TAMPA — A final thought or two on the Bucs' approach to free agency.
For a team that was an NFL-high $44-million under the salary cap when the signing period began, it might seem surprising the big-ticket player was Saints center Jeff Faine, who signed a six-year, $37.5-million contract.
The deal includes a $12-million signing bonus and $1-million roster bonus in 2009.
Why did the Bucs open the vault for a center? Because they didn't have one to win with.
Tampa Bay had decided to cut ties with John Wade, whose best days are behind him. Matt Lehr was a free agent. And Dan Buenning, who has never really played center, struggled to come back from knee surgery in 2007.
Many Bucs fans were under the assumption the club would be big players for premier free agents. There are several reasons why that didn't happen.
For starters, it was a pretty weak class. Most teams have money to lock up their key players, so fewer marquee names hit the market.
The other thing to remember is not to confuse salary cap room with being in the market for high-priced players.
Faine's deal was an exception. As a rule, general manager Bruce Allen has not doled out enormous signing bonuses since 2004, and that's what it takes to get a premier free agent.
A year ago, the Bucs attracted key players such as quarterback Jeff Garcia, linebacker Cato June, offensive tackle Luke Petitgout and defensive lineman Kevin Carter. But they never exceeded a signing bonus of $3-million.
The trend continued this offseason, Faine notwithstanding.
Tight end John Gilmore got $1-million to sign. Running back Michael Bennett received a $750,000 signing bonus. Safety Eugene Wilson will receive $500,000 in guarantees. Defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson received $300,000 to sign and could earn another $200,000 if he makes the team.
Trading for quarterback Brian Griese cost the Bucs only a $300,000 roster bonus.
Teams' payrolls are more than covered by the money they receive from the TV contracts. But signing bonuses? That's cash that comes right out of an owner's pocket. It's guaranteed. The salaries are a matter of accounting. There's a big difference.
The Glazers paid super salaries during their Super Bowl run. Warren Sapp, Simeon Rice, Derrick Brooks, Keyshawn Johnson and Brad Johnson were among the highest paid at their positions.
Credit Allen for recognizing the money might be better spent locking up core players who will soon come up for free agency.
But you have to wonder if the reluctance to cut big checks for signing bonuses is by choice or an edict from the Glazers.
WINDFALL: Speaking of money, rookie safety Tanard Jackson earned $278,000 in performance-based incentives, one of the highest totals in the NFL last season. Good for Jackson, who had an outstanding season and played 77 percent of the defensive snaps.
Tackle Donald Penn, who replaced the injured Petitgout, earned $245,000 in incentives.