GREEN BAY – The Green Bay Packers knew they were taking a risk by not giving tight end Tom Crabtree a restricted free-agent tender.
On Friday night, that decision came back to haunt them.
An NFL source said that Crabtree had agreed to terms with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a little more than three days after the Packers chose not to put even the lowest tender on him, making him an unrestricted free agent. Terms of the deal weren't immediately known.
Crabtree confirmed the news via a text message later Friday night but declined further comment until Saturday.
A league source said the Packers had indicated to Crabtree they did want him back, but the Packers gave up the right to match any offer he received when they chose not to tender him. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers expressed on Twitter his disappointment in losing his friend to Tampa Bay, posting, "Had a lot of teammates in 8 yrs in GB. Few that I enjoyed as much as @TCrabtree83. Your tats, mustache n poor taste in music will be missed."
At tight end, the Packers now have starter Jermichael Finley, third-year players D.J. Williams and Ryan Taylor, and Andrew Quarless, who missed the entire season after a December 2011 knee injury.
Because Crabtree entered the league as an undrafted free agent, if the Packers had placed the lowest tender on him ($1.3 million), they would not have received any draft-pick compensation had he signed an offer from another team and the Packers not matched it. However, they would have kept the right to match that offer.
It was unclear Friday night if Crabtree gave the Packers a chance to match the Bucs’ offer. Crabtree had been on vacation in Tennessee with his family when the deal came together.
Playing 389 snaps in regular-season and postseason play, Crabtree had eight receptions for a whopping 203 yards and three touchdowns last season. He had some memorable moments, including a 72-yard touchdown catch-and-run and a 27-yard TD on a fake field goal, and was also the team’s best blocking tight end and vital to special teams.
The Packers also chose not to tender two other restricted free agents, outside linebacker Frank Zombo and inside linebacker Robert Francois, both of whom then became unrestricted free agents. While Francois re-signed with the Packers for a one-year deal, Zombo remains on the market.
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