As NFL lockout nears possible end, Bucs have their hands full
As the NFL’s lockout perhaps nears its end, with the two sides engaged in reportedly productive talks and closing in on a deal, it’s probably time to start looking ahead.
For the Bucs, that means getting their priorities in order. And the first thing on that list might be actually deciding what the priorities are. There’s going to be a great deal of work to do, probably in a short period of time. So, let’s take a quick look at some of the things the Bucs will have to sort out once the NFL gets back to business.
Make decisions on Tampa Bay’s free agents
Barrett Ruud, Cadillac Williams, Davin Joseph, Quincy Black, Jeremy Trueblood and others are likely to be free agents whenever a deal is delivered. So, the Bucs will first need to decide which of those players they’ll want to keep before proceeding with filling out the rest of the roster.
Some of the decisions will be impacted by selections the Bucs made in the draft, but the Bucs are still working with a lack of information. Once the lockout is lifted and the Bucs can again begin talks with agents, things like salary wishes can finally be addressed.
If a free agency structure similar to the last one is implemented, and provided the salary cap and floor remain in place, you could see the Bucs move to re-sign a majority of their free agents.
Of course, we can’t be certain until the framework of a deal is announced, so stay tuned.
Address Aqib Talib’s situation?
Assuming cornerback Aqib Talib’s felony charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon isn’t resolved in the very near future – and such things tend to take time – the Bucs will have a dilemma on their hands.
They could, as some in the organization believe is best, cut ties with him as soon as the lockout is lifted and move on. Talib’s past problems would provide plenty of justification for such of a move.
But if the Bucs decide not to act immediately, they also have to proceed with a great deal of caution. Until there’s a resolution of the case, Tampa Bay has no assurance Talib will be available in either the short or long term. If he, for instance, is found guilty, jail time would be almost certain. If he ultimately struck a deal with prosecutors, the possibility of jail still exists and a potentially lengthy NFL suspension is all but guaranteed.
The question the Bucs have to answer is whether they feel comfortable with their current lineup of cornerbacks – minus Talib. If not, then what?
What about the free-agent market?
We addressed the Bucs’ own free agents above, but there likely is going to be a vast number of attractive free agents on the market once this lockout ends.
The Bucs have offered a handful of hints that they might be players in that market. If so, they’ll probably have to act quickly and know which players they want to target. While the free-agent signing period typically begins in March, this year it could come just before the start of training camp. But given the amount of downtime this offseason, coaches and members of the front office presumably have done detailed breakdowns of the players they wish to sign.
Once the lockout ends, it then becomes a matter of executing the plan, whether the intent is to be active or to just dabble in the free-agent market.
Because injured players have been barred from receiving treatment from team medical staffs during the lockout, one of the first orders of business for all teams is going to be examining the health of their injured players.
The Bucs will want to immediately get a sense of how injured players like Gerald McCoy (biceps), Brian Price (pelvic fracture), Arrelious Benn (torn ACL), Da’Quan Bowers (knee surgery) and Talib (hip) are progressing. Each has been working out and rehabbing individually since the lockout began three months ago, and that means the team hasn’t been receiving regular updates on their statuses.
It’s somewhat difficult to make roster decisions until the Bucs have a clear picture of the health of the team, making these checkups essential.
There will be other issues such as planning the practice schedule and such, but the Bucs have been working on a number of contingency plans and will be ready. But whenever the lockout ends, be prepared for news to come fast and furious as the NFL steamrolls toward what it hopes is an on-time start to the season.