While time is running out on the Bucs, the team still believes it can re-sign middle linebacker Shelton Quarles, left tackle Roman Oben, strongside linebacker Al Singleton and free safety Dexter Jackson.
"Yes, absolutely," Bucs general manager Rich McKay said when asked if the team could re-sign all four free agents before the start of free agency. "It's definitely doable. It would have to take time. That usually takes time."
But that's time Tampa Bay might not have. The Bucs are still trying to clear room under its salary cap in order to re-sign some or all of its free agents. The Bucs will continue to try and restructure some players' contracts and they could also cut a player(s), but the team's free agents might not be willing to wait around and pass up other offers out on the free agent market.
"There is risk, unquestionably," McKay said of allowing free agents to test the free-agent waters. "But the salary cap requires that you do certain things and this is one of them. Plus, you must remember that free agency has helped us at times when we were unable to make deals in the past. Two players, that I can think of very much, we couldn't get deals done because the numbers were much higher than what we thought we could fit, but when they hit the open market the numbers we signed them for were substantially less. So you run a risk, you know you run a risk, but it doesn't mean you do something you can't fit before because then you will defiantly regret it."
While some of the Bucs' free agents will receive some attention on the free agent market, McKay doesn't believe any of them will be signed by other teams right away.
"I don't think there will be a lot people in the league signed in those first two weeks," McKay said. "Some of our guys will hit the open market because we have talked to them and told them what our plan is, and it will take us a little while to be in the position to sign them. So they will necessarily hit the market and they know that. We have talked to them about it and told them our plan, and we will go from there."
Tampa Bay will try to strike deals with Quarles and Oben on the eve of free agency, which starts on Friday. But Tampa Bay's ability to bring one or both of those players back will weigh heavily on its cap status. The Bucs are believed to be slightly under the league's NFL-mandated $75-million salary cap.
Oben, who started all 16 games for the Bucs at the left tackle position, was arguably the most consistent offensive lineman on the team. The veteran left tackle is extremely interested in staying in Tampa, which will probably help the Bucs re-sign him.
"Roman is a guy that we have told that we want back," said McKay. "It is just a question of when we can do that deal. We would prefer to get it done before (the start of free agency), but you have to realize the other side and that is having the room to do it."
Like Oben, Quarles is interested in finishing his career in Tampa Bay, too. But Quarles, who brought consistency and speed to the middle linebacker position last season, could be a hot commodity on the free-agent market. The New York Jets have already expressed some interest in Quarles, who could seek a contract similar to the one Atlanta MLB Keith Brooking recently received. Brooking signed a seven-year, $41-million contract, which included a $10.5-million signing bonus.
"Yes, (it is) doable," McKay said of getting Quarles re-signed. "It's just a question of will it get done?"