Tampa Bay’s starting left tackle, Donald Penn, is scheduled to be a restricted free agent in 2009, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he is restricted to signing only with the Buccaneers. New general manager Mark Dominik is negotiating with Penn’s agent on a long-term deal, but if one cannot be reached before the start of free agency on February 27, the team will have to tender Penn a one-year offer in an attempt to retain his services and keep other teams from signing him to an offer sheet.

That’s what the Bucs did last year with under tackle Jovan Haye, and that’s not what Penn wants.

“I’m not too fond of a tender,” Penn said. “I don’t think I deserve a tender. I started two years and I thought I’ve done a good job protecting the backside of my quarterbacks for those two years. I don’t think I deserve a tender. I think I deserve a contract. I think if they do tender me and I get a chance at the free agent market next fall that I think there will be a little bit of trouble because I’ll be a hot commodity. But I’m going to let everything fall in place and hope that everything works out like it’s supposed to.”

The Bucs have their options when it comes to tendering the 25-year old Penn, who is entering his fourth year in the league after being undrafted in 2006. If Penn and Tampa Bay can’t reach common ground on a long-term extension, Dominik can offer him a one-year contract worth $1.545 million that will provide the Bucs with a second-round draft pick if another team decides to sign him to an offer sheet and the Bucs refuse to match.

Or, because Penn plays the ever-important left tackle position, Dominik can offer him a one-year tender worth $2.198 million that would give the Bucs first-round compensation if Penn were to sign with another team in restricted free agency.

If Dominik feels like Penn’s services will really be in demand – and that is a distinct possibility considering how he shut out some of the NFL’s top pass rushers in 2008, including Julius Peppers, DeMarcus Ware and Jared Allen – the team could tender him a one-year deal worth $2.792 million that would allow the Bucs to receive a first- and a third-round pick as compensation if another team were to sign Penn away from Tampa Bay.

“My agent and I talked about that,” Penn said. “We’re pretty confident that if they do tender me with an offer that another team would come get me. Like I said, the film doesn’t lie. The last two years, I’ve been the lowest-paid starting left tackle in the league. There are no complaints from me about that. I know I worked my way up from the bottom. I’m just going to keep working. I want to be one of the best when it’s all said and done.”

Penn has started the last 28 regular season games for Tampa Bay since replacing the injured Luke Petitgout in Week 4 of the 2007 season and has been a very good player. He’s also been a bargain, playing for $445,000 in base salary in 2008. If Tampa Bay locks up Penn with a long-term deal it wouldn’t have to risk losing him to another team in restricted free agency and force the Bucs to use their newly acquired draft pick on an unproven, rookie left tackle.

Although Penn would likely draw some interest in restricted free agency, depending upon his tender designation, he does want to stay in Tampa Bay.

“I’m just being patient. I’ve done everything I can do,” Penn said. “It’s in Tampa Bay’s hands and my agent’s hands. I was patient in waiting to become a starter and now I feel like I have earned everything I deserve. I love playing in Tampa and I know that Mark and Raheem Morris know that I want to stay here. We’ll see how it plays out.

“Mark Dominik, he brought me in and I’m very grateful for him giving me a chance. He’s done that with other guys like Antonio Bryant and guys that you wouldn’t think would come in and do what we’ve done. I think Mark Dominik has earned this and I’m glad that they gave him the chance to step up. I owe him a lot and I tell him that often. I wouldn’t be where I’m at if he didn’t bring me off Minnesota’s practice squad. I know between he and Raheem I have their respect. I look forward to playing for Raheem. He reminds me a lot of Mike Tomlin because I was with Mike in Minnesota when he was our defensive coordinator.”

Penn just got back from Hawaii where he was a guest of Bucs right guard Davin Joseph, who made the Pro Bowl for the first time and flew the offensive linemen over for the week leading up to the NFL all-star game.

“It was nice, man. We had a real good time in Hawaii,” Penn said. “Hopefully next year I’ll be able to treat them with a trip out there. With Davin being an alternate, but actually going out and playing in the game – that was good for us as a line and good for Davin.

“I thought Davin should have made it last year, too. But we don’t get the hype like Dallas and the New York teams do. We have the same kind of athletes – and even better athletes at certain positions – than they do. It does help us. Maybe Davin being a Pro Bowler will help give us some more publicity. At the same time, our O-line likes to fly under the radar because we’re a hard O-line. We’re nasty.”

Penn is an important part of an offensive line that is the second-youngest unit in the NFL and he would be hard for the Bucs to replace considering that most NFL teams don’t let good left tackles go in either free agency or trades.

After spending time with Joseph and Co. in Hawaii, the Utah State product is hitting the road again with his linemates later this spring.

“We do a lot of bonding as an O-line,” Penn said. “Trueblood came out and hung out with me a couple weeks ago. During spring training, we always take trips together. We’re all going to Tennessee with Arron Sears for the spring game this year and then we’re going to my school for the spring game. We’re always doing stuff together. We’re tight.”

Like many, Penn was taken by surprise at the firing of head coach Jon Gruden on January 16, but is excited to play for Morris and new offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski.

“I was like everybody else. I was surprised and shocked,” Penn said about the Bucs’ coaching change. “I do think this is a good opportunity for Raheem Morris. He’s a young guy who has been patient and has waited for his chance for this opportunity. He’s a good coach and a good motivator.

“I haven’t talked to any of the [new offensive coaches] yet, but from watching what [Jagodzinski] did at Boston College, I’m glad he got this opportunity. I thought that was kind of messed up – what Boston College did to him. I’m glad he got the opportunity to come to the league and take a step forward from college. I want to take a step forward next year and go to the Pro Bowl, so I’m all for people talking a step forward in whatever they do. I look forward to working with him and I hope he’s looking forward to working with me.”

Penn was excited to learn that the Bucs plan on installing a zone-blocking scheme in 2009 that was similar to Denver’s.

“That’s what I hear,” Penn said. “I’m excited to go out there and learn that. I’ll be able to show more of my athletic ability in that new scheme. I’m ready to go.”

After he gets his contract situation resolved with the Buccaneers.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: sr@pewterreport.com
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