Tampa Bay is taking a realistic approach with free agents and will not use the franchise tag to keep safety Dexter Jackson from shopping around.
By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 20, 2003
INDIANAPOLIS -- Dexter Jackson will earn more than a new Cadillac and an endorsement deal with Six Flags from his fame as Super Bowl XXXVII MVP. He could really cash in when the free-agent signing period begins Feb. 28.
In fact, the Bucs expect their starting free safety to do just that and will not exercise their franchise or transition tag today on either Jackson or linebacker Shelton Quarles -- a move that would have stopped the bidding for them on the free-agent market.
Jackson, who had two interceptions in the Bucs' 48-21 win over the Raiders in the title game, continued to draw comparisons with Cowboys defensive back Larry Brown, a relative unknown who parlayed his Super Bowl XXX MVP into a lucrative deal with Oakland.
"He may have a little Larry Brown factor to him. Absolutely. And you know what? God bless him if he does," assistant general manager John Idzik said. "The guy deserves it. He hung around, he had to wait it out. (Damien) Robinson comes in and he had to wait it out. And he hit it. Shoot, (Jackson) won a championship and he's holding the MVP trophy at the same time.
"You try to say, 'Okay, let's not get enamored with the euphoria of the Super Bowl. Let's step back into reality and say what is this player? And can we replace him to a certain degree?' "
The cost of making Jackson a franchise player by today's deadline would have been about $3-million -- roughly half the tender for giving Quarles the same designation.
"We have (unrestricted free agents) we definitely want back," Idzik said. "But when you're talking about using some of those tools, it gets pretty contentious."
Even if the team is unable to strike a deal with any of its unrestricted free agents by the start of the signing period, Idzik said Tampa Bay will continue attempts to re-sign them.
Starting left tackle Roman Oben is close to re-signing with the Bucs, according to agent Roosevelt Barnes. And the Bucs do not want to part with Quarles, who was selected to his first Pro Bowl after switching to middle linebacker last season.
Jackson, however, is looking forward to what he hopes is a windfall of offers on the heels of his MVP performance. Meanwhile, the Bucs have the option of replacing him with another free agent or second-year pro Jermaine Phillips.
"A lot of times in those cases is the player agent saying, 'My guy is the MVP,' " Idzik said. " 'And even if I take a conservative approach, he is up here.' You say, 'Wow.' And even if I'm willing to do that, I can't do something else. It's always an allocation system. If I overspend a little bit to prevent a guy from going into free agency, my payment is I can't afford to do one or two of these other guys that I want back."
As the NFL combine began Wednesday, Idzik spent much of the morning trying to maneuver the Bucs under the $74.8-million salary cap. Tampa Bay needs to trim $2.5-million from its payroll by Feb. 27 and is attempting to restructure the contracts of several veteran players, including quarterback Brad Johnson, linebacker Derrick Brooks and receiver Keyshawn Johnson.
Another less attractive option would be to release players. The most likely salary-cap casualty could be center Jeff Christy, whose value is $3.955-million against the cap in 2003.
Christy is expected to be asked to restructure his contract to remain with the team, much the way fullback Mike Alstott had his salary reduced before last season.
Other free agents the Bucs would like to re-sign include starting linebacker Alshermond Singleton and backup quarterbacks Rob Johnson and Shaun King.
At 25, King could draw interest from several teams, including the Bears.
"You get nervous because you don't want to lose them," Idzik said. "But we've had examples the last two years where we really wanted guys back and put a priority on it. And free agency opened and we were very fortunate to get those guys back. You just keep the dialogue going. We had a few. (Cornerback) Ronde (Barber) entered free agency and (tackle) Jerry Wunsch entered free agency and we got them back. Just because you didn't get a deal done (by Feb. 28) doesn't mean you're not working on it.
"Are you nervous? Yes. Because when you enter it, it just takes one suitor and you go, 'Wow. I would've never anticipated that.' "