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With NFL labor deal, we'll learn how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers truly feel about players such as Barrett Ruud and Davin Joseph

In the coming hours, we'll discover the truth about Barrett Ruud.

We're going to find out whether the Buccaneers believe he is one of the better run-stoppers in the NFL, and we'll learn how much value they place on his leadership.

For that matter, we'll learn whether Davin Joseph is to be an anchor on this offensive line for years to come, or whether the Bucs regard him simply as a very nice player.

Because here, on the eve of hysteria, money appears to be no object.

Details of the NFL's new collective bargaining agreement are still being released and digested, and if the fine print is correct, the first few days will look something like this:

AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!

In one hectic week, there will be draft picks to sign, free agents to woo, salary cap casualties to be considered, undrafted college players to snatch up, contracts to be renegotiated and ramifications in every one of those decisions.

And around here, it will mean the answers to some very old questions.

In the NFL's version of the new labor agreement, the salary cap for 2011 will be $120 million. That means, essentially, the Bucs can do whatever the heck they please when it comes to signing players.

They can chase big-name free agents. (Not likely.) They can be aggressive with their own free agents. (Probably.) They can extend contracts for current players. (Later this year.)

The point is that money is not going to get in the way.

The new CBA has supposedly closed the loopholes that allowed some teams (hint, hint) to reach salary cap minimums without spending the actual dollars.

Now, instead of a salary cap floor in 2011, the deal requires a certain amount of cash to be spent, although exact details are still somewhat fuzzy.

Even so, it's probably safe to assume the Bucs are going to be committing a lot more money to payroll than they have in recent seasons.

So what does that mean in real terms?

Well, if you are Ruud, it means the day of reckoning has arrived. You are a free agent, and your team is contractually obliged to increase payroll by a dramatic amount.

So if they do not come to terms in the next week, it won't be because they don't have salary cap space. And it won't be because they don't have cash flow. It will be a direct acknowledgement that the team doesn't think Ruud, 28, is worth the salary he seeks.

Now, the one advantage Ruud will have in these negotiations is timing. The Bucs might have drafted Mason Foster with the idea he was Ruud's replacement at middle linebacker, but the lockout has complicated things.

Can the Bucs afford to hand that job to a rookie who did not have the benefit of offseason workouts? And is it worth finding a temporary replacement on the free-agent market considering how much would have to be learned during training camp?

In the end, the Bucs will have to weigh future goals with the reality of minimum cash commitments for 2011. Joseph and linebacker Quincy Black are probably in the long-term plans. Ruud's situation is not quite so clear.

Even if the Bucs come to terms with Ruud and everyone else, there is still going to be money left over.

So does that mean they hit the free-agent market for a cornerback or offensive lineman or another weapon for Josh Freeman?

There's probably a good chance Tampa Bay signs a strategic free agent or two to plug specific holes, but I wouldn't expect to see Nnamdi Asomugha, Santonio Holmes or Braylon Edwards at One Buc Place.

Tampa Bay has not been really active in the high-end free agent market in recent years, and it has had far more success finding and developing younger players.

With that in mind, the Bucs are more likely to reward players already in the building. Salary cap spending will not be tallied until the end of the year, so any contract extensions signed in December will still count toward the cash minimum required in 2011. The advantage is bonus money handed out this year will keep Tampa Bay in compliance with the cash requirements without jeopardizing future cap space.

That means the Bucs can watch almost another full season of Freeman, LeGarrette Blount, Mike Williams, Arrelious Benn, Geno Hayes and others before deciding who is worth the biggest bonuses and the longest contracts.

The bottom line is money should not be a concern in Tampa Bay. The Bucs have cap space, and they have league requirements that must be followed. All they have to do is figure out who's getting the big payday.

With NFL labor deal, we'll learn how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers truly feel about players such as Barrett Ruud and Davin Joseph 07/25/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 26, 2011 2:17am]
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