Bucs put franchise tag on Bryant

TAMPA, Fla. -- Determined to hang on to Antonio Bryant, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers placed the franchise tag on the team's leading receiver on Wednesday.

The moves assures Bryant, who revived his career last season after being out of football in 2007, a salary of $9.88 million next season. That's the average of the NFL's five highest-paid players at his position.

Former Bucs coach Jon Gruden signed the 27-year-old last March. Bryant responded with the best season on his career, finishing with 83 catches for 1,248 yards and seven touchdowns while earning $760,000.

It's the first time Tampa Bay has used the franchise tag on a player since the club applied it to retain defensive end Chidi Ahanotu in 1999. Bryant would have become an unrestricted free agent on Feb. 27.

If another team signs the seventh-year pro to an offer sheet, the Bucs can choose to match it or receive two first-round draft picks as compensation.

A second-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys in 2002, Bryant wound up out of football following runs-in with Bill Parcells and Mike Nolan, two of the coaches he's played for during stints with four teams in six years.

In 93 career games, he has 333 receptions for 5,085 yards and 26 TDs. He posted the second-best receiving performance in Bucs history on Dec. 8 with nine catches for 200 yards and two TDs against the Carolina Panthers.