Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2009 Free Agency Tracker: Pre-Draft Edition

NFL teams are still making an impact on the free agent market, you just have to look a little harder to find the news…Our latest update as we keep an eye on what happens to all of the Bucs who became free agents in '09

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DT Ryan Sims could have become a free agent but chose to re-sign with the Buccaneers in February

Over the past weekend – the last one, really, before the NFL draft shoves the league over the edge and down the slope towards opening day – we received an e-mail from a Buccaneers.com reader with a couple of suggestions. One of them: It's time to update the Free Agency Tracker.

How true! (Thanks, Chari.) With the draft looming, it is a perfect time to review what has become of those 2008 Buccaneers who became free agents, or nearly did, when the 2009 league year began. The first stage of the offseason, which began on February 27, was focused on free agent movements; now we're about to move on to the second stage of player acquisition.

No, free agency doesn't end when the draft begins. Unrestricted free agents can still shop their services until July 22 (if they received a June 1 tender offer from their previous team) or even beyond (if they did not). Even though the post-June 1 rush of newly-cut free agents is a thing of the past, there will surely be a handful of signings around the league every month up until training camp.

In fact, the Buffalo Bills just made a noteworthy move, signing former Indianapolis Colts running back Dominic Rhodes, who had been an unrestricted free agent. That could be an important addition, given that Bills starting back Marshawn Lynch will miss the first three games of the season on a suspension. That news was relevant to the Buccaneers, too, as they head to Buffalo in Week Two of the regular season.

But it's fair to say that the bulk of the action has already occurred, and that is certainly true of the Buccaneers' own group of free agents. Very little remains to be decided from among the 15 players from Tampa Bay's 2008 squad whose contracts expired at the end of that season. You can track the movements of most of those 15 players below, as well as those of a few other players the team released before the 2009 league year began.

Though the purpose of this ongoing feature is to keep an eye on what has happened with the Bucs' own returning or non-returning players, we can also do a quick recap of the new players who came to town through free agency, since the majority of that action is likely complete, too.

The Buccaneers have signed five players from other teams who became unrestricted free agents on February 27: linebacker Angelo Crowell, linebacker Niko Koutouvides, quarterback Byron Leftwich, kicker Mike Nugent and running back Derrick Ward. Though it falls under a different category, the Buccaneers also made a big splash on the first day of free agency by trading for Cleveland tight end Kellen Winslow.

Ward and Winslow arrived early in the process, with Koutouvides and Nugent not far behind. The Bucs took a little more time in attracting Crowell and Leftwich, signing the former in late March and the latter just last week.

The rest of the Buccaneers' division has been relatively quiet in free agency this spring. The most notable moves out of Carolina would likely be the re-signing of tackle Jordan Gross and the designation of defensive end Julius Peppers as a franchise player. In Atlanta, the Falcons lost a couple starting linebackers (Michael Boley and Keith Brooking) but replaced at least one with former Jacksonville linebacker Mike Peterson. The Saints have been somewhat more active however. New Orleans was able to hold on to linebacker Jonathan Vilma and also add safeties Darren Sharper and Pierson Prioleau, defensive tackle Rod Coleman, cornerback Jabari Greer, fullback Heath Evans and tight end Darnell Dinkins.

The Buccaneers hit the 2009 open market with a large amount of cap space and a specific plan to bolster last year's division-winning roster. How they dealt with their own players who became – or could have become – free agents helped them formulate their strategy for this weekend's draft. Let's take a look at what has happened with that list of players so far.

Below are the 13 players from Tampa Bay's 2008 squad who were due to become unrestricted free agents on February 27. Note that the list includes two players whose situations changed before free agency began, as quarterback Luke McCown and defensive tackle Ryan Sims chose to re-sign with the Buccaneers early rather than test the market.

PlayerResult
S Will AllenRe-signed with Tampa Bay on March 2
WR Antonio BryantSigned one-year tender offer as Bucs' franchise-tagged player on February 27
CB Phillip Buchanon[Signed with the

As you can see, only Carter and Chukwurah have yet to find a 2009 NFL address from among the 13 potential unrestricted free agents from last year's roster. Chukwurah was actually only with the Buccaneers very briefly at the end of 2008 and was thus not one of the top considerations on that original list. Carter has signed with the Buccaneers each of the last two offseasons and then gone on to be a primary starter the next fall; some speculate that he could return again at some point this offseason, though the team's own decision-makers have said nothing about that idea one way or the other.

Every year, the NFL prepares a list of hundreds of players who are going to become unrestricted free agents at the start of the new league year. By the time the market opens, however, the number of players available is even larger, as teams make moves designed to provide salary cap relief. The players who are released in the days leading up to free agency are not technically considered unrestricted free agents in terms of their relation to their previous teams; that is, they are not part of the Management Council formula that determines the value of the free agents gained and lost by each team.

On some occasions, however, the teams that have released these players are interested in signing them back. And quite often they are players who prove attractive to other teams. Therefore, they are worth tracking along with all of the other men who became free agents in the conventional way.

The following five 2008 Buccaneers became free agents when they were released just prior to the start of the new league year:

PlayerResult
LB Derrick Brooks
RB Warrick Dunn
WR Joey Galloway[Signed with the

There is a significant difference between restricted and unrestricted free agency. A player must have four years of free agency credit under his belt and an expiring contract to become a UFA. Unrestricted free agents may negotiate and sign with any team, and their previous teams receive no compensation, nor do they have a right of first refusal.

Players with expiring contracts who have three years of credit become restricted free agents, assuming their teams extend the proper tender offers. Restricted free agents may also negotiate and sign with any team, but their previous teams have the opportunity to match any contract that is signed. If the previous team does not match the contract and the player goes to a new team, that team must immediately surrender draft-pick compensation. The amount of compensation is determined by the type of tender offer that the original team extends at the beginning of free agency.

The following 2008 Buccaneer became a restricted free agent on February 27 after receiving a tender offer from the team:

**Player****Result**
T Donald Penn[Re-signed with Tampa Bay](/news/article-1/bucs-ink-penn-keep-line-intact/9F9AEE47-4076-44CA-A7FB-2F0D0398EFA0) on April 14

Penn received a tender offer that would require any other team that signs him to surrender first and third-round picks to the Buccaneers. He could negotiate with other teams up until last Friday; he reportedly did visit several other clubs but signed his tender offer to return to the Buccaneers three days before that deadline.

Players with expiring contracts and less than three years of credit fall into a third category: exclusive rights free agents. That is what it sounds like – the player's existing team retains exclusive rights to negotiate a new contract as long as they extend the necessary tender offer at the beginning of free agency. Only one player fell into that category for the Buccaneers in 2009, and he became an exclusive rights free agent on February 27:

**Player****Result**
FB Byron Storer

Unrestricted free agents have almost five months to shop their services, as their signing period runs out on July 22, as mentioned. Restricted free agents had until April 17 to court outside offers, after which, if still unsigned, they can negotiate only with their previous team. This deadline allows for one week between that date and the start of the draft, in which compensation would come into play.

Free agency has run a good part of its course and will now give way, at least for one weekend, to the NFL Draft. Still, there is a bit more for the Buccaneers to do on their free agency check list. Keep the Free Agency Tracker bookmarked to follow these players transactions throughout the offseason.

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