CB Brian Kelly was on the field for nearly two-thirds of the Bucs' defensive plays in 2000
Like many of the Tampa Bay Buccaneer veterans, cornerback Brian Kelly was at team headquarters on Wednesday to participate in a voluntary offseason workout. Kelly also found a moment to swing by the scouting department, where he sat down Director of Football Administration John Idzik's office and officially re-signed with the Bucs for the 2001 season.
Kelly was the second of two second-round draft selections made by Tampa Bay in 1998, when the team traded downward from the first round and still netted Kelly and WR Jacquez Green in round two. In three seasons, Kelly has totaled 116 tackles, three interceptions, three fumble recoveries, 35 passes defensed and 17 stops on special teams.
Though he has primarily served as the team's nickel back, Kelly has also been a valuable spot starter when injuries have hit cornerbacks Donnie Abraham or Ronde Barber. Kelly has nine career starts, including three last season.
Kelly's presumptive title of nickel back should not be deceiving. Even when not starting, the former USC standout plays extensively on the Bucs' defense. In fact, last season Kelly was on the field for 676 of the team's 1,049 defensive plays during the regular season, or 64.4% of all snaps. That's nearly as many plays as DE Marcus Jones experienced and more than linebackers Jamie Duncan and Shelton Quarles recorded in 2000.
Kelly used the playing time to contribute 47 tackles, one interception, two fumble recoveries and 14 passes defensed. He returned his lone interception nine yards for his first career touchdown in Tampa Bay's victory over Dallas on December 3.
Kelly was the last of the Bucs' restricted free agents (RFAs) to re-sign, but this was by no means a race. Once the open market for RFAs closed on April 17, there was little significance to the date these deals were concluded, as long as the players were under contract by training camp, which opens on July 29.
Restricted free agents who have tender offers on the table are allowed to participate in offseason mini-camps. However, no player, including the most recent draft choices, can report to camp until he is under contract.
Since the great majority of restricted free agents accept their one-year tender offers, leading to little negotiation, it is generally the players that set the timetable for these re-signings. Most make their decisions shortly after the draft, but it is possible to linger. Last season, TE Patrick Hape, an RFA after his third season with the Bucs, waited until the days before training camp to re-sign.
Before the current free agency period began on March 2 this spring, the Buccaneers were confronted with a list of six potential RFAs. To retain a right-of-first-refusal option on each, the Bucs were required to extend a tender offer, the size of which would determine the compensation the team would receive if the player was allowed to sign elsewhere.
Here is what occurred with each of those six players, listed alphabetically:
- Rabih Abdullah: Signed one-year tender offer on May 8.
- James Cannida: Signed one-year tender offer on April 25.
- Jamie Duncan: Signed new one-year contract on February 28, before the free agency period began.
- Brian Kelly: Signed one-year tender offer on May 9.
- Blake Spence: Not extended tender offer; became unrestricted free agent.
- Todd Washington: Signed one-year tender offer on April 20.
Restricted free agents are players with three years of accrued free agency credit (basically, three seasons of play) whose contracts have expired. If a player has four or more years of credit and his contract expires, he becomes an unrestricted free agent (UFA). By agreeing to the one-year tender offers, the Bucs' RFAs have basically followed a common pattern that will make them UFAs next spring.