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Franchise Tag Deadline - Antonio Bryant

As mentioned in the morning links this A.M., today is the deadline to sign players assigned with the franchise tag to a long term deal.  If the player isn't signed to a long-term deal by 4 P.M., the club can not negotiate a deal with them until their respective season is completed.  A long way of saying, if you want this guy for a long time (or want to trade him), sign him today.  If the player has signed the franchise tender and does not complete a long-term deal, he is essentially a one year mercenary rental, with a fully guaranteed, expensive, one year deal.

Antonio Bryant, his agent, and the team have all acknowledged there will be no long-term deal.  This isn't a surprise to either Buc's fans or NFL fans.  In fact, to date, Terrell Suggs (today) and Brandon Jacobs (February) are the only two players to sign long-term deals, though Oshiomogho Atogwe (Rams safety) is rumored to have a deal in the works.  So as it stands, 2 of the 12 tagged players signed deals, and one had the tag rescinded, but eventually signed (Leroy Hill - Seattle).  Players typically don't want to be tagged, as it only gives them that one year guarantee.  Any significant injury, or down year will deflate their value and not bring in as much money. 

I wanted to get into this because it really has two ways of playing out for the Bucs.  The franchise tag, once signed, is fully guaranteed.  That means the Bucs are on the hook for $9.884 million no matter what Bryant does this year (for those who care, that's 8% of our 2009 cap room).  Let's look at the positives of Bryant not signing a long term deal.  He's on a one year rental contract, meaning he has to play for pay in 2010.  Perform well and he gets a big contract.  Simple enough and plays to the greed in each of us.  Higher pay should be a good motivator for him, or any other NFL player.  The flipside is, if he underperforms, turns (back) into a head case, or gets hurt, his market value, in theory, would be lower, meaning we could re-sign him after the season to a lower deal.  That's the good news.

To look at the other side of the coin, if he performs well, his services will be in demand by other teams.  The Bucs can either tag him again (and pay him the higher of the franchise tag number or 120% of this year's pay) to keep or trade him (ala Matt Cassel this year) or decide the price tag is too high and let him walk and get nothing for a player who performed well.  In short, if he plays well the options are fork over an even higher amount of cash, or watch him walk.  If he plays poorly, he can still leave after this year, with no compensation to speak of for the Bucs and while we are saved the money, we've lost a #1 receiver.  It's a definite risk, both for the team and the player.

I get the feeling that Bryant is here because he has to be.  He doesn't seem endeared to the team, and seems to be in completely satisfied with no long term deal.  After all, it means he can call the shots next year (unless we tag him), and if all goes according to his plan, he gets paid by the team of his choice.  As a 28 year old receiver with only 5.5 seasons of wear and tear on his body, if he puts up a half way decent year, he will be one of the more coveted free agents next season.  In fact, when Bryant was tagged in February, he was not too happy about it.  He would have been the top receiver on the market, ready for a long-term deal, but instead had to settle for a one year contract.  His clearly voiced displeasure with the tag leads me to believe he wants out, as soon as he collects his $9.884 million this year.

There are other factors.  With young quarterbacks come struggles.  Bryant knows this.  Maybe he doesn't want to stick around to watch Freeman learn on the job.  Maybe he knows that most young quarterbacks tend to over rely on their tight ends (which certainly has Winslow smiling).  Maybe he doesn't like how Gruden was treated.  After all, it was Gruden that pulled him from the trash heap last year.  Any way you look at it, he seems determined to play his way out of here.

In about 2 hours, we'll know for sure that Bryant is indeed on a one year rental.  With such a big salary tag,  the Bucs are hoping he stays healthy, puts up big numbers, and in a perfect world, give them a return on their investment other than stats, meaning, he stays in Tampa or they can get something in return for him.  Either way, enjoy the next year of #89, it's shaping up to be his last in a Tampa Bay Buccaneer's uniform.