Indications are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will use their franchise tag on wide receiver Antonio Bryant unless they can reach an agreement with him before the 3 p.m. deadline Thursday for teams to use the tag.
That means safety Jermaine Phillips could be headed to the open market starting Feb. 27. Phillips is considered one of the top safeties but it's unknown if he will re-sign with the Buccaneers. He flourished the past few seasons under new head coach Raheem Norris, and the Bucs have a bounty of space available under the salary cap to make a deal. However, Tampa Bay used a second-round pick on Sabby Piscitelli in 2007, and the Bucs could be ready to slide him into a starting role.
Phillips played strong safety for the Bucs but looks to fit the mold of what the Bears need. He's a physical performer at 6-2, 220 pounds, and he has some cover skills. He's made nine interceptions over the last three seasons. But at what price would Phillips come? He turns 30 next month and the fifth-round pick from Georgia in 2002 has a lot of football under his belt. He missed five games last season with a broken left arm and eventually landed on injured reserve. He missed time in 2004 with a broken right arm.
At any rate, Phillips is one to keep an eye on as we move closer to free agency. The Bears have done a decent job of finding talent in the mid to late rounds of the draft at the position but would they want to plug a rookie in next to Kevin Payne? Lovie Smith certainly isn't afraid to go with young players.