A prolonged lockout will change free agency landscape for Bucs
With the NFL's lockout showing little sign of ending in the near future, the Bucs are working on numerous contingency plans for use when business as usual resumes.
One of the areas Tampa Bay is dealing with is free agency. Each day the lockout continues, the likelihood of a return to 2010 rules increases a bit. Those rules, which went into effect because of the removal of the salary cap, were quite different than those used in previous seasons, especially in the area of free agency.
Players who had fewer than six seasons of credited service were limited to restricted free agency. It's very possible such temporary rules could be put in place again if no firm agreement can be reached on a collective bargaining agreement this summer and the courts force a return to the field. If this happens, it will have a significant effect on every NFL team, including the Bucs.
Though it escaped the attention of most fans, the Bucs in February quietly placed restricted free agent tenders on players with expiring contracts who have not reached six seasons in the NFL. That included guard Davin Joseph -- the team's priority in free agency -- linebackers Quincy Black and Adam Hayward, offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood, defensive ends Stylez White and Tim Crowder and receiver Maurice Stovall.
Why is this significant? Because restricted free agents are much less likely to change teams because of the many limitations placed on them. Their original team has the right to match any competing offer, and an interested team typically has to fork over draft-pick compensation to the original team, in addition to offering the player a more lucrative contract. Players also dislike the designation because it comes with only a one-year contract. This was, in large part, what incensed linebacker Barrett Ruud last year when he was designated a restricted free agent and bound to a one-year contract for $3.1 million -- even though he had five seasons to his credit. This also led to offensive tackle Donald Penn's successful contract holdout last year.
If these rules are in place again, Ruud, running back Cadillac Williams and tight end John Gilmore will be unrestricted free agents and able to sign with any team without restriction. These rules would have far-reaching implications on the unrestricted free agent class of 2011, potentially making it one of the least-interesting classes in memory.
So, though the lockout and the issues surrounding it are largely sleep-inducing, this is one reason you might want to pay attention. The outcome of it all will, in part, dictate the makeup of the Buccaneers' roster in 2011.