Last day as Buccaneers? It could be for some in Tampa Bay
The free-agent signing period begins at 12:01 a.m. tonight, and that means those players whose contracts expired after last season are officially up.
This includes the Bucs' handful of unrestricted free agents, some of which are probably spending their final day as Buccaneers. The team's key unrestricted free agents are S Will Allen, WR Antonio Bryant, LB Angelo Crowell, S Jermaine Phillips and DE Jimmy Wilkerson.
We don't really have to address Bryant because, right or wrong, the Bucs have made it known they're not re-signing him.
As for the others, Allen is not a sure bet to return. But given the lack of depth at safety, he is someone the Bucs likely will consider on a low-cost, short-term deal to fulfill a backup role. He is a versatile and reliable special teams player and was the team's special teams captain last season.
Crowell might be a long shot to come back, then again, the Bucs really don't know what they have in him because he was injured all of last season. His arrived as a free agent from Buffalo after coming off a serious knee injury that proved to be very slow-healing. That set him back substantially in the offseason and preseason and he never got a chance to compete on equal footing. Then, he suffered a torn biceps and was lost for the season anyway. If he returns, he'll probably have to sign a non-guaranteed deal and prove he's worthy of a roster spot, giving the Bucs the option to release him if they're not impressed.
After a productive eight-year stint in Tampa Bay, Phillips could be done here. He's still a good player, but he has proven extremely fragile, missing time with broken arms or hands in both of the past two seasons. In 2008, he suffered two broken forearms, the second just weeks after returning from his first fracture. It also doesn't help that Phillips still has a pending felony domestic-abuse charge that has yet to be adjudicated, stemming from a fight with his wife in January. I suspect Phillips will probably sit on the market for a good while before his next stop is determined.
Lastly, Wilkerson is someone teams also will have reservations about. Whether you see him as a starter or backup, he is coming off a torn ACL and only underwent surgery in late January. That means he has a long road ahead and won't be able to participate in offseason drills. That might dissuade teams from taking a chance on him until they can evaluate whether he's healthy, though his prospects for returning to good health are promising.
What all this tells us is that the Bucs' crop of free agents isn't stellar, with the exception of Bryant, meaning their focus will be on adding talent during this period rather than keeping their own players on the roster.