Uncapped year won't change Bucs focus from the NFL draft
Bucs fans who treat NFL free agency like New Year's Eve and planned to stay up past midnight March 5 might want to just go to bed. It doesn't appear as though there will be many unrestricted free agents to choose from and the Bucs focus will remain on the draft.
General manager Mark Dominik said Friday the team is preparing for no salary cap in 2010 and have placed the emphasis on re-signing their own players, trades and the NFL draft rather than on free agency.
More than 200 players who would've been unrestricted free agents -- a list that includes Bucs linebacker Barrett Ruud, left tackle Donald Penn, right tackle Jeremy Trueblood and running back Cadillac Williams -- will become restricted unless a new collective bargaining agreement is reached.
"There's no governor been placed on myself of this organization saying, "You can't do nothing,'' Dominik said. "It hasn't been like that. But as anything goes, you equate ability and value and decide whether it makes sense for you to do something going forward.''
Teams can retain first right of refusal by tendering one of five designated offers to a restricted free agent. Or they can demand compensation in terms of draft pick(s) if a player goes to another team based on the tender.
All teams have a franchise and transition tag they can place on an unrestricted free agent, but Dominik said the Bucs won't use those designations on any player in 2010. Receiver Antonio Bryant earned $9.88-million as the Bucs' franchise player last year, but he will be an unrestricted free agent.
"We are certainly developing plans of attack in both directions, but we are more focused assuming it will be an un-capped season,'' Dominik said. "It just makes you re-plan and re-think what you want to do, how you want to tender pllayers. That's the biggest thing. What do you do with all these guys we have that are restricted free agents? How do you tender them? How do you talk to them? How do you work through this?
"Just working under the rules we are, what we want to do for us in terms of the Tampa Bay Bucs, the focus is building through this draft, keeping our core players and developing the nucleus of talent of this football team and that will be it. So I don't see it as detriment, but that still doesn't mean we wouldn't go out there and look for a guy who we think could help this football team.''
Dominik said the Bucs would still burn 'the midnight,' oil, if only to determine whether there are any trade possibilities similar to the Kellen Winslow deal they made at the start of free agency last year.
"I don't do anything different because you don't know if there's going to be more trade opportunities,'' Dominik said. "That's the way I think we really helped our club last year in acquiring Kellen. And if you think there's something that can be had that way, sometimes those things can happen in the first day of free agency so you have to be alert and ready.
"It's a deeper draft class. So it's going to make it that much more difficult to part with a pick, I can assure you of that.''
The Bucs own the third overall pick and five of the top 99 choices in the NFL draft, including a pair of second-round selections. Dominik has been stockpiling draft picks in anticipation of a weak free agency class in 2010. He traded defensive end Gaines Adams to Chicago for a second round pick, tight end Alex Smith to New England for a fifth-round pick, quarterback Luke McCown to Jacksonville for a sixth rounder and defensive end Marques Douglas to Baltimore for a seventh-rounder.
The Bucs fifth-round selection belongs to the Cleveland Browns as part of the deal for Winslow.
"It's kind of the way we started last year in terms of moving this team forward and the way we were going to do it in terms of building through the draft and taking this team where we want it to go,'' Dominik said. "A lot of the thought and the emphasis was put in the past 12 months in terms of acquiring draft choices because of what we want to do with this football team in moving forward. So that's where our focus has been.''
Dominik said the new system does not prevent them from reaching a long-term agreement with their own free agents, such as Bryant or Ruud. But it certainly makes it more difficult.
"It's not an economic deal. And it's not Tampa Bay vs. Barrett Ruud or vs. Antonio Bryant,'' Dominik said. "It's the rules that we're governed under and to look at them and say, "Okay, if this looks to be what is going forward, how do we view it and how do we handle it? What kind of precedents are we setting?' And those kinds of things.
"When you go to a bargaining table and try to figure out a long-term deal, they have a number in mind they think is right and fair and we certainly have a number we think is right and fair. And if you decide to go down that road, you just have to can meet.''
When the Bucs do consider a free agent, the age of a player won't be as much of a factor as it was last year.
"You know, last year we went through the youth movement. That's not going to restrict us this year,'' Dominik said. "We're not looking at guys and saying, "If the guy is 33 years old, we don't want them.' Last year was a chance to really evaluate a lot of young players on this football team and move forward. We're not looking at age in terms of a discrimination if they can help us.''
Dominik said he isn't certain what the effect of an uncapped year will have on player's participation in the off-season program. Last year, Ruud missed off-season workouts over the team's failure to offer him a long-term contract.
"I don't know what each individual player wants to do,'' Dominik said. "I can say I was just on the phone with Donald Penn. We've been trading voice messages back and forth, just reaching out to guys like that, making sure they understand that we're doing everything we can to make sure he can become the best football player he can be.''
To illustrate how important the Bucs believe the draft is to their franchise this year, they have moved all 14 of their Oragnized Team Activities until May when rookies can participate.
"For us, the only thing I would say we did differently this year is we moved all our OTA's behind the draft,'' Dominik said. "All of our OTA days start in May instead of doing any in April. Now, part of that wasn't because of the CBA or anything like that in the thought process. The thought process was, "How are we building this team? sitting down with coach Morris and saying, "This draft class is that important. Let's make sure they're involved with every OTA day. Let's not let them miss out on five or six days prior to the draft. Let's make sure this whole team is moving forward TOgether. That was really important to us. So we pushed our off-season program back two weeks and we pushed all our OTA days behind the draft to make sure let's get as many to the 80-man limit here from day one of the OTAs all the way through the minicamp.''