to be a wash. That’s how we’re going to build [this team].”
The Bucs are currently armed with 10 draft picks due to Dominik trading defensive end Gaines Adams to Chicago for a second-rounder, tight end Alex Smith to New England for a fifth-round pick, quarterback Luke McCown to Jacksonville for what is believed to be a sixth-round choice, and defensive end Marques Douglas to Baltimore for a seventh-rounder. Tampa Bay surrendered its 2010 fifth-round pick to Cleveland in the trade for tight end Kellen Winslow last year.
The talent in this year’s draft is considered the best in years, and so good that there will be first-round talent still available in the second round when the Bucs use Chicago’s pick. There could be third-round talent available in the fifth round when they use New England’s pick.
“The guys that could have taken redshirts and medical redshirts are included, so there are almost two rounds worth of guys coming into this draft [in addition to the traditional seniors] – almost 60-70 guys that declared early, including the guys that were eligible for a sixth-year,” Dominik said. “The quality of this draft is so good. It’s legitimately talented. [Detroit general manager] Martin Mayhew was quoted at the Senior Bowl saying something like it used to be that about one out of every three guys are worth getting excited about. Now it’s five out of every six guys to be excited about. The quality is actually amazing.”
Armed with 10 draft picks already, Dominik did not rule out the possibility of trading some Buccaneers prior to the draft or trading down in the draft to acquire additional selections. With the Bucs needing help at multiple positions, including defensive tackle, defensive end, wide receiver and cornerback among others, that might not be a bad idea.
“I think it’s possible that we can do anything,” Dominik said. “We can move up or we can trade down. I know that sounds like a very easy, general statement, but we really can do anything. It’s getting later in the process certainly, but it’s still early enough to go through more character background stuff and more medical information will be coming out through the combine. There is still a lot of information to be gathered from those two aspects. The film is the film and that is certainly important, but the comfort level you have to have with a player is also important, as is the medical report. As we get that information we’ll continue to formulate our plan.”
The NFL is debuting a new format for the draft this year that sees the annual selection of college players roll out over three days instead of two, with the first round taking place on Thursday night, April 22, the second round and third rounds taking place on Friday night, April 23, and rounds 4-7 on Saturday, April 24. Dominik said the extra time between each day should help teams with their preparation between rounds and generate a lot of drama for NFL fans.
“It’s a new way to look at the draft,” Dominik said. “I think it’s going to be really exciting for each day to come and the excitement that will build up. You just think about the decisions people will be making, ‘Do I want to wait and sleep on it, or do we need to move up now?’ The clock was always ticking [in the past]. Now, spacing it out over three days, it does give organizations a chance to go back and re-organize themselves and look at their board again. I think there was a mild correlation as to why teams always did better in the fourth round over the years. They had a chance to go to bed and figure out what they wanted to do [without the time crunch]. ‘Who did we take? Who did we lose? Who is still left?’ Now you have the chance to have that discussion on an extra day, and certainly between rounds one and two that’s dramatic enough.
“I think one of the more interesting dynamics is who moves from the second and third round up into the first round after realizing that there are only maybe seven or eight picks left in the first round. That’s why I think the draft will be much more exciting from everybody’s perspective. There might be a team that is picking later in the first round and the guy they wanted just got taken and they want out of the first. They will take a mid-tier trade because they are not happy with where they are and they want to trade out and re-set their board overnight and go to bat the next day. The curious part will be if the team with the 32nd pick in the first round passes!”
Tampa Bay’s offseason plans will revolve entirely around the draft in more ways than one and have affected the team’s OTAs (organized team activities). In years past, the Buccaneers have always held a series of OTAs in April to get a gauge on the conditioning level and talent level of the team heading into the draft.
Last year, Tampa Bay was awarded an extra mini-camp by the league because there was a head coaching change. But in 2010, Dominik said that he and head coach Raheem Morris will wait to have any OTAs until after the draft.
“We still have the same amount of OTA days – 14 – and we still are allowed to have our veteran mini-camp and our rookie mini-camp, so nothing has changed there [because of the CBA],” Dominik said. “Raheem and I have talked about the OTAs and because of the way that we are building this football team we said let’s get the offseason and get the conditioning going and let’s do the OTAs after the draft and take advantage of them when the entire team is together. It makes more sense and it’s something that we’ve never done here, but it’s part of the direction we’re heading to here building through the draft. Now there is a certain amount of time with which we have to start it, but I think it’s better to have 80 people on the roster and having all them attend the OTAs, and not have three or five OTAs prior to the draft. We would rather take 80 guys together for 14 days together instead of having 65 guys or so together for five days before the draft and then 80 together only for nine. That was some of the logic we used in making that decision.”
While free agency may not have the “wow” factor and provide the impact that some fans are looking for this year while waiting for the draft, Dominik said the Buccaneers will watch the trading block closely come March 5. Although Tampa Bay was moderately active in free agency last year by signing running back Derrick Ward and re-signing wide receiver Michael Clayton, and placing the franchise tag on wide receiver Antonio Bryant, Dominik’s best offseason move in 2009 was trading for Winslow. With players like Arizona wide receiver Anquan Boldin supposedly available for a trade, Dominik may decide to use a draft pick early to acquire more talent.
“I think clubs are going to look at their roster just like we look at our roster and find out who is available for trades for us,” Dominik said. “You have to sit down, especially when you are at the combine and you are talking to clubs, and keep your eyes and ears open for that possibility and I still think that’s a good way to acquire young talent that can be a part of your program for a long time. That’s why I still view [trades] as a very viable way to build an organization and I always will."