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Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Here's why I think the Bucs will pay Donald Penn



Bucs restricted free agent left tackle Donald Penn remains unsigned and his unresolved situation represents the biggest issue facing the Bucs, with training camp looming just four weeks away.

You know the story well. The Bucs, exercising their rights under league rules, tendered the RFA a one-year contract worth $3.168 million. Penn has thus far rejected the offer and has sat out the entire offseason and is not ruling out skipping training camp.

But here is my take on why I think Penn will ultimately win out.

When Penn opted to ignore the June 15 deadline, allowing the Bucs to lower his offer by $100,000, he sent a very clear message. Taking the reduction in pay was his way of saying he's willing to take this as far as necessary, and that's where this gets dicey for the Bucs.

This is not your classic contract holdout. Whereas a team has generally has more leverage when a player is under contract, the Bucs have no such advantage over Penn, who is unsigned. The fines for not showing up to training camp are extremely punitive for players under contract, in the neighborhood of $15,000 -- per day. Players rarely come out on top in such scenarios. Penn was coy about his plans during his appearance at FanFest a couple weeks ago, but I can assure you he currently has no plans to report on time. This will be a significant setback for him and the Bucs.

That's when the Bucs better start sweating. They need to improve their fortunes after a 3-13 season. And after last offseason's many shakeups, they've seen first-hand what unexpected changes can do to a team (changing coordinators, quarterbacks, etc.), and they would be unwise to compound those mistakes.

For a team that is betting so heavily on quarterback Josh Freeman, it makes little sense to leave his blind side protected by a second-year project, Demar Dotson. And even if Penn were to ultimately cave, the question remains how much is gained and lost under such a scenario?

Ask yourself: How many blows is Freeman subjected to in the meantime as the club quickly gets into its preseason games? How much cohesion is lost among the members of the offensive line because one of their key components is missing? And what, exactly, is the long-term plan at left tackle, a position that has been unstable here for too many years? For all the talk about building for the long term, the decision not to sign Penn sure seems short-sighted.

Are the Bucs and general manager Mark Dominik willing to roll the dice on each of the above questions simply to prove a point?

And as for the argument that paying Penn is unfair to the other restricted free agents who agreed to play under the same terms, it's a faulty one. For one, linebacker Barrett Ruud is the only Bucs player who was tendered at the same level as Penn (a first- and third-round contract tender). But unlike Penn, Ruud is not being subjected to this for the second straight season. Penn, you might recall, played under a restricted free agent deal last season, too. Ruud, meanwhile, became a free agent for the first time this offseason.

In the end, as long as Penn's demands are still reasonable -- the previous contract talks were in the neighborhood of $5 million annually, which seems sensible -- it might be more costly in the long term to not pay him.

I think the Bucs know this, and will ultimately act accordingly.

(Donald Penn | Getty Images.)

[Last modified: Monday, July 19, 2010 2:42pm]


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