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Tampa Bay Buccaneers lock up key players with rapid-fire deals

TAMPA — If you simply monitor the comings and goings of the NFL's marquee free agents, you might conclude that things have been rather dull at One Buc Place this week.

To the contrary, Bucs general manager Mark Dominik has been busier than ever, scrambling to churn out key deals one after another. With the NFL open for business for barely 36 hours, Dominik by Wednesday night had negotiated contracts for the team's top three draft picks— first-rounder Adrian Clayborn, second-rounder Da'Quan Bowers and third-rounder Mason Foster — and came to terms on a $29 million agreement with Bucs unrestricted free agent linebacker Quincy Black.

Then, after hours, things really began heating up for Dominik and his staff. Team officials were headed to dinner in South Tampa on Wednesday evening with prized free agent guard Davin Joseph and close buddy Jeremy Trueblood, also a Bucs free agent offensive lineman.

Joseph cracked about the rendezvous via his Twitter account hours after lamenting the fact that he was still awaiting an offer from the team. Both players have consistently said they wish to remain in Tampa Bay.

"My agent, Ben Dogra, is having talks with other teams, but I don't know about any offers yet. I'm just waiting like everyone else," Joseph wrote.

The Bucs, who report for training camp today, haven't fulfilled the expectations of those who predicted they would be big players on the free agent market, pursuing players from other teams with their considerable salary cap space. They've instead continued to look inward, as promised.

Along those lines, the Clayborn deal was completed in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, before any other first-round pick had agreed to terms. Clayborn's four-year deal is reportedly worth $8.2 million and is fully guaranteed, according to ESPN. Bowers signed his deal in the afternoon and, according to Dominik, is in good physical shape after a January knee surgery that caused him to plummet in the draft.

The Bucs now have four of their eight drafts picks under contract and are optimistic about having the entire class in-house before Friday's first training camp practice.

Signing Black, 27, was high on the team's wish list. Dominik called Black's agent almost immediately after agent contact was available Tuesday, making his intentions clear. Tampa Bay is almost certainly moving forward without middle linebacker Barrett Ruud, but retaining Black, the strong-side linebacker, gives it a measure of continuity in the unit. Black wanted badly to stay with the team, too, and it rewarded him with a five-year deal that includes $11.5 million in guarantees.

"He's a kid who kind of grew up without family and had a rough time," agent Harold Lewis said. "Now, he's got a family with the Bucs."

Lewis said other unnamed teams expressed interest in Black, and it's unclear what he would have fetched on the open market. But Black told Lewis from the outset he would accept a reasonable offer from the Bucs even without talking with other clubs.

"Usually players say (to agents), 'Send me anywhere you want, wherever the money is,' " Lewis said. "Quincy didn't say that."

Expect the team to continue to focus on its free agents and perhaps augment the roster with second-tier free agents.

Dominik stressed that his philosophy of building through the draft and using free agency in small doses will not change despite roughly $50 million in salary cap space.

"There's a blueprint that's already sitting in front of you," he said this week.

Today is the last day before free agents can officially sign contracts as well as take visits to other teams on Friday. That makes it a key moment for Dominik as talks with Joseph and some of the team's remaining free agents continue. The Bucs are expected to have dialogue with Trueblood, defensive end Tim Crowder and, possibly, running back Cadillac Williams. Each is an unrestricted free agent.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers lock up key players with rapid-fire deals 07/27/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 27, 2011 11:21pm]

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