This is an unusual feeling, being a NFL writer with almost nothing to do.
Free agency is supposed to be about reporting on the myriad of signings by your team. Usually, nearly a week into the process, each team has made one deal, even if it is a minor one.
But what have the Bucs done in the past seven days? What was that old 1980s movie? "Less Than Zero."
Well, it's not quite less than zero, it just kind of seems that way.
Never before have I seen a team's free agent activity in the first week barely register on a heart monitor. The Bucs have been linked to three players that I can recall – Kevin Walter, Aaron Kampman and Reggie Brown. And, the Bucs did acquire Brown, but it took nothing more than a sixth-round pick to pry this fifth-string wide receiver from the Eagles.
In other words, scraps.
The Bucs are looking for safety help as I write this, thanks to the loss of S Will Allen. Apparently S Jermaine Phillips won't be back, either, or else they would be talking to him about a new contract.
And now WR Antonio Bryant has bolted for $28 million from Cincinnati.
For the first weekend of free agency I felt like I was on vacation, the Bucs did so little. The Bucs aren't the only team doing so, but since they're the only team we care about on this site, the Bucs' lack of movement sticks out.
So why is this happening? I have three suspicions.
The Bucs have a plan, and you're probably not going to like it. GM Mark Dominik said as much shortly after free agency began. The Bucs, he said, are keeping an eye on other teams to see who gets cut, and then try and snap them up. It's not exactly Plan A. That would be actually going after a free agent and tendering him a contract. This is more like Plan D, if you're a normal NFL team. The Bucs used to be one of those. They're not anymore.
So now the plan is to, for the most part, sit on their money in the hopes that a solid veteran gets cut. It doesn't preclude the Bucs signing a free agent, but all the top tier guys are gone, and I doubt they'll want to use those extra picks they have to try and pry away a restricted free agent. So, it's hurry up and wait. Head coach Raheem Morris recently told the media the plan is to build for the future. With the Bucs' lack of urgency in free agency, that future keeps getting more distant, and the product on the field in 2010 gets harder to sell to season ticket holders and the proletariat alike.
Money. This could be all about cash. The NFL has been telling the players' union that every team in the NFL, while not losing money, is seeing their profit margins decrease due to higher expenses. Since there is no salary cap, there is no salary floor, either. Teams that want to spend money – as the Denver Broncos have this offseason – will spend. But other teams will see this as an opportunity to save money.
The Bucs have the reputation of being spendthrifts the past several years. Whether that reputation is warranted, that boils down to two things. First, the team's battle with the salary cap in the early years of Jon Gruden. Second, the Glazer family's ownership of Manchester United. Trust me – the Glazers are feeling the crunch. If you don't believe me, take a look at what's happening in Texas. Tom Hicks, who owns the Texas Rangers and Dallas Stars, was trucking along happily and making money until he cast his lot in buying Liverpool FC. Nothing will drain your bank account faster than a British soccer team. Hicks had gather up a lot of cash to make that deal, and he did it in the form of credit. When the crunch came in 2008, Hicks felt the brunt so much that he defaulted on $525 million in loans through his Hicks Sports Group. Whether the money for Liverpool is connected with the Rangers and Stars or not, Hicks will soon no longer be the owner of the Rangers, and the Stars are possibly up for sale, too. All of this to pay off debt Hicks wouldn't have had if he had just stayed out of soccer.
The Glazers have to be feeling the pinch right about now, though it's impossible to know the particulars of how the franchises are connected, if they are at all. The Glazers are notoriously guarded with their personal details, and NFL team financials aren't a matter for public record (except for the publicly-owned Green Bay Packers). But in this new world economy, most everything is connected in some way, even if it's just by attitude. With the current economic climate, the Glazers could easily use this as an excuse to save on player costs. You'll note that they're not talking to any of their tendered players about new contracts. Something tells me those guys will end up playing on one-year deals in 2010 (if they're still in Tampa at all).
Depressed market. Oddly enough, this isn't entirely the Bucs' fault. Thanks to the fact that there's no CBA in place, more than 200 players that would be unfettered free agents are not. When it comes to having to give up at least a draft pick to sign a player, you have to be sure. And, if you take a look around the league, there haven't been many attempts so far to pry away restricted free agents. No one wants to take that risk. This draft, overall, is considered one of the deeper ones in memory. There is no salary cap, which means there is no rookie salary pool, either. NFL teams will play hardball with these rookies to contain costs, and sometimes that's easier to impose on a rookie than on a veteran.
So here we are – one week into free agency and barely anything to do. The Bucs need a safety now that Allen is in Pittsburgh. And, they could use another young wide receiver (or three) now that Brian Clark bolted for Detroit and Bryant is in Cincy.
Seems like the players that can get out are right now. Perhaps that tells us everything.