TAMPA — On the heels of Bucs left tackle Donald Penn getting his long-awaited contract extension, attention has predictably turned to whether the Bucs have one in store for others — namely linebacker Barrett Ruud.
For the short term, it's becoming clear the answer is no.
How, then, does the club reconcile awarding Penn a $48 million extension while leaving Ruud, the club's leading tackler the past three seasons, to play on a one-year, restricted free agent deal?
It boils down to priorities, and Penn, given his essential role of protecting the quarterback and the fact that he remained unsigned a day before training camp, ranked higher.
"I think in any organization, you have to look at somewhat of a pecking order in terms of what you're going to do for your organization," general manager Mark Dominik said. "We certainly have a lot of excitement about Josh Freeman being our franchise quarterback. Donald Penn's played really well over the last couple years, and we're excited to have him for six more."
Later, Dominik added: "I think every situation is different in the National Football League. At the same time, you can look at it and say this is part of (our) plan. We have a foundation that we really like. It's not just the draft classes from 2009 and 2010. We have players on this football team that we really like."
It remains to be seen how all this will go over with Ruud, the team's 2005 second-round pick out of Nebraska who, for two consecutive days, has uncharacteristically not spoken with reporters.
Coach Raheem Morris says that Ruud, along with other potentially perturbed restricted free agents such as tackle Jeremy Trueblood and running back Cadillac Williams — along with impending free agent guard Davin Joseph — haven't reacted negatively to their lack of contract extensions.
"We're not going to manufacture drama," said Morris, who has a close relationship with Ruud. "With Barrett, he signed his tender, and we've decided to move on — him and myself both. … He understands the process, and he's a grown man. He's handled it.
"I would hate to put words in his mouth. He signed his tender. He's come to work. He's been there in the offseason. He's out there now. He's the leader of the defense. I'm not going to manufacture drama for him because it's so not dramatic for him."
On Friday, Ruud said he supported Penn in his effort to land a new contract, an effort that included Penn staying away from the team all offseason. Ruud used a similar tactic in the summer of 2009, but it did little to jump-start contract talks on an extension as he entered the final season of his rookie deal.
It didn't help that Ruud's performance in 2009 was hurt by the defensive scheme change under coordinator Jim Bates. It was no coincidence Ruud looked quite different in the final six games after Morris took over defensive play-calling and reverted to a style that Ruud was more comfortable with. That disparity is, perhaps, part of what has given the team pause about doing a long-term deal with Ruud.
He and other Bucs seeking long-term commitments can only hope to shine in 2010, and make the choice easy for Dominik and the ownership.
"I don't think (Penn's extension) guarantees anything," Trueblood said. "I just think whenever they have the opportunity to secure somebody, they have to take care of it. You don't know what they're thinking. But you can't care about that."
Veteran center Jeff Faine said a deal such as Penn's can be more of a motivating factor for young players rather than a sore spot. It's an example, he said, of what could await them if they perform well.
"We're happy for him," Faine said. "At the end of the day, especially for the younger guys, when you see a guy sign a long-term deal, that's great for you. It's great for everybody; everybody but the owners."
Will there be more deals? Not now, but maybe later. It all depends on what the candidates for those contracts do in the long term.
"Realistically, you can't do anything without playing well," said Joseph, the club's 2006 first-round pick. "And focusing on training camp one day at a time is going to get me there. (Do) stuff like winning games, fighting; then everything will take care of itself."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at email@example.com.