General Manager Rich McKay (left) may have some tough decisions ahead in shaping Head Coach Tony Dungy's roster
Each year in March, we find out who is invited to the Big Dance. Usually, there's not enough room for everybody that should be in. Some decisions are tough, some are unpopular. All are watched with a close eye and debated without end by a legion of fans.
Oh, we hear there's a pretty good basketball tournament this time of the year, too.
We speak instead of the dance of NFL free agency, which officially begins on Friday, March 2. For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the main issue to be sorted out is who among the team's long list of free agents will be retained for 2001 and beyond. The list includes four starters who are unrestricted free agents, and the Buccaneers have generally strived to re-sign their own core players. But, in the words of General Manager Rich McKay, who will be at the team's free agency controls, 'it takes two to tango.' So, again, the question is: Who wants to dance?
McKay just returned on Monday from a grueling week at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. While the focus of that trip was the 2001 draft class (plus some rather long Competition Committee meetings for McKay), his days ahead will likely be dominated by free agency considerations. As the former came to an end and the latter prepared to heat up, McKay took a minute to sit down with Buccaneers.com for a, shall we say, 'State of the Union' address. You can watch the video of that interview by clicking here.
Thursday, March 1, is the last day of player contracts that expire in 2001. On Friday, March 2, all unsigned players with four or more years of accrued free agency credit became unrestricted free agents who can negotiate and sign with any team. Among the Buccaneers in that category are starters CB Ronde Barber, G Frank Middleton, S Damien Robinson and T Jerry Wunsch.
That would seem to make the weeks ahead a crucial period for the shaping of the Buccaneers' roster. In his discussion on free agency, however, McKay indicated that the Bucs have been laying the groundwork for this moment for quite some time.
"We're ready," he said. "We've been getting ready since, probably, October. For us, when you look at free agency, we basically had six starters that (would be) free agents coming into the year: John Lynch, Marcus Jones, Ronde Barber, Damien Robinson, Jerry Wunsch and Frank Middleton. We first said we have two priorities, and that was John and Marcus Jones. We signed both of those players to extensions and ate up a lot of money and a lot of cap room, but from there we've still got to get a couple more guys.
"We'll see how we do. We're optimistic, but it's a process and it's one where, when the door opens on Friday, you never know what's going to happen. All it takes is one person to get a big contract and you lose a player."
McKay also offered a little perspective, explaining that the Bucs' own list of free agents is not as frightening as it could be.
"You have teams now that have 21 unrestricted free agents," said McKay. "You have teams that have 16, 17 unrestricted free agents. That number, I think, is going to go up every year now, because guys are doing shorter term deals, so they're coming up faster. So I think that number will continue to be high. Ours isn't particularly high."
McKay discusses the matter in greater detail in the video interview, and touches on such subjects as the talent at the combine, the Bucs expected take on the rest of the free agent market and the team's relationship to the salary cap. On Friday, as free agency begins, McKay will speak again to the entire assemblage of local media, taking a closer look at some of the issues facing the team in free agency.