INDIANAPOLIS — So much for the Bucs trying to re-sign free agents before they can test the market.
Apparently the only player worth that consideration is cornerback Ronde Barber, who agreed to a one-year deal Tuesday to return for a club-record 15th season.
But general manager Mark Dominik is doing everything possible to keep key players from signing with other clubs, even if his method could backfire during the ongoing labor dispute.
Dominik said Thursday the Bucs sent restricted free-agent tenders to guard Davin Joseph, tackle Jeremy Trueblood, linebackers Quincy Black and Adam Hayward, receiver Maurice Stovall and defensive ends Tim Crowder and Stylez White, though those tags may not be binding once a new labor agreement is reached.
Each of those players could become an unrestricted free agent next week, when the current labor agreement expires at midnight March 3.
"I think we've done our deals now until we get clarity (on the labor agreement)," Dominik said at the NFL scouting combine.
"We have letters created and are sending them all out to guys we're going to tender. It includes exclusive rights and all the restricted guys."
Under the current labor agreement, players with four years in the league are eligible for unrestricted free agency when their contracts expire. But when owners notified players they wanted to opt out of the deal, it triggered a clause that required players to be in the league for six years to be eligible for unrestricted free agency. Players with contracts expiring earlier could be tendered restricted free-agent contracts, which greatly reduce the movement of players to other teams.
Dominik said he wasn't sure how the decision to tender players as restricted would be received.
"I think we all feel like we're worth X or whatever it is," Dominik said. "The point is, that doesn't preclude you from doing a long-term deal. So the reality is, I just told the player I want him and he's a good player. That's the way I perceive it, and that's the way it will be told to the agent and certainly to the player."
A year ago, the Bucs tendered free-agent tackle Donald Penn a one-year deal worth $3.168 million, and he held out of the offseason workout program. He reported only after signing a six-year, $43 million contract on the first day of training camp.
"He got a tender letter, and at the end of the day, he got a deal," Dominik said. "That could certainly happen. … The guys that get the letter, it shows they have value to us and we want them to be part of our football team going forward."
Joseph, who has played five seasons, is expected to receive a one-year tender worth $3.168 million, well below what his market value would be as an unrestricted free agent. The Bucs would have the right to match any offer he might receive from another team.
If Joseph did receive an offer and the Bucs chose not to match it, the Bucs would receive first- and third-round draft picks as compensation.
Linebacker Barrett Ruud and running back Cadillac Williams are not affected by the tender situation because they have played six seasons. Dominik is having discussions this week with their agents.
Other unrestricted free agents include tight end John Gilmore and linebacker Niko Koutouvides.
"We're talking to every one of our players and telling them what our plans are and what we're going to do with them whether they're on the football team and under contract or scheduled to become unrestricted," Dominik said. "We're certainly being very clear and very open."