First, let's start with the Bucs' hottest free agent player, LB Barrett Ruud. We know he could be a restricted free agent, if the CBA isn't taken care of by March. What's your take? Will there be an agreement in time for Ruud and the rest of the fifth-year players to be an unfettered free agent?
Adam Caplan, Scout.com: I don't anticipate a deal getting done by 3/5, so Ruud will be a RFA. The players and owners are very far apart on coming to an agreement on most issues. It's a shame because I think he could get a lot of interest if he was a UFA.
Matthew Postins, Bucsblitz.com contributor: I agree, Adam. When you consider that Ruud is a Top 5 linebacker on just about every free agent board this offseason, he was due a big pay day from somebody. He's done great work since he took over as the starting middle linebacker in 2007, and last year he became the first Bucs LB since Hardy Nickerson in 2002 to amass 200 tackles. The guy just flat out knows what he's doing.
Along those lines, most in Tampa are surprised that Ruud isn't locked up into a long-term deal by now. Many think the Bucs are playing with fire and could be burned for years if they lose him. Are you hearing anything about which teams could be interest in Ruud? If you're not, feel free to speculate.
Caplan: I don't think they could get burned at all since he's going to be a RFA and he'll likely receive a first-round tender. I can't see anyone giving up a first-rounder for a MLB. If, for some reason they tendered him at a second-round level, then I could see some interest generated. The team has all the leverage here. Plus, it's going to be hard to extend players because of the 30 percent rule. Players that want to get extended can't have their base salaries grow higher than 30 percent from the previous season.
Postins: I'm really not fan of how the Bucs played this with Ruud. When you take a player in the second round and he produces the way Ruud did in 2007 and 2008, that's all you can ask for as an organization. Ruud went to the Bucs for an extension during the 2009 offseason, and skipped all the voluntary OTAs as his way of putting some pressure on the Bucs. But they didn't budge. Ruud didn't hold out, either, when it came to mandatory activities and training camp. He was trying to do the right thing, but maybe in retrospect he should have held out. The Bucs showed no interest in extending him. Yes, it appears as if Ruud won't be going anywhere in 2010, and he likely will get a first-round tender offer, which will net him a solid paycheck. But you can forget about him coming back to Tampa when he finally gets his free agent wings, and I don't blame him one bit. He has to feel unappreciated at this point. I'm sure the Bucs are looking at saving some money in this financial climate when the CBA lapses in March. But there are just some things that are the right thing to do if you're trying to ensure the long-term viability of your team on the field. Signing Ruud to a long-term deal and making him the cornerstone of the defense was one of those right things, and GM Mark Dominik really dropped the ball. That's an investment that would have paid off handsomely.