WR Antonio Bryant produced the third-highest receiving yardage total in team history in 2008
Antonio Bryant is under contract for 2009, signing the one-year, nearly $10-million tender offer he received when the Bucs placed their franchise tag on him…Also starting T Donald Penn received a tender as a restricted free agent
Free agency is just beginning, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have already crossed one task off their to-do list.
Wide receiver Antonio Bryant is signed for 2009 after choosing to accept the one-year tender off that came with the franchise tag placed on him on February 18.
With Bryant set to become an unrestricted free agent at the beginning of the 2009 league year, the Buccaneers ensured that the breakout pass-catcher would be back with the team next fall by using a non-exclusive franchise tag. That required the team to extend a one-year tender offer equal to the average salary of the top five highest-paid receivers in the NFL in 2008. Bryant and the team still had until July 15 to negotiate a long-term deal, but Bryant instead chose to sign the tender offer.
In other free agency news, the Buccaneers extended the necessary tender offer to starting left tackle Donald Penn to make him a restricted free agent. The size of the tender offer put Penn in a category that requires compensation to the Buccaneers of first and third-round draft picks if he is signed by another team.
Restricted free agents may negotiate and sign with other teams. However, the initial team retains a right-of-first-refusal on the player and is entitled to compensation if they don't match an offer. Of the 55 players who became restricted free agents on Friday, only three received tender offers that require first and third-round compensation. In addition to Penn, Houston tight end Owen Daniels and New Orleans guard Jahri Evans also fell into this category.
Had Bryant not signed his offer, he could have negotiated with other teams during free agency. However, the Buccaneers would have had the opportunity to match any offer, and had they chosen not to would have received compensation of two first-round draft picks from the signing team.
All of which is to say that Bryant will once again be in a Buccaneer uniform in the fall, and that's extremely good news for the team. The seventh-year veteran turned in one of the best receiving seasons in franchise history despite being out of the NFL in 2007.
Bryant signed with the Buccaneers on March 10 of 2008 and quickly showed the skills that made him a second-round draft pick in 2002 and a 1,000-yard receiver as recently as 2005. He was a starter for the team in Week One and went on to open 15 of 16 contests and lead the team with 83 receptions for 1,248 yards and seven touchdowns.
Bryant initially started the season as the team's flanker, opposite split end Joey Galloway, but then moved to split end in Week Three after an injury to Galloway. The move produced immediate results, with Bryant hauling in 10 receptions for 138 yards at Chicago in that third game, including the 38-yard catch that set up Tampa Bay's game-winning field goal in overtime. Bryant never slowed down after that first big day, producing five more 100-yard outings, including a nine-catch, 200-yard, two-touchdown explosion at Carolina in Week 14. Bryant's second TD in that game, a diving one-handed grab, was judged one of the top 10 individual plays of the year by the NFL.
With Galloway hurt, Bryant became the focus of the Bucs' passing attack. He produced the third-highest receiving yardage total in team history and tied Galloway for fifth on the Bucs' single-season receptions list. No other Tampa Bay player caught more than 47 passes or gained more than 484 receiving yards.
Bryant is also quite obviously the rock in the Bucs' receiving corps for 2009. The team recently released Galloway and veteran Ike Hilliard, and Michael Clayton became an unrestricted free agent on Friday.
Bryant played for three other NFL teams before arriving in Tampa last year. He was the 63rd overall pick, by the Cowboys, in 2002 and he produced an immediate 44-catch, 733-season for Dallas as a rookie. In 2004, he was traded to Cleveland after five games and between his two stops racked up 58 catches for 812 yards and four scores. In his one full season as a Brown in 2005, Bryant set previous career highs with 69 receptions for 1,009 yards. He signed with San Francisco as an unrestricted free agent in 2006 and caught 40 passes for 733 yards and two scores, averaging 18.3 yards per grab.