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Free Agency Tracker: Homestretch Update

A final look at the Bucs’ own list of free agents from the 2009 roster and what those players have done


When last we checked in with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Free Agency Tracker, in May following the 2010 draft and the first few days of the Bucs' OTAs, we noted a handful of veterans who had signed at roughly the same time the year before.

Among those vets was well-traveled cornerback Dre' Bly, a two-time Pro Bowler who in late May of 2009 caught on with the San Francisco 49ers with a one-year deal. Bly would end up playing in every game for the Niners last fall, starting six and contributing 29 tackles, three interceptions, 13 passes defensed, two forced fumbles and, for good measure, the fourth sack of his career. It was well after the initial flurry of the open market, but San Francisco found a contributor among the remaining unsigned players.

As it turns out, the same player once again provides us with a good example as we update the Tracker for the stretch run of free agency 2010. On July 2, Bly signed a two-year deal with the Detroit Lions, the same team for which he played the 2003-06 seasons and made his two All-Star appearances. Bly had been one of just a few players left on San Francisco's list of unrestricted free agents who had yet to find a home in 2010.

There are others, of course, some of whom will join Bly in finding new jobs shortly before the start of training camp and some of whom will be left without NFL homes in 2010, whether by choice or not. Some of the names are quite recognizable to NFL fans, such as Adewale Ogunleye, Chester Pitts, Derrick Burgess, Mike Brown, Keith Bulluck and Patrick Ramsey. Oh, and Terrell Owens.

As you will see below, the Buccaneers' own list of players who became unrestricted free agents in early March contains just one player who has yet to sign with a team: safety Jermaine Phillips. Phillips is far from alone in that situation across the league, however. As June began, the NFL released a team-by-team list of remaining unrestricted free agents, and of the 220 players who fell into that category as the open market began in March, 102 were on that list.

Some of the players on the list are clearly moving on to new opportunities, such as long-time Philadelphia Eagles tackle Jon Runyan (running for Congress) and former Minnesota Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper (trying out the United Football League). Several others are players with franchise tags who have yet to re-sign, such as 49ers defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin and Pittsburgh Steelers kicker Jeff Reed. Still, there likely to be several more names plucked off that list before teams start reporting to their respective camps later this month.

Among the veteran players who signed in the month of July in recent months and went on to make a significant impact for their new teams that same season were defensive end Chris Clemons (Oakland, 2007), punter Matt Turk (Houston, 2007), tackle Anthony Clement (New England, 2008), defensive tackle Grady Jackson (Atlanta, 2008), center Andy McCollum (Detroit, 2008), center Kevin Houser (Seattle, 2009) and defensive tackle Montavious Stanley (Jacksonville, 2009).

The NFL's official free agency period ends in just over two weeks, on July 22. That only matters to the players on the list of remaining unrestricted free agents who had a tender offer extended to them by their 2009 teams on June 1. For those players, the "unrestricted" part of their free agency ends as they can only negotiate with their former clubs after that date. The others remain free to sign with any team.

That recent UFA list of 102 players does not represent all of the still-available talent, of course. Other players who were released by their teams this spring or were not on a roster when the 2009 season ended are not technically considered UFAs but are free to sign with any team. The Bucs had a few players in this category; some, like punter Josh Bidwell, have signed on to new jobs while others, like cornerback Torrie Cox, are still waiting.

In fact, let's check in one more time to see where the free agents of all types from Tampa Bay's 2009 roster have landed so far.

Below are the five players from the Bucs' 2009 squad who became unrestricted free agents when their prior contracts expired on March 5.



S Will Allen

WR Antonio Bryant

[Signed with the

](http://tinyurl.com/yh3b6qj) on March 11

LB Angelo Crowell

Re-signed with the Buccaneers on March 29; subsequently released

S Jermaine Phillips

Unsigned as of July 6

DE Jimmy Wilkerson

[Signed with the

](http://prod.www.saints.clubs.nfl.com/news-and-events/article-1/Saints-Sign-DL-Jimmy-Wilkerson-Young-Mitchell--Roby/25a0014c-3c9d-422a-b56e-189af66c5fb5) on April 20

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

[Signed with the

](/iw/tinymce/jscripts/tinymce/plugins/paste/:/www.redskins.com/gen/articles/RedskinsSignBidwell109391.jsp) on March 23

CB Torrie Cox

Unsigned as of July 6

P Dirk Johnson

Unsigned as of July 6

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

LB Matt McCoy

[Signed with the

](http://tinyurl.com/yflugqu) on March 17

FB Byron Storer

Joined Bucs' staff as assistant special teams coach

LB Rod Wilson

Unsigned as of July 6

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 deadline for restricted free agents to negotiate with other teams arrived a week before the draft; thus, all unsigned players in this category can now only deal with their original clubs and most return by simply signing their tender offers.

The following 2009 Buccaneers became restricted free agents on February 27 after receiving tender offers from the team:



WR Mark Bradley

Re-signed with the Buccaneers on March 29; subsequently released

T Donald Penn

Unsigned as of July 6

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. Both have now re-signed.



CB Elbert Mack

RB Clifton Smith

The Buccaneers will soon report to training camp and begin the process of paring a roster of 80 players down to the 53 who will remain for the regular season. In other words, the most significant news of the next two months will regard roster reduction, not addition. However, as the Lions' recent signing of Bly indicates, there are still opportunities for teams to add to the talent they will take into their various camps. Free agency is in its homestretch, but it isn't over yet.

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