DT Warren Sapp will become a free agent at midnight on Tuesday
The National Football League's free agency period, a quarter of the year that Bruce Allen recently described as an "invigorating time" for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, begins at midnight on Tuesday evening.
Invigorating, perhaps, like a splash of cold water to the face...which just might help around midnight.
Allen, in his first year as the Bucs' general manager – and thus in a position to rework a salary cap situation he did not create – may need every method he can find to stay sharp over the next few months. Many challenges lay ahead for the team; fittingly, Allen expects to be working up to and past that midnight deadline on Tuesday, as the opening of the market takes place.
How much is there to do?
"When you go down our team, you have a couple of our running backs that are in free agency and a fullback coming off an injury," said Allen, just getting started. "Then you have the other fullback that's in free agency, two quarterbacks (on the roster), one wide receiver that's not going to be here, a couple offensive linemen coming off injury, no punter, a deep snapper that's a free agent, a safety coming off a serious injury and two linebackers on the roster who have played.
"And Warren Sapp is a free agent. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, it's a heck of a play."
Some of those issues will develop more quickly than others. Some in fact, may have to come to a head before that midnight deadline, as the Bucs are admittedly still in the process of getting under the 2004 salary cap. One situation that might not have an immediate resolution is that last one listed by Allen: Warren Sapp's impending free agency.
The will-he-or-won't-he return of Sapp, one of the most accomplished players in franchise history, is the most visible issue surrounding the Bucs as free agency begins. While Sapp has commented publicly that he would be interested in returning, and the Bucs obviously know his value as a player, there is no reliable indication yet of what will ultimately come about. It seems certain, however, that Sapp will at least become a free agent on March 3.
"Warren's situation is that he is headed towards free agency," said Allen. "We're going to have to see what happens. Warren's been a Buc through some tough times and some great times. He's part of this neighborhood. He likes this neighborhood. He likes this coaching staff. It's an unusual situation, in some ways, because of who he is.
"But in the league today, it's almost a commonplace event what's going happen. He's going to see what free agency is and we'll take it from there."
Warrick Dunn left. Hardy Nickerson left. Dexter Jackson, Lonnie Marts and Santana Dotson all explored free agency and found new homes. Vinny Testaverde was one of the first to go, way back in 1993. Every team in the league could compile a similar list of local household names. Allen does not hide from the fact that Sapp's name could join the Bucs' list.
"That could happen," said Allen. "For the last two years he's been paid a good salary. A very large salary. And during that time, two of his linemates – not just teammates, but linemates – have received enormous contracts.
"We'll see what happens now. I can't control what happened back then and he can't right now. It has no effect when you go into free agency. You're evaluated by each team in their specific way."
Allen said he spoke with Sapp on Wednesday, and he communicated the Bucs' thoughts on the situation to Sapp's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, during the recently-completed NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Allen has no intention of commenting publicly on the substance of the team's or Sapp's views on the issue.
That includes, one supposes, exactly how much value the Buccaneers put in Sapp as a player, and how they believe other teams will value him. Allen doesn't think Sapp will have any problem drawing interest around the league, however. The former first-round pick has 77 career sacks and was just selected for his seventh consecutive Pro Bowl.
"He's been a dominant player in the league for a number of years," said Allen of Sapp, who is just two sacks shy of breaking Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon's franchise record in that category. "And, when you couple him with the teammates that he has, it became a nightmare as some of these pictures (in the Bucs' facility) will depict. (The Bucs') front, with leader Rod Marinelli, is the dominating front and Warren is absolutely a part of that. You can ask the New York Giants what they think of Warren Sapp right now and they would say he's a pretty darned good football player. He had a heck of a game against them this year.
"Love is in the eye of the beholder and he'll fit into a lot of teams' wish list. I know that. His phone will ring."