TAMPA — Here's all you need to know about why the Bucs were so desperate to reach a long-term deal with Donald Penn before training camp practices begin.
Quarterback Josh Freeman is the most important player in the franchise.
That makes the guy who protects his blind side the second-most important player.
Penn, who has started 44 games at left tackle, was en route to Tampa from his home in Los Angeles on Friday night and is expected to sign a long-term contract in time for the Bucs' first practice this morning.
The 27-year-old veteran did not participate in offseason workouts or the mandatory minicamp after refusing to sign a $3.168 million tender. The Bucs had reduced his offer by about $100,000.
But faced with the prospect of not having any player on the roster who has started a game at left tackle to watch Freeman's back, the Bucs relented and ratcheted up efforts to get Penn into camp.
Terms of the deal were being finalized Friday night, but it is believed to be in the neighborhood of the six-year, $60 million contracts signed by Carolina tackle Jordan Gross and Jets tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson.
Penn's agent, Rocky Arceneaux, said Friday night that he was headed to Tampa from St. Louis, but he indicated the deal had not been finalized. "We're trying to get it done," Arceneaux said. "This (news report) is getting out of hand."
Word of the agreement broke shortly after coach Raheem Morris addressed the media Friday. At the time, Penn and Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, the Bucs' first-round draft pick this year, were the only players who had failed to report Friday.
The Bucs were negotiating late Friday with McCoy, the third overall pick. Two players taken just after him — tackle Trent Williams (Redskins) and safety Eric Berry (Chiefs) — each reportedly reached agreements on six-year deals worth at least $60 million.
But it appeared unlikely McCoy would be in uniform today.
Agent Ben Dogra wrote in a text message to the St. Petersburg Times that McCoy has a house in Tampa and that he believed it was a good idea for McCoy to head there in case an accord is reached this weekend.
"I absolutely guarantee there is zero deal with Tampa," Dogra wrote, "but I will do my best to get a deal done."
Until Friday, Penn looked like he might spend a portion of camp on the outside looking in.
General manager Mark Dominik had held firm on the club's stance of not negotiating extensions with restricted free agents and was critical of Penn's weight gain — he said it was 40 pounds — during the second half of last season.
Morris said he had been in frequent contact with Penn but gave no indication that a deal was imminent.
"For me and Penn, it's all about what we're doing, what's our plan, how it's going to look," Morris said. "Half the time we talk, he just wants to know what's going on."
Penn becomes the Bucs' only restricted free agent to receive a long-term deal this season. Linebacker Barrett Ruud, running back Cadillac Williams, receiver Maurice Stovall and tackle Jeremy Trueblood each signed one-year tenders.
Penn's signing might be well-received in the locker room, but it also could begin a stampede to Dominik's office.
Amid reports that the Bucs had no interest in negotiating with Penn before camp, Dominik was in stealth negotiations with Arceneaux over the past week aimed at preventing Freeman from having to be protected by Demar Dotson, a converted basketball player from Southern Mississippi who has never started an NFL game.
"It's all individual. I fully support Donald and hopefully things work out," said Ruud, the team's leading tackler the past three seasons.