TAMPA — Bucs fans who treat free agency like New Year's Eve and planned to stay up past midnight March 5 might want to go to bed. It doesn't appear there will be many unrestricted free agents to choose from, and the Bucs' focus will be on the draft.
General manager Mark Dominik said Friday that the team is preparing for no salary cap in 2010 and has placed the emphasis on re-signing their players, trades and the draft rather than free agency.
No one has said, " 'You can't do (anything),' " Dominik said. "But as anything goes, you equate ability and value and decide whether it makes sense for you to do something going forward.
"It just makes you replan and rethink what you want to do, how you want to tender players."
More than 200 players who would have been unrestricted free agents — including Bucs linebacker Barrett Ruud, left tackle Donald Penn, right tackle Jeremy Trueblood and running back Cadillac Williams — will become restricted unless a new collective bargaining agreement is reached, which is highly unlikely.
By tendering an offer to a restricted free agent, teams can match outside offers or demand draft picks if they don't do so.
Franchise and transition tags still exist for unrestricted free agents. But Dominik said the Bucs won't use them this offseason. Receiver Antonio Bryant earned $9.88 million as the Bucs' franchise player last year but now will become an unrestricted free agent.
Dominik said the Bucs will still burn "the midnight oil" if only to determine if there are any trade possibilities similar to the one that netted tight end Kellen Winslow at the start of free agency last year.
"If you think there's something that can be had that way, sometimes those things can happen in the first day of free agency. So you have to be alert and ready," Dominik said. "It's a deeper draft class. So it's going to make it that much more difficult to part with a pick."
The Bucs own the third overall pick and five of the top 99, including two second-rounders. Dominik has been stockpiling draft picks in anticipation of a weak free agency class in 2010.
Dominik said the new system does not prevent him from reaching a long-term agreement with their free agents such as Bryant and Ruud.
When the Bucs do consider a free agent, age won't be as much of a factor as it was last year.
"Last year, we went through the youth movement," Dominick said.
"That's not going to restrict us this year."
Dominik said he isn't certain what effect an uncapped year will have on players' participation in the offseason program. Last year, Ruud missed offseason workouts over the team's failure to offer him a long-term contract.
To illustrate how important the Bucs believe the draft is this year, they have moved all 14 of their Organized Team Activities until May, when rookies can participate.
Hayes hurt: Linebacker Geno Hayes had surgery in January to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder and will miss four months, Dominick said. Hayes, hurt in the final regular-season game, is expected to return in time for the mandatory minicamp June 21-23.