Four-hundred and 76 NFL veterans became unrestricted free agents on Thursday. The pertinent question in Tampa: Will any of them become Tampa Bay Buccaneers?
The 2017 league year kicked off at 4:00 p.m. ET on Thursday, and with it the annual free agent market. All players whose contracts expired as of the end of the 2016 league year, and who have accrued at least four years of free agency credit, are now free to shop their services to any and all of the 32 teams. (The exceptions are the seven free agents-to-be who received franchise tags from their current teams.)
NEWS: BUCS SIGN DESEAN JACKSON
The answer to that question above, obviously, is yes. The Buccaneers made a big splash in the first hour of free agency, agreeing to terms on multi-year deals with wide receiver DeSean Jackson and defensive tackle Chris Baker. Those two additions alone could eventually make this year's free agency foray a successful one, but of course there are still four months remaining in which the Bucs could conceivably add to their 2017 haul.
There are also 41 new restricted free agents (RFAs) on the market. These are players with expired contracts who have three years of accrued credit and who received qualifying offers from their current teams. They can negotiate with other teams but their original teams retain a right-of-first-refusal on any signed contracts. In addition, the original team can be eligible for draft-pick compensation depending upon the level of the qualifying offer. Players with three years of credit who did not receive qualifying offers are, in essence, unrestricted free agents.
Restricted free agents do occasionally find new teams, but the vast majority of them simply sign their tender offers, converting them into one-year contracts for the upcoming season, and then become unrestricted free agents (UFAs) the following year. Players and teams are free to negotiate longer-term deals before any tender offer is signed.
There is a third category of free agents, but they won't make much of an impact on the market. These are players with expired contracts who have two or fewer accrued years and who received a qualifying offer from their original teams. They are called exclusive rights free agents (ERFAs) and can only negotiate with their original teams. Virtually all of these players sign their tender offers and play on the resulting one-year contract.
The Buccaneers have been relatively active in free agency since the arrival of General Manager Jason Licht in 2014. Many of the most coveted UFAs will find new homes in the first few hours of free agency on Thursday, a process helped by the 52-hour negotiating window that began on Tuesday. Tampa Bay has been a part of that rush over the last three years, most notably in 2014, although last year's big acquisitions came on the second and third days of the open market.
NEWS: BUCS SIGN CHRIS BAKER
Fifteen of those 476 new UFAs were Buccaneers in 2016. That list could have been 17 players long but the team managed to keep defensive end Will Gholston and safety Chris Conte off the market with new contracts executed earlier in the week. The new UFA status for those 15 players does not necessarily mean their time in Tampa is over, as it is not uncommon for the Bucs to get deals done with their own free agents after the start of the new league year. That was the case last year with running back Doug Martin, who technically became a free agent very briefly before re-signing on the first day of free agency. Four days later, Conte re-signed with the Buccaneers, as well.
And, in fact, the Buccaneers did quickly re-sign one of their 15 UFAs after the market opened, completing a multi-year agreement with running back Jacquizz Rodgers. They likely would have finalized that deal before Thursday but an obscure clause in the CBA regarding Rodgers' 2016 contract prevented them from doing so until the new league year began.
These are the 15 players from Tampa Bay's 2016 roster who became unrestricted free agents on Thursday:
- T Gosder Cherilus
- QB Mike Glennon (signed with the Bears)
- C Joe Hawley
- DT John Hughes
- WR Vincent Jackson
- S Bradley McDougald
- TE Brandon Myers
- CB Josh Robinson
- RB Jacquizz Rodgers (re-signed with the Buccaneers)
- WR Russell Shepard
- WR Cecil Shorts
- DT Sealver Siliga
- RB Antone Smith
- LB Daryl Smith
- DT Akeem Spence (signed with the Lions)
The Buccaneers have a short list of restricted free agents, which is the result of the rules in the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) regarding contracts for draft picks. All draft picks now receive at least four-year contracts, which means they will bypass restricted free agency and go straight to unrestricted free agency if they complete those contracts. As a result, most restricted free agents are players teams acquired in other manners, such as waiver claims or undrafted signings. Here's the Bucs' current list of RFAs:
- QB Ryan Griffin
- DE Jacquies Smith
Long-snapper Andrew DePaola, who suffered a knee injury in the 2016 season finale, did not receive a qualifying offer and thus is essentially an unrestricted free agent, free to sign with any team.
The Buccaneers also chose to give tender offers to five of the six players from their 2016 roster who were on course to become exclusive rights free agents. The exception was defensive end Howard Jones, who is now free to sign with any team. The Bucs' list of ERFAs looks like this:
- CB Jude Adjei-Barimah
- TE Cameron Brate
- LB Adarius Glanton
- WR Adam Humphries
- WR Freddie Martino
The Bucs are pleased, obviously, to know that Brate and Humphries will be returning in 2017, as they were the team's second and third-leading receivers, respectively, last year. In addition, Adjei-Barimah was the number-one nickel back on defense for a good portion of the season and Glanton was a core special teamer. Even Freddie Martino, who saw less playing time than the other four, showed promise and is familiar with Dirk Koetter's offense from his stints with both the Falcons and the Buccaneers.
Of course, as much as the Buccaneers value the production and potential of such young players as Brate and Humphries, they would like to surround quarterback Jameis Winston with additional targets, particularly pass-catchers with explosive-play potential. That process could begin in free agency, as could the ongoing effort to shore up every corner of the depth chart. And now the wait is over: The bell rang and the NFL's free agency market officially opened on Thursday.