No easy solution on restricted free agent disputes
Whether you think he deserves a contract extension or not, it's clear there is no easy solution to ending Donald Penn's standoff with the Bucs. The restricted free agent left tackle wants a long-term contract rather than the one-year restricted free agent tender that's currently on the table for just more than $3 million.
It's expected he won't be with the team when it reports for training camp on Friday.
But the Bucs aren't the only team that is facing this situation. The Chargers have two dissatisfied restricted free agents of their own, receiver Vincent Jackson and tackle Marcus McNeill. And unlike the Bucs and general manager Mark Dominik, who hasn't taken a hard public stance against Penn's decision, Chargers general manager A.J. Smith is showing no indication that he's willing to work with either player.
"Clearly all parties understand each other’s position," Smith told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "We may see Vincent and Marcus for the last six games, or maybe not at all this year. But if they do decide to come back before the end of the season, six games is a lot of football, especially if we are fortunate enough to still be very much alive in the race for the division championship.
"We would have two great, Pro Bowl-talented players returning to our team for the stretch run. Now, what kind of shape would they be in or what their attitude might be, I don’t know. But if they do return, coach (Norv) Turner will decide what their roles will be at that time."
Smith is making reference to the fact that RFAs must sign their tenders by Week 10 of the regular season. Which raises the question, has he already resigned himself to not having either player until Week 10? The article goes on to say that Smith hasn't ruled out placing the players on the Roster Exempt List, a rarely-used tactic that would keep a player off the field for an additional three games after he signs his contract. Smith used this with Antonio Gates a few years ago.
Dominik hasn't reached this point from all indications, though that doesn't mean he's ready to hand over a new contract to Penn, either.
The point here is that there is no easy way to handle these things, and the Chargers' situation shows the extent to which these things can get ugly. Once camp starts, the tension will increase. The Bucs and Chargers cannot penalize their absent players because they are not technically under contract. But neither team will be as successful without these players as it would be with them actually in the lineup.
I don't know what's ultimately going to happen with Penn. But I do know it's not going to be pretty.