The Buccaneers may try to give QB Shaun King some help on offense through free agency
One Buccaneer Place may be 20 minutes from the beach and 10 miles from Busch Gardens, but it is smack dab next to Tampa International Airport. That may be a nice convenience this week, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' headquarters could prove to be an attraction for a certain type of high-profile tourist in the coming days.
The National Football League's free agency period began on Friday, February 11. Until then, potential free agents could not be contacted by representatives of other teams. Like some other teams, the Buccaneers wasted no time on Friday, immediately putting their long-distance plan to the test. On Monday, the team's pro personnel department confirmed that the Buccaneers have arranged up to five potential free agent visits this week.
As usual, plans such as these can be rearranged when signings by the Buccaneers or other teams occur. Nevertheless, the busy week for the Bucs' pro personnel department indicates that Tampa Bay is taking an aggressive approach to the 2000 free agency period. If not uncharted territory for the team, it is at least somewhat unfamiliar, as the Buccaneers have been mostly free agency bystanders in recent years. That was the product of two equal factors: Tampa Bay is a team that relies on the draft for the majority of its team-building and the Bucs have had little cap room before this season.
And the Bucs are not merely window-shopping. "We would like to sign a couple guys," said General Manager Rich McKay. "There's no question that we are targeting some guys and would like to sign one or two of them. It's not going to happen Monday, it may take a couple weeks, but we do anticipate signing some guys."
The Buccaneers will not disclose which NFL free agents are in town until the conclusion of the visit. However, General Manager Rich McKay did indicate on Friday that the team is most concerned with players to help the team's 28th-ranked offense. "I think that's accurate," said McKay. "I see the defensive players we would look at as being of the secondary type – not in terms of position but priority.
"We've got a little bit of a plan," added McKay, "and I think that plan will become pretty apparent when you see all the people that come in here and the fact that they all play similar positions. We're pretty comfortable that this year, there's a little bit more depth in this market than there's been in a couple of years."
Still, one should not think that the Buccaneers have abandoned their draft-first strategy with this headfirst plunge into free agency. Tampa Bay is in the classic position of being a real Super Bowl contender which feels only a few specific upgrades are necessary to keep the team in prime contention. The Bucs are in that position mostly because of their success on draft day and the development and long-term signing of the fruits of those drafts. The team currently combines a very strong core with a helpful amount of salary-cap breathing room.
"We've got some room," said McKay, "but we've got some players of our own we're trying to sign back, which accounts for some of that room, and we've got two number-one draft picks that accounts for more of that room. So it's not like we're flush, but we're certainly a lot better than last year. We're in a position that we could sign a player or two, but we're not like some teams that have a ton of room. We're different, too, in that we have a lot of players under contract. We have 51 players under contract and I'd say the average in the league is probably mid-30s. Some teams have a lot of room, but also don't have very many players."
Indeed, some teams are starting off in the direction of * less players *before going back in the other direction, as some recognizable names have hit the waiver wire in the last week. That adds to the potential free agent crop, and could continue to do so throughout the spring as teams adjust.
"I don't remember a year where so many guys have come on the list in the last few days," said McKay, "and I think still more are to come. So it will be an interesting offseason. I don't think anyone's roster will be set until July. There are a lot of teams that have salary cap issues, and some of these players are true 'salary-cap casualties.'"
The Bucs have not been forced into any cap-slashing moves this season, though they could still lose any of the team's 18 free agents (11 unrestricted, seven restricted) to another bidder. McKay indicated on Friday that the team has taken steps in their attempts to retain their valued free agents, but also stated that he would not be providing specifics on those negotiations. It is perhaps enough in the eyes of Buccaneer fans that the team is taking an aggressive approach, and that certainly applies to the wooing of other team's free agents as well. That means, stay tuned because the next few weeks could be busy ones, for the Bucs and Tampa International.