When NFL lockout ends, Tampa Bay Bucs to focus salary cap spending on own players

ATLANTA — Mark Dominik, with luggage packed, hurried to catch his return flight when the NFL's informational meeting ended around noon Friday at the Westin Atlanta Airport. Nothing surprising about that. The Bucs general manager has miles to go before he sleeps with the end of the lockout nearing and a lightning round of free agency looming.

What might surprise some is that wads of cash did not fall from Dominik's bags.

It has been reported that the Bucs will be $59 million below the projected $120.375 million salary cap for 2011. What's more, the league committed to spending 99 percent of the cap in cash for player salaries and bonuses.

The NFL Players Association sent members a letter Friday asking them to be patient while its leaders review the owners' proposal and prepare to meet Monday to discuss their options.

Because the NFLPA has not ratified the 10-year collective bargaining agreement that owners passed Thursday, Dominik declined to give specifics of the Bucs' salary cap situation.

But what he did say should fill in the gaps for Bucs fans.

Tampa Bay's priority will be to re-sign as many of its free agents as possible, a list that likely starts with guard Davin Joseph and might include Barrett Ruud, Quincy Black, Cadillac Williams, Jeremy Trueblood and Adam Hayward.

"I know it always will be, hopefully, our priority. I've always tried to look at our roster first and tried to retain our players first," Dominik said.

Furthermore, the Bucs are on the hook for some substantial bonus money for players already under contract.

"There are people who don't understand some of the mechanics of some of the contracts we have," Dominik said.

Chief among those deals is the one with defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. The third pick overall in the 2010 draft signed a five-year, $63.42 million contract with $35 million guaranteed. Because McCoy started 13 games and reached all his playing-time incentives, he qualified for a one-time bonus of about $12 million. He also will earn nearly $900,000 in base salary this season.

The desire to avoid those enormous bonuses and guarantees to unproven, first-year players taken high in the draft is the chief reason owners and players plan to implement a rookie wage scale in the new collective bargaining agreement.

Dominik insists the Bucs are prepared for the whirlwind week of free agency that will coincide with the start of training camp once the deal is ratified by players.

Union president Kevin Mawae issued a statement saying players were discussing the owners' latest proposal and re-certification as a union. There was no vote Friday. ESPN reported that the NFLPA plans to work through the weekend, though other reports said a vote won't come until at least Monday.

"Players leadership is discussing the most recent written proposal with the NFL, which includes a settlement agreement, deal terms and the right process for addressing recertification," Mawae said in a release. "There will not be any further statements (Friday) out of respect for the Kraft family while they mourn the loss of Myra Kraft."

NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith attended the funeral for Kraft, wife of Patriots owner Robert Kraft, on Friday.

Whenever facilities open, Dominik says the Bucs will be ready.

"I think we've had a feeling that it would come to this, where everything gets packed together in a short period of time," Dominik said. "But I do feel like we've kept our plan and our thoughts in place and what we're going to do to help us navigate the short period to make sure the long period is what we want to do as an organization."

Dominik and coach Raheem Morris took one of the grayest teams in the NFL in 2009 to the greenest in 2010 by building smartly through the draft, free agency and waiver claims.

When those players, such as Joseph, are productive and become eligible for free agency, the Bucs want to reward them.

"The one thing that's important is reconnecting with the guys we have and really reconnecting with the guys who are unrestricted and letting them know they are our priority," Dominik said. "They're going to be a big priority for us."

Around the league

CASE AGAINST COX: A court document released Friday sheds new light on why Denver's Perrish Cox was arrested last fall on sexual assault charges involving a woman who told officers she was likely drugged, raped and impregnated with the cornerback's child.

The woman told investigators that doctors put the date of conception around the time she went to Cox's apartment with friends in the early hours of Sept. 6, according to the arrest warrant affidavit.

The affidavit said DNA tests indicated Cox was the father.

The woman said she has no recollection of most of that night and wasn't sure she had had sex until she learned she was pregnant. She said she had not had consensual sex for several weeks before or after the date of conception reported by doctors.

EDWARDS PLEA: Jets receiver Braylon Edwards pleaded guilty in his drunken driving case, stemming from a September incident in New York. His case will be closed without jail time or probation if he meets conditions that include paying a $500 fine and staying in an NFL substance-abuse counseling program.

Ottis ANDERSON DENIAL: Former Giants running back Ottis Anderson said he is not part of a lawsuit filed this week against the NFL and helmet manufacturer Riddell. The suit, filed Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court, has Anderson listed as a plaintiff. But according to the NFL Alumni Association, which is partially funded by the NFL, Anderson has denied any involvement.

IMPACT ON CANTON: The Pro Football Hall of Fame could lose about $1.5 million out of its annual operating budget of $20 million because the annual Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio, has been canceled by the lockout.

Rick Stroud can be reached at stroud@sptimes.com. Information from Times wires was used in this report.

When NFL lockout ends, Tampa Bay Bucs to focus salary cap spending on own players 07/22/11 [Last modified: Saturday, July 23, 2011 1:40am]

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