Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Free Agency Tracker - After the Rush

In the weeks leading up to the hugely important 2010 NFL Draft, Buccaneers.com will take a position-by-position look at the team's current roster, analyzing depth, free agency issues and the potential in this year's draft class.Up first - cornerbacks


DE Jimmy Wilkerson is one of only a few names left on the Bucs' list of unrestricted free agents from the 2009 squad

Joey Porter found a new home in the desert on Friday. Well-traveled end Jason Babin will make his next stop in Nashville, a signing also finalized on Friday. Two days before that, the Chargers and Seahawks worked out a trade to send restricted free agent quarterback Charlie Whitehurst to the Pacific Northwest.

It may not equal the opening weekend of free agency, which kicked off for the NFL on Friday, March 5 and included such big-name signings as Julius Peppers, Karlos Dansby and Kyle Vanden Bosch, but the market continues to churn out signings and trades almost every day.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have gotten into the act recently, even with their avowed preference to build a new foundation through the draft. The Buccaneers first traded for former Philadelphia wide receiver Reggie Brown, then later signed a pair of free agents, linebacker Jon Alston and safety Sean Jones. Alston had been released onto the market by the Oakland Raiders while Jones fell into the unrestricted free agent category thanks to his six years of service.

That's an important distinction for Jones, who could have found himself in the aptly-named restricted free agent category had he owned one fewer accrued season. Under the modified rules of the final year of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, players need six years, instead of the usual four, to qualify for the unrestricted category. That one rule change, among several others, denied the unrestricted market of more than 200 potential players in their primes.

The Buccaneers pool of 2010 free agents was affected as strongly as any team, with several 2009 starters falling into the restricted category. That does not mean those players can't sign with other teams - there would be draft-pick compensation to the Bucs if they did - and it also doesn't mean their free agency work is over. Each restricted free agent has had a tender offer extended to him; if he chooses to return to the Buccaneers, he can either sign that one-year tender offer or try to work out a longer contract extension. The majority of restricted free agents, at least as has been the case in previous seasons of the CBA, eventually sign their one-year tender offers.

There are also a handful of unrestricted Buccaneer free agents, though that group has grown smaller since free agency began. Several 2009 Bucs have already found new homes, just like Jones and Alston did in Tampa last week. And that's the purpose of our ongoing Free Agency Tracker feature: to keep an eye on all of those players, the men from the Buccaneers' 2009 roster who have new contracts to settle during the 2010 offseason. Some will switch teams and some will re-sign in Tampa. The Free Agency Tracker will appear periodically on the site to update all such movement. It is not intended to track players from other teams who sign with the Buccaneers this spring, though any such activity will also be thoroughly covered on Buccaneers.com.

Below are the five players from Tampa Bay's 2009 squad who became unrestricted free agents when their prior contracts expired on March 5. As the free agency period continues and these players either sign with other teams or return to the Buccaneers, the chart will be updated with their developments.



S Will Allen

Signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers on March 8

WR Antonio Bryant

Signed with the Cincinnati Bengals on March 11

LB Angelo Crowell

S Jermaine Phillips

DE Jimmy Wilkerson

Three Buccaneers also became free agents when they were released just prior to the start of free agency. Though they were not originally slated to become unrestricted free agents this spring, their releases put them in the same category, with the same freedom to negotiate with any team, including the Buccaneers.



P Josh Bidwell

CB Torrie Cox

P Dirk Johnson

Also, the Bucs essentially increased their list of unrestricted free agents by four more when they chose not to extend tender offers to four players who could have become restricted free agents (more on that category below). Because no offer was extended, these players hit the open market on March 5 like those above, free to sign with any team.



WR Brian Clark

Signed with the Detroit Lions on March 9

LB Matt McCoy

Signed with the Seattle Seahawks on March 17

FB Byron Storer

LB Rod Wilson

There is a significant difference between restricted and unrestricted free agency. Unrestricted free agents may negotiate and sign with any team, and their previous teams receive no compensation, nor do they have a right of first refusal.

In the 17 previous years of the current free agency system, players became unrestricted free agents when they accrued four seasons of free agency credit and their contracts expired. However, as mentioned above, players must have accrued six seasons before they could become unrestricted free agents in 2010. All players who have three to five years of credit and expiring contracts become restricted free agents as long as their original teams extend a one-year tender offer before the start of free agency.

The Buccaneers extended offers to six of the nine players who were eligible to receive them. Teams have the option to chose from five different levels of tender offers to extend to potential restricted free agents, each of which carries a different one-year salary requirement and a different level of draft-pick compensation should that player sign with another team. All of the offers, however, give the original team the right to match any contract offer the player signs with another team.

The following 2009 Buccaneers became a restricted free agent on February 27 after receiving a tender offer from the team:



WR Mark Bradley

T Donald Penn

LB Barrett Ruud

WR Maurice Stovall

T Jeremy Trueblood

RB Carnell Williams

Penn and Ruud received tender offers that require another team to send the Buccaneers first and third-round picks in the 2010 draft in order to sign either of them away. Williams' offer returns a first-round pick while Bradley (second), Trueblood (second) and Stovall (third) all received offers that require the return of a pick equal to the round in which they were originally drafted.

Players with expiring contracts and less than three years of credit fall into a third category: exclusive rights free agents. That is what it sounds like - the player's existing team retains exclusive rights to negotiate a new contract as long as they extend the necessary tender offer at the beginning of free agency. Only two players fell into that category for the Buccaneers this year, and they became exclusive rights free agent on March 5 when the team extended the necessary tender offers.



CB Elbert Mack

RB Clifton Smith

Unrestricted free agents have almost five months to shop their services, as their signing period runs out in July. Restricted free agents have until roughly a week before April's draft court outside offers, after which, if still unsigned, they can negotiate only with their previous team. This deadline allows for time between the signing and the start of the draft, so that any potential draft pick compensation can switch hands before the draft begins.

Just like free agency continues to move on at a steady pace after the rush of the first few days, the Bucs' own group of 2010 free agents will use the rest of the offseason to finalize their respective homes for the upcoming season. Check back with the Free Agency Tracker throughout the spring and summer to see where those players who have not already signed a new deal will land.

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