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Standoff may create future hole at tackle for Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tackle Donald Penn, running after a deflected pass vs. the Eagles in 2009, is miffed about getting another one-year tender.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times (2009)

Tackle Donald Penn, running after a deflected pass vs. the Eagles in 2009, is miffed about getting another one-year tender.

Let's get one thing straight right off the bat: Donald Penn will absolutely play for the Bucs this season.

Of this you can be certain.

The question is whether he will do so as a franchise left tackle with a contract to match or as a lame duck who is passing time until free agency starts next year (and he can catch the first flight out of town).

Penn won't be among the players in attendance when the Bucs begin voluntary practices Monday, officially known as organized team activities.

With so many young players and a relatively new starting quarterback in Josh Freeman, who needs extensive reps, it's a crucial time for the Bucs. That's why it's so disconcerting that Penn hasn't ruled out skipping the entire offseason.

Penn, who has proved himself to be one of the better tackles around, continues to wait things out after being tendered a one-year contract as a restricted free agent for the second straight offseason. He believes a franchise left tackle should be shown more love than a one-year offer for a little more than $3 million.

Basically, the Bucs and Penn are stuck with each other unless the team rescinds its offer. And that won't happen because Tampa Bay would then relinquish its rights to Penn.

So, let's take a step back and look at this with a little perspective.

Both sides have solid arguments to support their positions.

Penn sees some of his contemporaries who also were restricted free agents signing big deals.

Texans linebacker DeMeco Ryans was recently rewarded with a six-year, $48 million deal. Same with 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis, who last week signed a five-year, $50 million extension. In both cases, the players could have been retained by using the mechanisms available to their teams through restricted free agency.

Also, Penn has addressed what had been the biggest knock against him: his waistline. He continues to slim down, losing another 10 pounds since his last update. He now weighs 325 pounds and has lost about 40 total pounds with twice-a-day workouts near his home in Southern California.

And before you criticize him for staying away this offseason, remember that in the NFL, the only recourse players have to show their unhappiness with something is to not show up.

Among the Bucs' arguments for its move: It's not the team's fault the league has is labor unrest. The impending expiration of the collective bargaining agreement means that this year a player must have six seasons of experience before he can opt for free agency. Penn is entering his fifth season. The Bucs are just using a tool available to them to keep a talented player.

Also, if the Bucs pay Penn a lot, they run the risk of ticking off linebacker Barrett Ruud, who is in the same contract situation.

And the Bucs can use the franchise or transition tag on Penn to ensure he sticks around for 2011, provided they're willing to cough up the roughly $10 million it would cost them.

Penn will show up at some point, because if he doesn't shine this season, there's no way he will get a megacontract in 2011. The Bucs know this, too.

The educated guess here is that the Bucs don't do a long-term deal before the season and decide to roll the dice with one of their best players at one of football's most important positions.

However this saga ends, the Bucs better be willing to live with the outcome, including the possibility of losing Penn.

WILLIAMS FALLOUT: Pro scouting director Doug Williams was joined on the unemployment line last week by scouting assistant Victor Green, a former Jets safety who was entering his second season with the club.

It looks like college scouting director Dennis Hickey and pro scout Shelton Quarles will be retained as general manager Mark Dominik looks to restructure the personnel and scouting departments. Other changes could be coming.

Williams took the high road when he left the organization last week, but it's common knowledge that he and Dominik have had a bit of a rivalry since Williams joined the personnel department in 2004.

Williams — whatever his level of scouting acumen may be — was a strong-enough voice and personality to challenge Dominik on personnel and other matters. Perhaps that's something that now will be missing in the front office.

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@sptimes.com.

Standoff may create future hole at tackle for Tampa Bay Buccaneers 05/15/10 [Last modified: Sunday, May 16, 2010 11:50am]
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