Poppin’ Tags: Monday First Day for Franchise Designation

A year ago, the Buccaneers used their available franchise tag on sure-footed kicker Connor Barth, who later signed a four-year contract with the team through the 2015 season.  That marked the first time the Buccaneers had used their franchise tag since 2009, when they kept wide receiver Antonio Bryant around for one more year after his enormous 2008 comeback season.

The sequence of events worked out well for both the player and the team last year.  Barth got the multi-year security he surely desired, and the Buccaneers were able to negotiate with their kicker without too much fear of losing him in 2012. Continue reading

Point/Counterpoint: Who will be the most coveted player on the NFL’s free agency market this year?

A little less than a year ago, the Buccaneers made the biggest single-day free agency splash in franchise history, immediately snapping the most coveted wide receiver (Vincent Jackson) AND the most coveted offensive lineman (Carl Nicks) off the market, as well as starting-caliber cornerback Eric Wright.  Either Jackson or Nicks might also have been at the top of the overall list of available free agents, though Mario Williams would have been a prime candidate for that spot, too.  Depending upon depth chart needs and specific preferences, some teams might have started their rankings with Brandon Carr, Cortland Finnegan or Matt Flynn.

The Bucs got their men on March 14, while the Bills swiped Williams away from the Texans on the 15th.  Carr went from the Chiefs to the Cowboys on the 14th, the same day Finnegan left the Titans and rejoined Jeff Fisher in St. Louis.  Flynn actually waited until the 18th to pick the Seahawks after leaving Green Bay.  Every year, the players in the most demand seem to make their decisions in the opening hours of free agency, and this time around their agents will have a three-day lead-in period to start negotiations with possible suitors.

Will Tampa once again be the destination for one or more of the top free agents in 2013?  That remains to be seen, though the Bucs definitely have salary cap space to work with if they choose to do so.  That, however, is not the question I present to you, Andrew.

In fact, don’t worry at all about which teams may be wooing the top free agents this year.  Instead of the ‘where,’ let’s debate the ‘who.’  Specifically, who is this year’s Mario Williams or Carl Nicks?  Who is going to have the most passionate suitors, and who is going to ink the biggest deal?

While we’re not worrying about what teams may come calling, let’s do keep the players’ current teams in mind.  Every year, the list of potential free agents looks a lot more appealing in January than it does in March.  Obviously, many teams do their best to re-sign their core players before free agency begins, especially the young ones who are just coming off their initial four or five-year NFL contracts.  That’s an important consideration.  For instance, you could choose Joe Flacco if you like, but I would counter that I strongly believe, one way or another, the Ravens will find a way to keep him around.

In the same vein, you can choose a pending restricted free agent if you like, but I wouldn’t recommend it.  The best players on that list almost never change teams.  So, keeping the likelihood of actually availability on March 12 in mind, answer me this:

Who will be the most coveted player on the NFL’s free agent market this year? Continue reading

Comparing NFC South Free Agency Lists

Exactly four weeks remain before the start of the NFL’s 2013 league year, and with it the opening bell on the free agent market.  We are now fully into the pre-FA period in which teams release players to make room under the next year’s salary cap and/or get to work re-signing some of their own potential free agents before they hit the market.

That means the list of potential free agents as it looks today is going to change in a pretty significant way before March 12.  The Bills, for instance, added LB Nick Barnett and S George Wilson to the list of available players on Tuesday, and the Vikings made it clear they are hoping to keep T Phil Loadholt off of it.  Still, it’s worth taking a look at how the potential list of free agents for the four NFC South teams compare to each other.

The lists below aren’t necessarily exhaustive (and, again, they are likely to change before March 12), but they do attempt to identify all of the key players who could hit free agency.  Where applicable, notable restricted free agents are also mentioned, though RFAs only change teams infrequently: Continue reading

Bucs Have Room to Move

The day after the 2012 season ended, with the Buccaneers out of the playoff picture but feeling very good about the immediate future, General Manager Mark Dominik pointed out a pair of unrelated side items that could affect the team’s fortunes in 2013.  Specifically, Dominik referred to recent contract restructurings for WR Vincent Jackson and G Carl Nicks that would free up additional salary cap space in the coming season.

Whether the space would eventually be used to lure more free agents to Tampa – the Bucs made the NFL’s most dramatic impact in free agency in 2012 with Jackson, Nicks, Eric Wright and a handful of others – or to lock in part of the team’s existing nucleus, Dominik knew it was important. Continue reading

Odds and Ends: Other Games on the Horizon

Backyard Game: For the second year in a row, the very useful East-West Shrine Game, featuring dozens of draft-eligible college all-stars, will be held practically in the Buccaneers’ backyard.

This year will be the 87th Shrine Game, which has been going strong since 1925, raising funds for Shriners Hospitals for Children.  It was staged annually in California for eight decades before spending four years in Houston and two in Orlando.  Finally, last year, the game was relocated to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, not far from the Shriners’ headquarters in Tampa. Continue reading

Restructured Deals Give Bucs “Tremendous” Cap Space

The Buccaneers generally do not make it a point to publicize the behind-the-scenes contract work that occasionally takes place with rostered players, such as restructured deals, and they rarely announce specific dollar figures on any contracts.  So when both WR Vincent Jackson and G Carl Nicks – the team’s two biggest prizes in last year’s free agency period – received restructured deals last week, the news was picked up by some news sources but it didn’t dominate the discourse surrounding the team.

Make no mistake, however: Those were significant moves for the Buccaneers.  That was clear when General Manager Mark Dominik brought them up on Monday, the first day of the team’s 2013 offseason after a season-capping win in Atlanta on Sunday.

“We had something we had happen here in the last couple days that maybe people missed out on or didn’t hear about,” said Dominik.  “We restructured a couple deals with Carl Nicks and [Vincent] Jackson, and that was ownership-directed, which I think is fantastic.  It continues to show the commitment from the Glazer family as to what they want to do and how they want to build this football team.” Continue reading