Good enough to date, but not good enough to marry. That's pretty much how Donald Penn felt Friday after the Bucs took the step necessary to minimize their chances of losing the left tackle during free agency.
"I feel blessed that they see me as one of the best in the league, but that still hasn't (translated) into a long-term contract, and that's tough," Penn said of the Bucs' decision to put a first- and third-round tender on him.
The application means any team wishing to sign the restricted free agent will have to give the Bucs a first- and a third-round draft pick in this year's draft.
The tender also calls for Penn to receive a 2010 salary of $3.2 million, and he wasn't the only prospective restricted free agent to be tagged by the Bucs. Linebacker Barrett Ruud was given the same tender.
Running back Cadillac Williams, meanwhile, was given a tender that guarantees him a 10-percent raise on his 2009 salary of $2.1 million and requires a club signing him to compensate the Bucs with a first-round pick.
The Bucs also placed an original-draft-position tender on right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, meaning a team signing him would have to compensate the Bucs with a second-round draft pick. Trueblood will earn $1.8 million in 2009.
Penn, Ruud and Williams were due to become unrestricted free agents, but the likely lack of an extension to the collective bargaining agreement means they will be limited to restricted status when free agency begins Friday.
The Bucs have the chance to match any offer a restricted free agent receives from another team, but Penn knows from experience that offers to restricted free agents are few and far between.
"This is two years in a row now that I've been through this," said Penn, who entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2006. "And believe me, I'm grateful for what I have. But it's still tough.
"I mean, we haven't talked about a long-term contract in almost a year now. The last time we talked before (Friday) was last year just before the start of the season, when contract talks broke off."
Bucs GM Mark Dominik said the tenders are a part of the business side of the NFL, which is deeply embroiled in a labor dispute with the players' union over the new bargaining agreement.
The fallout is allowing teams to retain players such as Penn and Ruud for another year without having to offer them long-term contracts. Dominik said the Bucs are simply taking advantage of those rules.
The Bucs still must decide whether to make tender offers to four potential restricted free agents: receivers Maurice Stovall and Mark Bradley, fullback Byron Storer and linebacker Rod Wilson.
The Bucs have meetings planned with the agents for those players, Dominik said.
Keep him or cut him: Be the Bucs' GM
Who would you bring back for the Bucs next season and who would you let go?
Tuesday, March 2: Defensive backs
Wednesday, March 3: Receivers/tight ends
Thursday, March 4: Summary and results