Bucs to give Bryant franchise tag barring deal
The Bucs will make receiver Antonio Bryant their franchise player if they're unable to reach a deal by Thursday's deadline to apply the designation.
That means if Bryant subsequently signs the offer, the Bucs would be obligated to pay him $9.884-million for 2009. That's the average of the league's top five highest-paid receivers.
Bryant will become a free agent when the signing period begins Feb. 27. If he is franchised, a team signing Bryant to an offer sheet must be willing to give the Bucs two first round picks as compensation.
Bryant, 27, posted career marks for receptions (83), receiving yards (1,248) and touchdowns (7) in 2008, his first season with the Bucs.
The only thing that would prevent the Bucs from using their franchise player tag on Bryant by Thursday is if they have made significant progress on a long-term deal or have an agreement in principle. But before using the franchise tag, "We'll see if we can reach an agreeement,'' coach Raheem Morris said Tuesday night.
General manager Mark Dominik has been in negotiations with Bryant's agent, Peter Schaffer, for several weeks in an attempt to reach a long-term deal. Neither Schaffer nor Dominik will comment on the progress of those talks.
Retaining the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Bryant is the biggest priority for the Bucs this off-season.
After missing all of 2007 following well-documented dustups with Bill Parcells in Dallas and Mike Nolan in San Francisco, the Bucs considered Bryant a worthy reclamation project. Nobody ever doubted his talent and the year away from football gave Bryant a new perspective and maturity.
Bryant was a model player and teammate last season and he established a close relationship with receivers coach Richard Mann, who has been promoted to assistant head coach under Morris.
With receiver Michael Clayton set to become a free agent and 37-year-old Joey Galloway is coming off an injury-plagued season in which he broke two bones in his foot.
The last Tampa Bay player to receive a franchise tag was defensive end Chidi Ahanotu in 1999.
Bryant would clearly be the most coveted receiver in a free agent class that includes the Bengals' T.J. Houshmandzadeh and the Saints Devery Henderson. Bryant played for the veteran minimum of about $760,000 last season.
By comparison, the Minnesota Vikings signed free agent receiver Bernard Berrian to a six-year, $42-million contract one year after he caught 71 passes for 951 yards (13.4 average) with five touchdowns for the Chicago Bears.