Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik would like to have free-agent left defensive end Michael Bennett back for next year, but only at the Bucs’ price.
And that price does not include the cost of either the franchise or transition tag.
“We’re not going to use the franchise or transition tag on any player on our roster this year,’’ Dominik said.
Bennett is arguably the Bucs’ top unrestricted free agent. A staunch run stopper, he also led the team with 9-1/2 sacks in 2012, his fourth season out of Texas A&M and second as a starter.
Dominik could keep him off the open market by putting the $10.984-million franchise tag or $8.994-million transition tag on him, but his unwillingness to do so suggests the value he has on Bennett is less than those figures.
Dominik informed Bennett’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, of his intentions during a face-to-face meeting Friday, but Dominik is hopeful he can keep Bennett and some of Tampa Bay’s other free agents from reaching the marketplace.
The team has $30.1 million in salary cap space approaching the start of the free-agency signing period on March 12.
Will Bennett be unsigned when free agency begins?
“I wouldn’t say that yet,” Dominik said. “But at the same time, we’re not going to be in a rush to sign someone.
“We want to make sure we utilize (our cap space) to its best possible potential, because there are a lot of teams that are over the cap and in tough situations and we don’t want to get in that position. So, we’re going to be very smart with how we use the actual salary cap space that we have and the amount going forward, whatever that is and however long it takes.’’
One reason the Bucs don’t feel a need to overspend for Bennett is the presence of third-year defensive end Da’Quan Bowers, a second-round draft pick from Clemson in 2010.
Though Bowers is charged with felony gun possession after an arrest in New York earlier this week, the Bucs are confident he will avoid jail time and be able to fulfill their plans for him.
Dominik also is counting on the return of right end Adrian Clayborn from a knee injury.
“Da’Quan is a guy who I thought accelerated his play throughout the end of the (2012) season, and the more we can get him on the field the better I think we’ll be as a football team,’’ Dominik said.
“That’s part of our thought process going forward, along with hopefully getting Adrian Clayborn back at 100 percent and pairing him with a guy like Da’Quan, who we feel can be a premier left end in this league.’’
Rosenhaus, who also represents free agent cornerback E.J. Biggers, is not the only agent Dominik expected to meet with before leaving the NFL scouting combine next week.
“We’re trying to meet with the agents of every single one of our free agents so they can understand the direction we’re taking, where we’re heading,’’ Dominik said. “We’re still having negotiations or conversations with them.
“It’s hard to say whether they will be productive or not, but it’s certainly something we try to do – have meetings with the agents of our free agents and have meaningful dialogue.’’
Dominik’s meetings also will include discussions with agents for the team’s restricted free agents: running back LeGarrette Blount, defensive end Daniel Te’O-Nesheim, defensive tackle Corvey Irvin and linebacker Jacob Cutrera.
Dominik, who has expressed a desire to keep Blount, Te’O-Nesheim and Cutrera, has until March 12 to submit a qualifying offers to retain the right of first refusal on a contract offer or draft-pick compensation for a player’s loss.