As evidenced by the recent Lamar King signing, the Bucs have stayed busy even late in free agency
The first phase of the NFL's 2004 free agency period is, in effect, over. Next week will usher in a second, shorter phase that often compensates with big names what it lacks in sheer quantity.
The month of June arrives after the upcoming three-day weekend, and with it, potentially, another wave of well-known free agents who have been languishing on their previous teams' rosters. By waiting to release a player until after June 1, an NFL team can spread the salary-cap hit it takes over two seasons instead of absorbing the full consequences this year. It is for this reason, for instance, that former league MVP Kurt Warner is still a St. Louis Ram this week, even though he's been given permission to shop his services.
Two years ago, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers added a key piece to their Super Bowl puzzle in this way, convincing wide receiver Keenan McCardell to choose them over the Kansas City Chiefs after the Jaguars made him a June casualty. Seven months later, McCardell caught two touchdown passes in Super Bowl XXXVII.
There was no similar move by the Bucs last year, though a key acquisition was made in June when the team traded wide receiver Marquise Walker to the Arizona Cardinals for running back Thomas Jones.
Will the Bucs be June players this year? General Manager Bruce Allen has said on many occasions that the tweaking of the team's roster will likely continue up to and into training camp, and indeed the team has made several important moves (Mario Edwards, Ian Gold, Lamar King) after the initial March rush of free agency. Still, there is no obvious buzz concerning the Bucs and a specific player as there was in 2002 with McCardell, at least not any originating from Tampa Bay headquarters.
Even if the Bucs have made the majority of their key acquisitions already, it has still been a remarkably active offseason for a team that, in many analysts eyes, was too flush against the cap to have much wiggle room at the beginning of March. Against those apparent odds, Tampa Bay has been arguably the most aggressive team in the NFL in free agency, signing or trading for roughly 20 veteran players.
Every team adds dozens of new players to its roster between the end of one season, when the roster limit is 53 and a handful of men are usually set to become free agents, and the beginning of the next training camp, when rosters expand to over 80 men. However, the Bucs' 2004 additions were overwhelmingly experienced players, many of them starters for other teams in 2003. Tampa Bay has signed only four undrafted rookies this year, far fewer than normal; there simply wasn't room on the roster.
The NFL tracks player movement among its clubs on NFL.com and has a variety of designations for different types of free agents, such as 'unrestricted' (e.g. Charlie Garner, Ian Gold) and 'other, players whose contract were terminated' (e.g. Todd Steussie, Derrick Deese). The NFL also includes those free agents who re-signed with their original teams, as it should. After all, those returning free agents represented as real a financial commitment as the players who came over from other teams.
A fewer of the Bucs' lower-profile signings, such as defensive tackle DeVone Claybrooks or linebacker Edward Thomas, are not included in the NFL.com list, and all players signed before the free agency period, players such as Danny Farmer or Sylvester Morris who were not with a team at the end of 2003, are not included.
Still, there are 26 Buccaneer signings on the NFL.com list, from running back Brandon Bennett to tight end Doug Ziegler. We'll adjust that down to 24, since it includes tight end Ken Dilger, who was released by the Bucs just before free agency then re-signed in March, and Zeigler, who was not with a team in 2003. That's still the most by any of the NFL's 32 teams, and no other franchise even hit 20.
The Bucs' obviously significant trade for Joey Galloway is not included on that list, as Galloway was not a free agent, but there were other trades around the NFL that are also not included, such as the Clinton Portis-for-Champ Bailey swap. And, of course, the Buccaneers would rather win the battle of quality than the one of quantity. Still, it has been an impressively busy offseason for Tampa Bay's front office, one that should pay significant dividends this fall.
We review this now because the arrival of June 1, with its new free agency possibilities, also brings a deadline of sorts. The end of the 2004 free agency period is July 22. If a team wishes to retain exclusive negotiating rights with any of its unrestricted and restricted free agents who have not signed by that date, it must submit tender offers to those players by June 1.
The Bucs' business with their own free agents is virtually complete. At the beginning of free agency, Buccaneers.com presented its Free Agency Tracker in an effort to keep track of the movement of those 2003 Buccaneers who became free agents of one type or another in March. Here are those lists updated as we head into June.
(For a more detailed explanation of the terms below, please click here.)
The following Buccaneers became unrestricted free agents on March 3:
|WR Reggie Barlow||Remains a free agent|
|G Cosey Coleman||Re-signed with Tampa Bay on March 23|
|TE Rickey Dudley||Re-signed with Tampa Bay on March 5|
|S David Gibson||Remains a free agent|
|T Cornell Green||Signed with Denver on March 26|
|RB Thomas Jones||Signed with Chicago on March 3|
|QB Shaun King||Signed with Arizona on March 7|
|DT Warren Sapp||Signed with Oakland on March 20|
|RB Aaron Stecker||Signed with New Orleans on March 4|
|P Tom Tupa||Signed with Washington on March 9|
|LB Nate Webster||Signed with Cincinnati on March 4|
|TE Todd Yoder||Signed with Jacksonville on March 5|
The following Buccaneers became restricted free agents on March 3:
|FB Jameel Cook||Re-signed with Tampa Bay on April 19|
|DT Chartric Darby||Re-signed with Tampa Bay on April 19|
|S John Howell||Re-signed with Tampa Bay on April 15|
(NOTE: DE/DT Ellis Wyms was due to become a restricted free agent on March 3, but he resigned with the team before free agency began.)
The following Buccaneers became exclusive rights free agents on March 3:
|LS Ryan Benjamin||Re-signed with Tampa Bay on March 22; subsequently released|
|CB Corey Ivy||Re-signed with Tampa Bay on March 30|
|LB Ryan Nece||Re-signed with Tampa Bay|
(NOTES: S Than Merrill was due to become an exclusive rights free agent on March 3 but was released by the team on March 2; RB Tony Taylor was not extended an exclusive rights tender offer and thus became a free agent.)