The Bucs made a number of necessary cap-related moves on Tuesday, but will make an attempt to bring WR Joe Jurevicius back
Bruce Allen compared it to a lunar eclipse, but it's more like one of those rare occasions when the inner four or five planets align. And just like with those overly-mystical stellar events, the warnings of dire consequences are probably unwarranted.
Allen, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' general manager, was referring to Tuesday evening, when a variety of notable events on the NFL's annual calendar suddenly crunched together. As an example of the almost bizarre alignment of opportunities and responsibilities, Allen spent the morning evaluating draft prospects, peppered his entire day with phone calls to agents, oversaw the release of four veteran players, flew from Indianapolis to Tampa and held a long and winding evening press conference with the local media...all on Tuesday.
"Welcome to one of those unusual things where free agency and the Combine and the new cap and possibly a new Collective Bargaining Agreement all merge into one evening," said Allen, by way of introduction on Tuesday evening. "That's what we have right now."
Astronomers will tell you that a straight-line alignment of planets from the sun outward is of no real consequence, given the weak gravitational tug the solar system's heavenly bodies have on each other. Allen, on the other hand, knows that the convergence of the Combine and free agency and the new year's cap and a possible extension of the CBA is significant...just not necessarily in a painful way for the Buccaneers.
Yes, the Bucs had a $17 million salary cap overage as recently as a week ago. However, the moves announced on Tuesday – four veterans were released and another six agreed to restructured contracts – will have a positive effect on not only the team's current cap situation but also its long-term health.
"There was a specific goal, and it started a year ago," said Allen. "We were $45 million over the cap for the 2005 and 2006 seasons. We cleared $40 million from that this week. The players who we worked with, it's appreciated because we wanted to clear room to make sure that not only will our draft choices have homes once we draft them, but also so that we aren't in this pickle in the future."
It was a bit painful, admittedly, to part with four veteran players on Tuesday, particularly those who had contributed to the team's Super Bowl run in 2002. However, Allen indicated that the lines of communication have been kept open with Jurevicius and Gold. In fact, the team is making a specific attempt to bring Jurevicius back; Gold is more likely to test the market in the hopes of finding a starting spot at weakside linebacker, which is occupied by Derrick Brooks in Tampa.
"I don't want to write the ending chapter to the Joe Jurevicius story yet," said Allen. "I spoke to his agent earlier today and after actually arriving here in Tampa about Joe's situation. We've made an offer for him to come back, and we'll see what happens."
Allen indicated that Tuesday's moves put the Bucs about $1 million under the 2005 cap, which stands at approximately $85.5 million. That may seem like a small amount of wiggle room for a team that likes to sample from the free agency buffet, but the work is not necessarily done. There are potentially more deals to be negotiated that will allow the Bucs to add key ingredients to the team and also free up space for draft-pick contracts.
That's why Allen was able to say, realistically, that the Bucs can still be players on the free agency market, though frugality will surely be a factor.
"You can be [involved]," he said. "There are still ongoing talks with various people. It will be, as it always is, an involving system during the offseason. [Additional moves will] depend on how the negotiations with possible free agents will go, I would guess."
Allen said the Bucs are targeting two to five specific free agents, though he understandably wouldn't get too specific on this topic. He also said the list could be affected by potential cap-related cuts by other teams.
The Bucs' free agency desires might also be affected by what they saw over the last week in Indianapolis. The Combine was a showcase of the talent the team will be picking from in April's draft, which might be one of the most important ones in franchise history. The Bucs have 11 picks in that selection process, which is by design.
"We started that last year when we acquired the extra picks," said Allen. "It was a concerted effort to make sure that we loaded up for this draft. We have a chance to add some impact players in the draft, which this franchise hasn't been able to do for the last several years. So we look forward to it."
The four players released by the Buccaneers on Tuesday were established veterans, and some of those jobs will eventually go to younger, more cap-friendly players. That is an inevitable evolution for a team that enjoyed a great amount of success, including a Super Bowl victory, with a core of advancing veteran players, many of whom were awarded at one point or another with large contracts. This is not a no-holds-barred youth movement – the team is still shooting for the playoffs in 2005 – but there will be very real opportunities for the players drafted this April.
"We want to play the best players," said Allen. "Whoever our best players are, that's who's going to play. I think we're going to have enough job openings where the young players are going to be able to find a spot and be given an opportunity to show their wares. We're determined to make sure we have a very good draft, and we're determined to make sure we put the best players on the field."
As for the other big events that converged on Tuesday – the Combine and the possibility of progress in the Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations – Allen saw the positives in both.
The week-long Combine, which drew to a close on Tuesday, was potentially more fruitful than in years past, thanks to a higher degree of player participation.
"We had more participation by players than in the last 10 years," said an appreciative Allen. "I don't know if it's the extra television exposure that did it, but the players ran. The speed, on average, was the fastest Combine that we've had, but maybe that's because more of the top draft choices participated than before. We felt we had a good week there of evaluating the players and looking at them."
And the talent on display was very tempting.
"You've really limited what you [want to] do in free agency, because now you've just tasted all this young talent running around the field, and their speed was fantastic, and their size," said Allen. "The offensive line was mammoth. Before you buy so many free agents, you'll compare them with what you think you might be able to get in the draft, in any round."
The Collective Bargaining Agreement, meanwhile, is closer to expiration than it has been in years. The NFL has enjoyed a very profitable peace since the current CBA was introduced in 1993, bringing with it free agency and the salary cap. As of now, 2007 is scheduled to be an uncapped season, which would drastically change the way teams do business.
Many expect negotiations to produce an extension of the CBA before that uncapped year takes place. The league might move closer to that end very soon.
"[Wednesday] is also a league meeting in Atlanta where I guess there have been some discussions about a collective bargaining extension and possibly an update on the television negotiations that have been taking place lately with the league and the various networks," said Allen.