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If necessary, Tampa Bay Buccaneers will franchise kicker Connor Barth

INDIANAPOLIS — Bucs kicker Connor Barth was nearly automatic last season, connecting on 92.9 percent of his field goals, second-best in the NFL.

The only thing more accurate is the fact he won't play in another uniform next season.

The Bucs will not let Barth become an unrestricted free agent, general manager Mark Dominik said Saturday.

Barth, who made 26 of 28 field goals and all 23 of his extra points, is eligible for free agency March 13, but the Bucs are trying to sign him to a long-term deal. Failing an agreement, Dominik made it clear the team won't hesitate to use its franchise tag on Barth.

"We, obviously, like Connor Barth a lot," Dominik said from the scouting combine. "He's done a good job for us since he's been a Buccaneer.

"The truth is we think enough of him that he's not going to be an unrestricted free agent. We'll just figure out where that takes us from here."

If the Bucs franchise Barth, they must offer him a one-year deal worth about $2.65 million. Barth earned about $1.9 million in 2011.

The salary is based on a formula that factors in franchise tags over the past five years. If another team signs Barth, the Bucs receive two first-round picks.

Dominik would not comment on the negotiations, but it's believed Barth is seeking a contract similar to the five-year, $15.759 million deal signed by the Patriots' Stephen Gostkowski last season.

Gostkowski made 28 of 33 field goals during the regular season (84.8 percent) and was 5-for-5 in the playoffs. Barth is 83.9 percent (73-of-87) over his four-year career.

Barth has improved every season since signing with the Bucs midway through 2009.

Last season he did not have to perform kickoff duties after the team signed punter Michael Koenen.

Teams have until March 5 to designated a franchise player.

Dominik said the Bucs also are negotiating with the agent for guard/center Jeremy Zuttah, who can become an unrestricted free agent March 13. Zuttah played for new Bucs coach Greg Schiano at Rutgers.

"That's what brings Zuttah value to us," Dominik said. "That's why, again, we're going to try to get into good discussions here. Knowing his versatility is a big piece. Knowing he can be inside at guard or inside at center, that brings a lot of importance to us. Certainly his track record with Coach Schiano is a positive."

The Bucs current starting center, Jeff Faine, 30, is entering his 10th season and is scheduled to earn a base salary of $5.925 million.

Dominik said Schiano plans to meet with cornerback Ronde Barber following the combine to determine if he wants to return for a 16th season and how he believes he will fit into the new defensive scheme.

"The plan right now is to sit down with Ronde Barber and really talk about what Schiano's vision is for this football team and make sure that's understood by everybody," Dominik said.

It's almost certain the Bucs' other unrestricted free agents — including quarterback Josh Johnson, running back Earnest Graham, safety Sean Jones, cornerback Elbert Mack and Geno Hayes — will hit the open market.

Rick Stroud can be reached at stroud@tampabay.com. View his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bucs. Follow him on Twitter at @NFLStroud.

If necessary, Tampa Bay Buccaneers will franchise kicker Connor Barth 02/25/12 [Last modified: Saturday, February 25, 2012 10:47pm]
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