When the Bucs report to the Celebration Hotel this afternoon, their head count might come up a bit short.
Among the absentees might be defensive end Greg White, an exclusive-rights free agent who remains unsigned and therefore can't be fined for his failure to report. And it remains to be seen whether any of the unsigned draft picks will agree to contract terms in time to make this evening's first team meeting. Cornerback Aqib Talib, the first-round pick, second-round receiver Dexter Jackson and quarterback Josh Johnson, a fifth-round choice, had not agreed to deals as of Thursday night.
White's decision to not report would be his only possible form of protest in his contract standoff. He can't negotiate with any other team because the Bucs made a qualifying one-year, $370,000 contract offer after he led the team in sacks last season with eight. That offer allowed them to retain exclusive negotiating rights.
It's unclear what White is seeking moneywise, but he does wants a contract on par with second-round picks, usually a four-year deal. White's situation is complicated by his late entry into the NFL after spending his early years in the Arena Football League and playing in Canada. He turns 29 today but has just one season of credited NFL experience, which severely restricts his bargaining power.
Players who are under contract and fail to report are subject to stiff financial penalties, as much as $14,000 per day under league rules. But in White's case, he risks only falling behind in his bid to start at left defensive end. Veterans Kevin Carter, the 34-year-old former Gator, and Marques Douglas, 31, are candidates to play there, too.
As for the rookie deals, Talib's agent, Todd France, re-opened talks with the Bucs on Thursday after an earlier snag resulted in a few days of minimal communication. There appeared to be progress, and a deal could be struck today.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at email@example.com.