In the incredibly condensed period of roster maneuvering that has followed the signing of a new collective bargaining agreement on Monday, the fate of restricted and exclusive rights free agents has taken a backseat to the move-per-minute craziness of the unrestricted market.
Still, re-signing their players that fell into those two categories was another priority for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and they moved quickly on Friday to get the job done.
At the same time that unrestricted free agents Michael Koenen, Quincy Black, Davin Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood were making their way through the Buccaneers' player personnel offices (that is, within minutes after the official 6:00 p.m. opening of the market) a steady stream of RFAs and ERFAs were coming in to sign new deals, too. No time to waste – these players can now attend meetings with the rest of the team, though they cannot practice or use the weight room facilities.
The Bucs entered the day with a total of nine restricted and exclusive rights free agents, and had eight of them signed between 6:00 p.m. and the end of the evening practice at 7:15. Most signed in time to put on a jersey and join the team at practice…albeit on the sidelines for now. The only remaining restricted free agent left unsigned is defensive tackle Frank Okam, and it's reasonable to expect he will soon follow suit.
The eight players who re-signed with the Buccaneers on Friday included:
Restricted Free Agents
- K Connor Barth
- T James Lee
- S Corey Lynch
- CB Elbert Mack
- WR Micheal Spurlock
Exclusive Rights Free Agents
- DE Michael Bennett
- QB Rudy Carpenter
- T Demar Dotson
A restricted free agent may negotiate with other teams for offers, but his original team retains a right-of-first-refusal on any offers as long as the original team extends a tender offer at the beginning of free agency. In addition, depending upon the size of the tender offer that is extended, the original team may receive draft-pick compensation from the new team if it chooses not to match the outside offer. For instance, the tender offer the Buccaneers extended kicker Connor Barth would have required a new team to send Tampa Bay a 2012 second-round pick if they signed Barth away.
Exclusive rights free agents are players whose contracts have expired but who have fewer than three years of accrued free agency credit. They may negotiate only with their original teams as long as they have received qualifying tender offers.
Thus, as is the case every year, it is relatively rare for players in either category to move to another team. Still, bringing the above players back was an important series of moves for the Buccaneers, as many of them played key roles for the team last year. The above group of restricted free agents, in particular, contributed heavily, combining to make 75 game appearances and 15 starts; if one considers a kicker as a starter, it would be 31 starts.
Indeed, Barth handled all of the Buccaneers' placekicking duties in 2010, turning in a fine year that included 11 successful field goals in his last 12 attempts. Overall, Barth converted on 23 of 28 field goal tries, or 82.1%, as well as all 36 of his extra point attempts. That led to a team-leading total of 15 points. Barth proved capable of making the long-distance kicks, as well, making four of his six tries from 46 yards out or farther, with one of the other two being blocked and the other one hitting the upright.
Lee started the 2010 season in a reserve role but got a chance to start at right tackle after Jeremy Trueblood sustained an injury in Game Six. Trueblood missed just two and a half games, but that was enough time for Lee to impress the coaching staff and win the game for the remainder of the season. The second-year man out of South Carolina State, a former undrafted free agent like his Pro Bowl bookend Donald Penn, missed one late-season start due to injury but opened nine games and helped the Bucs put together their best rushing attack in a decade.
Lynch, too, was starting by season's end. He excelled on special teams for much of the season, particularly with his unusual knack for blocking kicks, but he was needed at strong safety after rookie Cody Grimm suffered a season-ending injury with five games to go. Lynch started the last five outings and helped the Bucs stay alive in the playoff race until the bitter end, contributing 24 tackles, five passes defended, one interception and one forced fumble. Even with his expanded role on defense, Lynch still finished third on the team with 18 special teams tackles.
Mack, who has filled the Bucs' nickel back role from time to time during his three seasons, is another undrafted free agent who has come up big for the team. Though he logged less playing time in 2010 with the emergence of E.J. Biggers (he contributed 12 tackles on defense), Mack still played extensively on special teams and made nine kick-coverage stops.
Spurlock, a former college quarterback who has worked tirelessly to convert to receiver in the pros, had his best season yet in 2010, emerging as a real threat in the passing game. He finished with a career-best 17 catches for 250 yards and two touchdowns and turned in some of the Bucs' biggest plays of the year. That included the game-winning touchdown catch in a come-from-behind win over Cleveland on opening day and a miraculous toe-dragging grab in the final seconds at Cincinnati to set up the game-winning field goal. Spurlock also was the team's primary kick returner, averaging 6.9 yards on 28 punt returns and 25.7 yards on 44 kickoff returns. His 89-yard touchdown return in Atlanta made him the first player in team history to record two such scores.
The three exclusive rights free agents who re-signed on Friday saw less playing time but are still considered intriguing prospects. Bennett had the most action, playing in 13 games with two starts and pitching in with 21 tackles and four sacks. He was a regular part of the team's defensive line rotation down the stretch and he even started the final two games of the season. Carpenter was the team's inactive third quarterback for all 16 games behind Josh Freeman and Josh Johnson. Dotson spent the year on injured reserve after sustaining an injury in the preseason finale.