Tampa Bay Bucs prefer ensuring they can keep their nucleus to spending big money on free agents

TAMPA — Tampa Bay fans who learned their team was $59 million under the salary cap fantasized about how the Bucs would monopolize free agency.

So why hasn't general manager Mark Dominik, who owns the deeds to Boardwalk and Park Place, started building hotels?

For starters, that's not the Bucs' philosophy. Since taking over, Dominik and coach Raheem Morris have turned one of the oldest rosters into the youngest and vowed to build through the draft. Re-signing their own free agents — such as guard Davin Joseph, linebacker Quincy Black and tackle Jeremy Trueblood — was the priority, much to the astonishment of fantasy football fans who saw Raiders free agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha in red and pewter.

"An easy thing for all fans to understand is that, by the collective bargaining … there is a spending minimum that the entire league has to do over the next couple of years," Dominik said. "Obviously, we're part of that. We're sticking with our plan of how we want to put this thing together and be a long-term contender.

"The important thing for me, the important thing for Coach Morris and, really, for ownership, is to try to keep the continuity together. It's what we all fell in love with back in the '90s, that group of guys. We'd like to do that again. When you see the contracts that are going around the National Football League right now, you know you've got to budget accordingly today to make sure you can take care of your team tomorrow. That's what we're doing."

Part of the spending expectations for the Bucs was created by a realization that under the new collective bargaining agreement, teams had to spend 99 percent of the $120 million salary cap in 2011 and 2012. But that only applies on a leaguewide basis.

The "minimum team cash spend" on salaries and signing bonus of 89 percent of the cap applies on a four-year basis from 2013 through 2016, and from 2017 through 2020.

So when the Bucs sign Joseph to a seven-year, $52.5 million deal, only a pro-rated portion of that goes toward this year's salary cap. But the entire value of the contract counts against the league's spending requirement of $3.8 billion.

More important, Dominik wants to be in a position to lock up core players when their contracts expire in the next few years.

The Bucs aren't done spending on free agents. They may even have enough left for a high-mileage Cadillac. But the free agent shopping spree was never in the plans, or the budget.

THREE TO WATCH: Training camp is only a few days old, but here are three of the more unheralded Bucs rookies who could impress:

RB Mossis Madu: The undrafted free agent from Oklahoma was described by fellow Sooner Gerald McCoy as a "scat back." At 6-foot, 197 pounds, Madu is deceptively quick, has great feet and catches the ball cleanly.

TE Daniel Hardy: With the hip injury to fourth-round pick Luke Stocker, Hardy has a great opportunity to get more reps. A seventh-round pick from Idaho, Hardy has the size (6-foot-4) and hands, but he has to continue to impress as a blocker.

S Ahmad Black: Okay, Gators fans know Black is a ball hawk. The Bucs aren't overly deep at safety and the fifth-round pick will get a chance to make his mark. Nobody was expecting Cody Grimm to burst onto the scene a year ago.

Tampa Bay Bucs prefer ensuring they can keep their nucleus to spending big money on free agents 07/30/11 [Last modified: Sunday, July 31, 2011 12:25am]

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