Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Preparing for Market

With the start of the NFL's free agency period looming at midnight, the Bucs on Thursday announced a series of roster moves and procedural steps leading up to that event, including the release of Josh Bidwell and the extension of tender offers to RFAs

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The tender offer extended to LB Barrett Ruud, who led the Bucs with 205 tackles in 2009, requires draft-pick compensation of first and third-rounders if he is signed by another team

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have extended tender offers to eight players who are due to become restricted or exclusive rights free agents at midnight on Thursday, including four starters from the 2009 squad. In addition the team has released three players, making them unrestricted free agents on the eve of the opening market.

Released were punters Josh Bidwell and Dirk Johnson and cornerback Torrie Cox. Though Johnson spent just half a season in a Buccaneer uniform, replacing the injured Bidwell to start 2009 before suffering a season-ending injury of his own, Bidwell and Cox have spent a combined 13 seasons and played a combined 136 games as Buccaneers. Bidwell and Cox each finished 2009 on injured reserve but both were critical members of the Bucs' special teams in recent seasons when healthy.

Left tackle Donald Penn, right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, running back Cadillac Williams and linebacker Barrett Ruud - all full-time starters last fall - received tender offers as restricted free agents, as did part-time starting receiver Maurice Stovall and reserve wideout Mark Bradley. Tender offers were also extended to a pair of exclusive rights free agents: cornerback Elbert Mack and running back/kick returner Clifton Smith.

Four potential restricted free agents were not extended tender offers, making them unrestricted free agents: wide receiver Brian Clark, linebackers Matt McCoy and Rod Wilson and fullback Byron Storer.

The NFL's 2010 free agency period begins on the first minute of Friday, March 5, and personnel departments around the league will be fully staffed on Thursday evening and well into the morning. There is some belief around the league, however, that the first few hours and days of the open market will be less eventful than in years past, in large part due to the different rules governing free agency this year.

In previous seasons, players whose contracts were expiring at the beginning of a new league year were unrestricted free agents if they had four accrued seasons in the league, restricted free agents if they had three and exclusive rights free agents if they had two or fewer. In this, the final season of the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA), players need six accrued seasons to be unrestricted free agents.

From the Buccaneers' list of 10 restricted free agents, only Storer fell into the original RFA category, with three accrued the seasons. He spent the 2009 season on injured reserve after suffering a significant knee injury on the practice field in the spring.

There are five different types of tender offers that could be extended to potential restricted free agents this year, each of which gives the original team the right to match any contract offer the player receives from another team. Each type of tender also carries a different one-year salary requirement but also includes a different level of draft-pick compensation to the original team if the player was signed away.

The lowest tender offer maintains the right of first refusal but includes no compensation for the original club. The next tender carries compensation of the player's original draft-round position. That is followed by a tender that returns a second-round draft pick, one that returns a first-round draft pick and - at the highest level - one that returns first and third-round draft picks.

Ruud and Penn, both 26, received the highest tender offers, meaning another team would have to surrender first and third-round picks in the 2010 draft to the Buccaneers in order to sign either one away.

Ruud has started all 32 games over the past two seasons, and 47 of the last 48, and has 552 tackles during that span. Considered a strong fit in the Cover Two style of defense the Bucs returned to late in 2009, Ruud amassed a team-high 205 stops last year, the second-highest total in franchise history.

Penn has started the last 44 games at the critical left tackle position and is considered an anchor on a young and talented offensive line. Considered a strong pass-blocker on young quarterback Josh Freeman's blind side, Penn has also helped the Bucs average 4.1 yards per carry over the past two seasons.

The tender offer extended to Williams has a compensation level of a first-round pick. Coming off the first full 16-game season of his five-year NFL career, Williams is the team's reigning starter in a deep backfield that also includes Derrick Ward and Earnest Graham. Williams led all Buccaneers in 2009 in carries (211), rushing yards (823) and receptions (a career-high 28). He also paced the team with seven total touchdowns.

Bradley, Stovall and Trueblood all received offers that include original-round compensation. Specifically, those are second-round picks for Bradley and Trueblood and a third-rounder for Stovall. Bradley signed with the Bucs late in 2009 after being released by the Kansas City Chiefs. Stovall started seven games in 2009 and finished fifth on the team with 24 catches for 366 yards and one touchdown, averaging 15.3 yards per grab. Trueblood started every game at right tackle and has opened 61 consecutive contests at that position. He has missed just one game and three starts in his four seasons since being drafted in the second round in 2006.

Mack and Smith, the team's two exclusive rights free agents, are not free to negotiate with other teams.

Bidwell originally joined the Buccaneers as an unrestricted free agent in 2004, after five seasons (including one on injured reserve) with the Green Bay Packers. A fourth-round draft pick by the Packers in 1999, Bidwell owns Tampa Bay's franchise punting records for attempts (419), yards (18,426), average (44.0), and kicks inside the 20 (124). He also holds the top four gross punting average seasons in team annals, and five of the top seven net punting average seasons. He was preparing for his sixth season with the team this past summer when an existing hip injury worsened and required surgery in August.

Johnson was signed after Bidwell's injury and handled the punting duties for 11 games before sustaining a season-ending hamstring injury at Atlanta. He averaged 41.3 yards on 62 punts, pushing his career totals to 382 punts at a 41.7-yard clip.

Originally a sixth-round pick by the Buccaneers in 2003, Cox has lost all or part of five seasons to injuries. He missed all of his '03 rookie campaign, most of 2007 and all of 2008 to knee ailments, and in 2009 he spent the last five weeks on I.R. following a hip injury.

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