The Bucs believe they have bolstered their starting lineup and their depth by signing such men as C Jeff Faine (left) and DE Jimmy Wilkerson
It's the seventh day of free agency and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers haven't signed anybody for, oh, about 12 hours, so perhaps we've been given a brief window to take stock.
The Buccaneers, in a dramatic and long-planned turnaround from recent years, went into free agency with an enormous surplus of cap room. They have escorted dozens of players in and out of their new state-of-the-art headquarters east of Raymond James Stadium in the last week, and they've worked the phones relentlessly. Through the first six days on the open market, they signed, re-signed or traded for eight players.
The Buccaneers are not the team, however, that has created the flashiest news bites this past week, not the team that has plowed most quickly through the reserves of cap space that grace a majority of the league's franchises. The biggest stories of the first week of free agency have been Randy Moss, Javon Walker, Michael Turner, Justin Smith, Asante Samuel and Cleveland's series of trades.
Of the eight players added by the Bucs – in order of transaction, center Jeff Faine, linebacker Antoine Cash, tight end John Gilmore, defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson, quarterback Brian Griese and linebackers Leon Joe, Matt McCoy and Teddy Lehman – only Faine was a primary starter with his former team in 2007. Faine was indeed a big-ticket signing (exact years and terms of contracts are not disclosed by the team) and he was clearly the Bucs' first order of business after the LeMans-like running start to free agency last Friday at midnight. Still, most of the star-power additions in free agency have been elsewhere in the league.
That's no problem for Tampa Bay's brass. Big-name signings are going to happen at the beginning of every free agency period. And the Buccaneers are going to stick to their well-developed strategy for this year's open market.
"We had a plan going in that we were going to evaluate all of the players that were available and compare them to the players already on our team," said General Manager Bruce Allen. "We've been able to acquire a few of the guys that we feel will help us not only in the starting lineup with some depth. Last season, as you know, we had so many injuries that we feel it's important to add as much depth to this roster as we possibly can.
The Buccaneers won the NFC South in 2007 with a 9-7 record. They essentially had the division sewn up after winning at New Orleans on December 2 and officially had the title in hand after improving to 9-5 in Week 15. Playing mostly reserves in order to try to blunt the effects of a rash of late-season injuries, the Bucs lost their last two games. They then fell in the opening round of the playoffs to the eventual-champion New York Giants.
The Buccaneers weren't a perfect team in 2007 (not even the Patriots could make that claim, as it turned out), but they were a winning team, and they got a very good look at their strengths and weaknesses. The Buccaneers intend to address those weaknesses between now and the start of training camp, and this past week of free agency has produced some of the opening efforts in that plan.
"[Observers] never say we make a big splash [in free agency], but we think we're going to find some players that can help this team win," said Allen. "Our salary cap will be also to reward the players on our own team whose contracts will be expiring in 2010, 2011, to make sure that we have a good core of players for the future.
"You knew there was some cap room in the league. What some other team does really doesn't affect us. We have a structure here with the Buccaneers that we want to be fair within our locker room to players. We wouldn't pay some of those players the money that they're getting to come here, so whatever's fair for each team, I'll let them be the judge."
If there has been any "disappointment" through the first week of free agency for the Buccaneers, it has been the expected one. With so much cap space to go around and so many teams realizing the importance of continuity and building from within, the ranks of players who actually make it to free agency as free agents seem to dwindle every year.
"So many of the players who were going to be free agents when you looked at the list in January and December that excited you were re-signed by their own clubs before free agency even started," said Allen. "There have been a couple guys who we had hoped were going to be truly a free agent and not re-sign with their clubs, but so far it's going as anticipated."
By the time you read this, the Bucs' lull in signings may be over and there may be a new player or two getting fitted for equipment in the locker room. When asked if the Bucs had any more news coming on the near horizon, Allen responded, "I sure hope so." He confirmed that there are definitely more free agents visits scheduled for the remainder of the week.
"This free agency will run all the way up until training camp in many cases. Hopefully we can get four or five more guys before the draft, add another five or six in the draft and then try to pick up the pieces right before camp. We'll continue to see what players we can fit in to this locker room that can help us win."