"The big money for all teams is spent by re-signing your own guys. You draft somebody, then you re-sign them and those are the big contracts. … It doesn't take very long to spend $30 or $40 million in the National Football League. That's (through) re-signing guys."
— Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer, March 24, 2010
Whether you remain skeptical or buy every word of it, the moment of truth has arrived for the Bucs' stated intent to lock up their up-and-coming players.
For a team that has consistently, though not wrongly, eschewed free agency and maintained that its wish is to invest in homegrown talent, the opportunity has arrived to make good on those promises.
If, as anticipated, the collective bargaining agreement being negotiated includes provisions for players with four or more years of experience to earn unrestricted free agent status, the Bucs will have many such players to make decisions on, including MLB Barrett Ruud, G Davin Joseph, LB Quincy Black, RB Cadillac Williams and OT Jeremy Trueblood.
The Bucs will make earnest attempts to re-sign them or watch them walk. The latter route would mean the Bucs would be taking a path different from the one promised since the Jon Gruden-Bruce Allen regime was still in place.
GM Mark Dominik and coach Raheem Morris take great pride in the quality of players they've drafted the past two years. Gruden and Allen did not have remarkable draft success, but some of their early-round selections — Ruud, Joseph and others — are now reaching free agency. Many look as if they're worth keeping around, but we'll soon find out how the Bucs really feel.
The Glazer family, which owns the Bucs, has consistently maintained that free agency is often a money pit. The Bucs have shown you can win by choosing the right players rather than the most expensive.
But at some point, if you believe in them, you have to keep those players on your team. That time has come for the Bucs.
GOING CAMPING: Bucs players have organized the closest thing to a minicamp during this NFL lockout.
Though they can't communicate with coaches during the work stoppage, they've taken the initiative to take their offseason workouts to another level with a three-day camp at IMG Academies in Bradenton this week. Players have been practicing off and on at USF, but that consists mostly of quarterbacks, receivers and running backs.
This week, defenders will be added to the mix, giving players the opportunity to run 7-on-7 drills. Those involve quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, linebackers and defensive backs. There will be optional morning weightlifting sessions.
QB Josh Freeman will be responsible for the onfield instruction, while much of the credit for logistics goes to LB Tyrone McKenzie.
FRANCHISE TAG?: Use of the franchise tag reportedly will survive in a new collective bargaining agreement, but something that's less clear is whether teams will be able to use it when the league reopens for business.
In February, before the lockout, the usual deadline to tag franchise players came and went. Some teams used it (the Colts tagged QB Peyton Manning), but some didn't because of the uncertainty ahead.
Now, reports are that some owners want the opportunity to use the tag when the long-awaited free agency period opens. Discussions are ongoing.
Why does this matter to the Bucs? If use of the tag is permitted before this season, don't totally dismiss the Bucs using it on Ruud if they feel they're not yet prepared to replace the team's four-time leading tackler.
There's precedent. The Bucs used the franchise tag two years ago on WR Antonio Bryant, who earned $9.88 million in 2009 after the sides couldn't agree on a long-term deal.
The price tag for Ruud could approach $10 million, but word is the new CBA will include a much higher salary floor. If that mandate makes it into the final version of the CBA, the Bucs will have to spend well over $100 million in salary after spending roughly $80 million in uncapped 2010.
The franchise tag pretty much takes a player off the market. The compensation for signing a franchise player has historically been two first-round draft picks. Such deals almost never happen.