DT Jovan Haye (71) made a lot of noise in his first full year as the Bucs' starter at under tackle
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had just two restricted free agents to deal with this offseason, and one – fourth-year safety Kalvin Pearson – bolted for the Detroit Lions in March.
The other was fourth-year defensive tackle Jovan Haye. Given that Haye started all 16 games in 2007 and produced the robust stat line of 97 tackles, six sacks and four fumble recoveries, the Buccaneers quite obviously wanted to keep him in Tampa.
That important if somewhat predictable piece of business has now been conducted, as Haye has officially re-signed with Tampa Bay, it was announced Tuesday. As is team policy, terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Haye's return to the Buccaneers has been a virtual certainty since April 19. As a restricted free agent, he was free to negotiate a contract offer with another team, but Tampa Bay retained the right to match any deal by extending the necessary tender offer before the start of free agency. In addition, a team that signs a restricted free agent may be required to give draft-pick compensation to the player's original team, depending upon the player's draft status and the size of the tender offer.
Thus, only a small handful of restricted free agents change teams each spring, and none after the signing deadline in mid-April. This year, restricted free agents could sign with new teams through April 18, eight days before the draft. Teams are given one week to choose whether or not to match a contract offer from another team, so the deadline is necessary to make sure any necessary draft-pick compensation occurs in time.
As is the case with a majority of players who become restricted free agents, Haye re-signed by simply accepting the tender offer the team had extended in February.
Because he is officially under contract, Haye now counts against the team's 80-man offseason roster limit. The Bucs have 93 players on the team at the moment, however, because 13 of those 93 – the seven 2008 draft picks and six exclusive rights free agents – have yet to sign new contracts and thus do not count against the limit.
The Buccaneers had held five roster spaces open for potential signings following the rookie mini-camp on the first weekend of May, in which 38 unsigned hopefuls participated with tryout contracts. In the end, the team signed only four of the 38 tryout players, meaning they could get Haye under contract, too, without releasing another man. Moving forward, any signings from among those 13 draft picks and exclusive rights free agents will require a complementary cut from the roster.
After impressing the Buccaneers in half a season of work in 2006, Haye emerged as one of the team's most productive defenders last year. He tied for second on the team with those six sacks, equaling the mark of rookie defensive end Gaines Adams and trailing leader Greg White by just two. Haye also ranked fifth on the team in tackles, first among defensive linemen, and was the Bucs' leader in fumble recoveries.
The 6-2, 285-pound defender proved to be the sort of quick-footed pass-rusher the Buccaneers covet at the critical under tackle position. Haye's six sacks were the most by a Buccaneer defensive tackle since Warren Sapp posted 7.5 in 2002.
Haye first joined the Buccaneers as a free agent in October of 2006. Having just traded defensive tackle Anthony McFarland to Indianapolis, the Bucs plucked Haye off the Cleveland Browns' practice squad, where he had spent the first half of the season. He showed promise with 25 tackles in nine games as a reserve, then used the offseason to fully absorb Tampa Bay's defensive system. Though he had been a defensive end by trade and had never played under tackle before arriving in Tampa, Haye won a crowded race for the starting job in training camp and proved to be a natural at the position.
Haye originally entered the NFL as a sixth-round draft choice of the Carolina Panthers in 2005. He made the team as a rookie but was inactive for all but two of the Panthers' regular-season games. Carolina released Haye in the final cuts in 2006 and he signed with the Browns two weeks later.
Haye's signing was one of the few remaining items on the Buccaneers' free agency agenda, at least regarding their own players. The six unsigned exclusive rights free agents are defensive end Charles Bennett, long-snapper Andrew Economos, wide receiver Chad Lucas, safety Donte Nicholson, tackle Donald Penn and defensive end Greg White. Exclusive rights free agents may only negotiate with their current teams, as long as the necessary tender offer is extended before free agency.