Bucs’ Options Wide Open as Draft Day Arrives

After all the workouts, mock drafts, and ad nauseum labor dispute reports, the first semi-tangible sign of a return to football normalcy is upon NFL fans, teams, and prospects, as the NFL draft will begin this evening at 7:30 pm ET at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. The Buccaneers have a total of eight selections, with picks in all seven rounds and an additional seventh-round compensatory pick.

So where will the Buccaneers go with the 20th overall pick? Defensive end? Cornerback? Linebacker? Most mock drafts have them selecting one of the several defensive ends projected in the first round.

However, it gets a little bit more complicated thereafter.

With the lockout lifted, for now, the chance of a season, and thus a free agency, just increased significantly. Moreover, the league, if denied on appeal, would almost certainly implement the uncapped 2010 CBA rules in the event a new CBA is not reached quickly. Given that negotiations likely just got a good bit more personal between the players and owners, an agreement on a new CBA might not be in the works for a while. Thus, the Bucs could very well be looking at a situation where players who would normally be unrestricted free agents with 4+ years of service are restricted free agents. Quincy Black, Davin Joseph, Adam Hayward, Jeremy Trueblood all would conceivably fall in that group.

If there’s an increased chance the Bucs might be able to retain the rights of some of these players for at least another year, that could affect their draft plans to some degree. Last week at his press conference, I asked Mark Dominik how the lockout (which was still in full effect) would affect his draft strategy.

“It opens up our board even more,” Dominik said. “Right now there’s questions on our roster on who’s gonna be back and who’s not.”

Estimating what the roster will look like and who is likely to return is an important consideration when determining draft needs. It only makes sense that the Bucs have to consider that they have a limited number of players under contract for 2011, especially at tight end and linebacker.

So could potentially having the restricted free agency rights to Quincy Black and Adam Hayward, to go with Dekoda Watson, Tyrone McKenzie, and Geno Hayes, affect the priority of the Bucs grading a linebacker over another otherwise pressing position? Possibly.

However, according to Dominik, there is one position he always looks at: cornerback.

“I don’t think you can ever have enough cornerbacks,” Dominik said. “I think every draft we walk into cornerback is going to be a need for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.”

As for offensive line, retaining restricted free agency rights for Joseph and Trueblood could help mitigate the need to find help through free agency and the draft to some degree.

Despite all of the offseason uncertainly, one thing appears to be a good bet: the Bucs’ draft options are as wide open as the locker room doors at One Buc Place will be shortly.