Bucs to spend on extensions, possible trades
The Bucs entered free agency with a league-high $44-million salary-cap space, most of which they haven't touched even as sought-after free agents are gobbled up by other teams.
Turns out, it's part of a plan.
Tampa Bay has very specific plans for all that cash, with much of it earmarked for contract extensions for several of the team's up-and-coming young players, according to general manager Bruce Allen. Also, Allen indicated the Bucs are actively pursuing potentially significant trades largely because of a lack of depth in this year's crop of free agents.
We've learned the team has discussed possible contract extensions for fullback B.J. Askew, cornerback Phillip Buchanon, defensive tackle Jovan Haye, running back Earnest Graham and, possibly, safety Jermaine Phillips. Each of those players' contracts expires after the 2008 season, when they are scheduled to become free agents. If and when those deals are consummated, the Bucs will need significant cap space available.
"One of the reasons you want to get some room under the salary cap is so you can extend your own players into the future," Allen said. "...We've had some dialogue with some of those players and we'll continue to do that."
Allen added that the cap flexibility will give the Bucs the freedom to make significant trades, allowing them to acquire and accommodate players with large salaries.
"Our cap situation allows us the ability to not only (extend contracts), but also look at the possibility of trading for some players who might have huge cap numbers for some other teams," Allen said.
Askew was a key piece in the running game in 2007, providing the Bucs a reliable lead blocker and receiving threat out of the backfield. He signed a two-year contract in 2007 and the Bucs have already had conversations about working out an extension. Haye, a restricted free agent, received a first-round tender from the team and will continue to explore a long-term deal that will prevent him from becoming a free agent in 2009.
Keeping Buchanon became more of a priority when Brian Kelly exercised an option to buy back the final year of his contract and become a free agent. Also, Ronde Barber, who starts opposite Buchanon, turns 33 in April. Graham's agent and Allen began talks about a contract extension last month for a player who scored a team-high 10 touchdowns. Phillips had a revival in 2007 with four interceptions, having perhaps his best season as a pro.
Regarding possible trades, the Bucs will continue to scour other teams' rosters targeting players in whom they have an interest.
"We're open to acquiring players in any way we can," Allen said. "Sometimes, we not only look at an unrestricted free agent list, but we look at team's rosters and try to pinpoint players, whether they be on their practice squad or street free agents. Any way we can try and improve the team we will. And we do have the flexibility to look at all avenues right now."