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The Wait Continues for NFL, Buccaneer Fans

A wise old singer once said, "the waiting is the hardest part".  It's doubly true this week if you're an NFL fan.

As the representatives of the NFLPA and ownership continue to (hopefully) work towards some kind of resolution behind closed doors, fans of all teams readily check the newswire for some kind of update.  Anything.  Some indication of progress.

Unfortunately, mediation is a special kind of creature. The first rule of that you don't talk about mediation.  To anyone.  For almost any reason.  It's a highly-confidential process that's subject to legal protection.  For example, a violation of confidentiality in a mediation in a Florida state court legal proceeding can lead to monetary penalties under Florida law.  Although this a federal mediation and possibly not as strict regarding confidentiality, the absence of a single leak regarding the status of negotiations in a sport that has more leaks to the media than the plumbing at the Old Sombrero should confirm that nothing is going to come out publicly about the progress of negotiations.

Sure, the results will be shared once negotiations are completed.  However, the negotiations themselves remain out of the public eye.  Thus, all we can do is grasp at straws.  As I write this article, the last sands of the CBA hourglass were supposed to have already slipped through.  Yet, the sides have agreed to a 24-hour extension of the deadline.  It's been reported that the parties might even be willing to consider a further 7-day extension.  That means something, if nothing more than that the sides have moved off their lines in the sand. 

But it's not just about what fans are seeing from the league.  It's about what their teams are doing to prepare themselves for whenever the league resumes play.  In recent weeks, teams have placed restricted franchise tags and free agent tenders on their players.  It's a hollow move, given that current franchise tags, transition tags, and restricted free agency tenders under the old collective bargaining agreement will probably be worth less than the paper they were written on once a new CBA is in place.  With a few exceptions, most teams have refrained from re-signing either their own players or outside free agents, likely because it's still unknown what the new salary cap parameters will be under a new collective bargaining agreement. 

However, the Buccaneers don't share that problem. 

The Bucs took full advantage of the lack of a CBA-mandated salary floor in 2010 and remain the team with the least amount of money committed towards a 2011 salary cap with around $58.7 million.  Needless to say, the Bucs have a lot of money to spend to get towards a potential salary floor.

And who to spend it on is the million-dollar question....literally.  The Bucs came to terms with Ronde Barber on a 1-year deal, who showed in 2010 that he still has something left in the tank.  However, other key pieces remain.  Barrett Ruud, who's been waiting for a long-term deal from the team for years, is set to test the free agency market.  Davin Joseph, despite being oft-injured, should have considerable market value. Quincy Black is coming off a nice season cut short by a forearm injury.  Cadillac Williams, who thrived in a limited role last year, showed he still has some spring in his surgically-repaired step.

All of these are the type of players who the current Buccaneer front office said they would reward, namely guys who were home grown who performed well.  It’s arguable in fans’ mind who might be the greatest need of the bunch, but many have shown they are worthy of consideration of a new long-term deal, at least to some degree.  Ruud fits well into the Bucs’ particular defensive system, but might not fare as well in other defenses that rely less on a read-and-react scheme, so his value on the market might be affected accordingly and he could be affordable for the Bucs.  Black, who played the same flowing hybrid SS/LB position at New Mexico that Brian Urlacher played, is familiar with the Bucs’ defensive reads and audibles after 4 years under Kiffin and Morris.  He has the flexibility of returning to his SLB position or possibly moving over to the middle if Ruud departs.  Davin Joseph is the team’s most physical run blocker, and given how the Bucs have discovered a gem in their punishing RB LeGarrette Blount, they could use a guy like Joseph paving the way inside.

Whatever moves the Buccaneers eventually make, either this week or at some future time, their fans will continue to do what fans of other teams are doing.

Keep checking the web.  And waiting.