On Tuesday, LeGarrette Blount tried on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' brand-new Nike-designed uniforms in New York City. On Wednesday, Blount was back in Tampa, ready to get back into his familiar Buccaneer practice clothes and get to work in the team's 2012 offseason conditioning program.
The first order of business for Blount was to take care of his contract status, which he did on Wednesday by signing the one-year qualifying offer the team had extended to him in February in advance of the free agency period. Wide receiver Preston Parker also signed his qualifying offer, and just like that the Buccaneers' list of "exclusive rights" free agents was erased.
The Bucs also announced on Wednesday that they have released quarterback Rudy Carpenter.
Players who have accrued two or fewer years of free agency credit in the NFL become exclusive rights free agents when their contracts expire. This category of free agent is only allowed to negotiate with their existing teams, provided those teams have extended the necessary qualifying offers before the start of the open market. The Buccaneers, who have very much appreciated the work of both Blount and Parker during their first two seasons in the NFL, obviously put those offers on the table. The simplest and by far most common way for these free agents to resolve their contract status is to sign the one-year offers.
Both Blount and Parker had prominent roles in Tampa Bay's offense in 2011. Blount led the team in rushing, gaining 781 yards on 184 carries and scoring five touchdowns. Parker finished fourth in receptions, and second among wide receivers, with 40 catches for 554 yards and three scores.
Both Blount and Parker came into the league as undrafted free agents in 2010. Parker signed immediately with the Buccaneers, the only NFL team for which he has played. Blount originally signed with the Tennessee Titans but was released on the final roster cut-down and quickly claimed off waivers by Tampa Bay. Both players made the 53-man roster as rookies and have seen their roles expand over the last two years.
The 6-0, 247-pound Blount soon became a focal point in the Bucs' offense. He saw his first extended action in a Week Six win over St. Louis, rushing for 72 yards on 11 carries, and was essentially the team's primary tailback the rest of the season, though his first official start came in Week 10 at San Francisco. Despite getting only 10 carries through the team's first five games, Blount finished the season with 1,007 yards and six touchdowns on 207 carries, averaging a robust 5.0 yards per tote. That final yardage total made him just the second undrafted rookie in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards, joining former Indianapolis back Dominic Rhodes.
Parker (6-0, 200) alternated between the gameday active and inactive lists for the first three months of the season, occasionally taking over the Bucs' kickoff return duties. He saw more action in the season's final four games and finished the year with four catches for 42 yards to go with his 178 yards on 10 kick returns. In 2011, Parker was active for all 16 games and was frequently used as the team's slot receiver three-wide formations.
The Buccaneers have now re-signed all of the restricted and exclusive rights free agents to which they extended qualifying offers. The team also has re-signed unrestricted free agents cornerback Ronde Barber and offensive lineman Jeremy Zuttah (before the start of free agency) and has used its franchise tag on unrestricted free agent kicker Connor Barth.
The Buccaneers first signed Carpenter off the Dallas Cowboys' practice squad in November of 2009, and he finished his rookie campaign as Tampa Bay's inactive third quarterback. Carpenter made the 53-man roster in Tampa again in 2010 and was once again the team's third quarterback behind Josh Freeman and Josh Johnson for all 16 regular-season games. In 2011, the NFL eliminated the inactive-third-quarterback provision and the Buccaneers, like many teams, chose to carry only two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. Carpenter thus spent the first 11 weeks of the season on Tampa Bay's practice squad but was promoted to the active roster when Freeman missed a start due to a shoulder injury. He was active for one game but did not attempt a pass.
The release of Carpenter leaves the Buccaneers with three quarterbacks: Freeman, recently-signed free agent Dan Orlovsky and 2011 holdover Brett Ratliff.