Jeff Faine bound for Tampa
The Bucs have wasted no time in addressing one of their biggest needs at the outset of the free-agent signing period.
The Times has learned New Orleans free agent center Jeff Faine has agreed to a multi-year contract that will make him the league's highest-paid player at the position, providing the Bucs with a long-term solution at a position they had targeted for a much-needed upgrade.
Faine was expected to be one of the most intriguing offensive linemen on the market, which would explain why the Bucs are willing to open the coffers to sign him. The value of his deal will surpass those of Cleveland's LeCharles Bentley and Chicago's Olin Kreutz, currently the league's highest-paid centers.
The Bucs opted not to offer free agent and former starter John Wade a contract and seemed determined to address the position through free agency. Still, there were few indications before now that they had any intention of pursuing Faine with any zeal. But with $44-million in salary-cap space available, the Bucs had the luxury of signing a high-priced player like Faine while still leaving room to negotiate with many other free agents.
The move is in direct contrast to those made by the Bucs in recent years during the signing period. The Bucs have opted to sign moderately-priced free agents rather than engage in bidding wars for stars. But this is certainly a sign that perhaps the Bucs are willing to spend. Consider that Faine's deal will be richer than Bentley's, a contract that called for the Cleveland Brown to make $36-million over six years, including $12-million in guarantees.
Entering his sixth season out of Notre Dame, the 26-year-old Faine has started all 66 games he has played in his career with the Browns and Saints. His addition instantly improves the offensive line and fortifies the unit for a long time to come. The Bucs have spent three first-day draft picks on linemen in the past two drafts (guards Davin Joseph and Arron Sears and tackle Jeremy Trueblood) while adding veteran left tackle Luke Petitgout through free agency last year.
-- STEPHEN F. HOLDER