According to Pewter Report sources, Oben is right behind middle linebacker Shelton Quarles in terms of priority when it comes to re-signing the Bucs' own free agents. Oben nearly signed with Baltimore last year to be the Ravens' right tackle, but instead signed a one-year deal with the Bucs after being lured to Tampa Bay by head coach Jon Gruden.
The Buccaneers are concerned that if Oben hits the free agent market that his price tag will only go up due to teams competing for his services. The two premier left tackles in free agency -- St Louis' Orlando Pace and Seattle's Walter Jones -- are expected to be slapped with the franchise tag that will give the Rams and Seahawks exclusive negotiating rights with their respective player.
After Pace and Jones, the next tier of left tackles includes Oben, Flozell Adams (Dallas), Luke Petitgout (NY Giants) and Wayne Gandy (Pittsburgh). After that group comes less talented and less heralded players such as Jon Fina (Arizona) and Marcus Spriggs (Miami).
If they could not re-sign Oben, the Bucs would turn to either Adams or Petitgout as the next viable option. However, Bucs sources close to the Oben situation say that a long-term deal with Oben should be in place before the start of free agency and that he is expected to enter 2003 as the team's starting left tackle. After moving from the New York Giants to the Cleveland Browns in recent years, and then on to Tampa, Oben wants to settle down and remain with the Bucs. And after a very consistent season in which he did not miss a start, the Bucs definitely want their best lineman to return.
But with the likely retirement of Lomas Brown, who has played 18 seasons in the NFL, Tampa Bay will look to free agency for another veteran left tackle to compete with and backup Oben. The Bucs have no plans to switch Kenyatta Walker from right tackle to left tackle, which is the position he played during his rookie year in 2001.
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