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Tampa Bay Buccaneers make it clear they want WR Chris Godwin back heading into free agency

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TAMPA, Fla. -- Two prevailing themes throughout Tampa Bay Buccaneers-related discussions among NFL executives, scouts and coaches at the NFL combine in Indianapolis last week were:

1. The uncertainty at quarterback, which won’t be answered until at least March 14 when legal tampering kicks off.

2. Wide receiver Chris Godwin is too important to lose and cannot hit the open market.

“Chris is so valuable to what we do, and obviously, we really, really want him back,” Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians said last week.

Godwin’s representatives met with the Buccaneers in Indianapolis, and both sides said those conversations were positive and that Godwin’s asking price was fair and reasonable.

Barring an agreement at the 11th hour, which is unlikely, the Bucs are prepared to franchise-tag Godwin by Tuesday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline, which would cost the Bucs roughly $19.18 million after paying him $15.98 million to play under the franchise tag last season.

A franchise tag doesn’t automatically mean a long-term deal won’t get done, and sources close to these negotiations emphasized that. The Bucs would still have until July 15 to negotiate for the upcoming season.

The Dallas Cowboys placed the tag on quarterback Dak Prescott before last year’s franchise tag deadline, but it was considered merely a procedural move before Prescott signed his long-term extension, which he did.

But the NFL mandates that a second consecutive franchise tag for a player costs at least 120% more than the player’s previous salary. The drawbacks are that it allows no salary-cap relief (as compared to a contract that could spread the cap hit out over years, something the Bucs could really use) and teams cannot tag a player more than three times. They also could theoretically get a new deal done before free agency begins on March 16.

Kenny Golladay helped drive up the market for wide receivers when he signed a four-year contract with the New York Giants worth $72 million last March. Expect Godwin, who turned 26 in February, to look for a three-year deal so he could reenter free agency before age 30 -- which would allow him to cash in again, assuming he maintains his level of play.

If the Bucs do tag Godwin, it precludes them from tagging cornerback Carlton Davis, a player some had pegged the Bucs to tagging and whom the Bucs said they’d be open to tagging.

But Davis is coming off a season when he missed five games and had just one interception. While he is a strong press corner and arguably the Bucs’ best corner, teams around the league still look at stats. Two years ago, he had a personal-best four interceptions, but it was still tied for seventh in the league (Xavien Howard led the league with 10 that season).

Godwin spent two seasons catching passes from quarterback Tom Brady, who recently retired. But Godwin also had a 1,000-yard season with Jameis Winston -- further proof of why the wideout is well-respected in NFL circles.

Godwin is coming off an 1,103-yard season despite missing the final three games with a torn ACL and MCL, which he underwent surgery to repair on Jan. 3. Prior to his absence, Godwin’s team-leading 1,054 receiving yards were fourth most in the NFL. Arians said he believes Godwin is about 45 percent recovered.

“Knowing Chris and the way he works -- he had a good surgery, and those guys are coming back faster and faster now -- I don’t think that’s going to be a problem at all,” Arians said.