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Bucs Put Franchise Tag on Bryant

By utilizing its franchise tag on WR Antonio Bryant, Tampa Bay has ensured that the Comeback Player of the Year will be with the team at least through the 2009 season, and they will continue to work with Bryant on a long-term deal


WR Antonio Bryant was both a steady producer and a spectacular playmaker for the Buccaneers in 2008

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers gave Antonio Bryant an opportunity to resuscitate his NFL career in 2008.

After he did exactly that – to the tune of 83 catches and the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award – the Buccaneers were eager to have Bryant continue that once-again promising career in Tampa.

To that end, the Buccaneers made a move on Wednesday evening to ensure that Bryant would remain with the team at least through the 2009 season, placing its franchise tag on the 27-year-old receiver.

The franchise tag has been an option for NFL teams since the original collective bargaining agreement was put in place in 1993. It protects a team from losing a player to free agency but also guarantees the tagged player a salary among the highest at his position in the NFL.

The Buccaneers chose to use a "non-exclusive" franchise tag on Bryant, meaning the receiver can negotiate with other teams but Tampa Bay retains the right to match any offer he receives or get two first-round draft picks from the other team as compensation. This sort of tag requires the Buccaneers to make a one-year tender offer to Bryant equal to the average of the top five salaries at the player's position in the previous year, or 120 percent of the player's previous year's salary, whichever is greater.

For Bryant, that means his tender offer will be for $9.884 million in 2009. He can sign the offer and accept that tender at any time.

However, Bryant and the Buccaneers will also be able to continue negotiations on a long-term contract, something the team is motivated to do after Bryant's outstanding season in 2008. The Buccaneers have until July 15 to negotiate a longer deal with the receiver, giving both sides plenty of time to work together. Had the franchise tag not been placed on Bryant and a deal not been reached before February 27, he would have become an unrestricted free agent, free to sign with any team.

The Buccaneers signed Bryant last spring amid little fanfare, after the former second-round pick sat out the 2007 NFL season. Bryant had posted a 1,000-yard season as recently as 2005 with the Cleveland Browns, but his efforts with the Buccaneers surpassed all of his previous career highs.

Bryant played in all 16 games for the Buccaneers in 2008, starting 15 and leading the team with 83 receptions for 1,248 yards and seven touchdowns. He was the only Tampa Bay player to record at least 50 catches, 500 receiving yards or five receiving touchdowns. Not only was he the team's steadiest producer in the passing game, he also frequently turned in spectacular plays, such as the one-handed touchdown catch at Carolina that the NFL ranked as one of the top 10 plays in 2008.

Bryant also had the 38-yard catch at Chicago that set up the game-winning field goal in overtime of a furious Buccaneer rally. Two months later, he helped Tampa Bay complete the biggest rally in team history with a spectacular 24-yard touchdown catch with 19 seconds left at Kansas City.

Bryant first entered the league as the 63rd overall pick in the 2002 draft, selected by the Dallas Cowboys. He played three seasons in Dallas, highlighted by a 733-yard, six-touchdown effort as a rookie. Bryant was traded to Cleveland in 2004 and in two seasons posted 111 catches for 1,555 yards and eight touchdowns. He signed with San Francisco as an unrestricted free agent in 2006 and turned in 40 receptions for 733 yards and three touchdowns.

Overall, Bryant has played in 93 games with 71 starts and caught 333 passes for 5,085 yards and 26 touchdowns.

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