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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Starting Line

Midnight on Tuesday is the cut off for teams to become compliant with the 2004 salary cap, but Bruce Allen and the Buccaneers see it as more of a starting point than a deadline


G Jason Whittle was the first player signed by the Buccaneers during last year's free agency period

Tuesday, Bruce Allen really got to work.

Oh, to be sure, Allen hit the ground running when he assumed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' general manager post on January 9, and he's covered a lot of ground since. But the work of the past two months has, in large part, been directed at getting ready for March 3.

Free agency started at midnight on the second.

Allen, who gained a cap-wizard reputation while adding impact free agents in Oakland for the past decade, is ready to ply his trade once again. The opening of the free agent market means the awakening of opportunities; the Bucs need to improve, and free agency is the first step in that direction.

"It's exciting – this is what we do," said Allen. "Things happen in different ways around this time. It's fun. It's like the draft. It must be like being a stock broker. The market is always fluctuating.To visualize some of these new players playing in our uniform, it's great. For college coaches there is national signing day, which is a more defining date than free agency, but I've always enjoyed talking to guys on the first night of free agency."

Will the Bucs spring into action that quickly?

Well, cap issues would seem to be a hindrance, but Allen insists that will not keep the team from adding talent. Still, it is most likely that the clubs with significant cap room will set the market early and it's almost certain that there will be a handful of big signings in the first few days. Last year, under different personnel management, the Bucs stayed out of that opening run but did sign G Jason Whittle within the first week.

"I think there are about seven teams that have over $15 million dollars of cap space," said Allen. "Those teams are going to be able to really do whatever they want in free agency. They are going to determine the market because their representatives are going to call them first.

"But we are going to be aggressive. And we are going to be aggressive on May 21, whatever day of the week that falls on. We are going to be aggressive every day there is a chance to get a player in here that will help this football team. We owe that to our players."

Allen was certainly aggressive in Oakland, and he was pleased to find, upon arriving in Tampa, that the 'assets' at his disposal were more valuable than he had expected. Strongly balancing the Bucs' cap restrictions are an attractive place to play and what Allen calls 'the best coaching staff in the NFL.'

"We have a coaching staff that I know will be able to attract players to this place," he said. "Players want to come here and we are interested in adding some players here.

"I do know a player's mindset. There's a lot of players in this league who aren't household names and they need to go to a place in free agency. They're not going to get all the phone calls the first week. They are going to look for a place to go where coaches can make them more money on a later contract. And, we have that."

The Bucs also still have a good portion of the roster that won the Super Bowl at the end of the 2002 season and that, as well, can be a draw for a player who feels he can be one of the final pieces to the puzzle. That also helps the Bucs remain confident despite the maneuvers they may have to go through to avoid cap issues.

"If you didn't have good players you could use the word dire (for the Bucs' cap situation," said Allen. "I think we have an opportunity to do very well. And that's what we are going to do. We are going to make some difficult decisions in the next couple of days, and longer, that will stretch all the way through the season on how to improve the football team's talent. What happens between now and then, I couldn't tell you. A lot of deals are signed a day before training camp opens or something like that. Deals will come in anytime."

And so Allen waits eagerly for the stroke of midnight, which the Bucs view more as a starting point than a deadline. Allen sees opportunities, not problems, and he sees potentially great days ahead.

"This is a great time for the Bucs in a way that we feel we are going in the right direction," he said. "We have some key players on this football team that give us a chance to become a contender. You want to keep the core of those players together as long as you can and keep adding players and adding players to the system that will complement them. Hopefully, they will one day be as good as those core players. That's what I'm attempting to do."

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