Why Leaf Was Cut And The Salary Cap Ramifications

September 4 - The Tampa Bay Buccaneers cut QB Ryan Leaf for a combination of reasons, and it's more than just money. Buccaneer Magazine lays out 5 reasons why Joe Hamilton is the No. 3 and why Leaf is looking for a new team, and we have the salary cap ramifications of the Bucs cutting Leaf and adding wide receiver Milton Wynn.

Quarterback Ryan Leaf was sent packing by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday after a training camp in which he could not beat out Joe Hamilton for the No. 3 quarterback position. Leaf moved from No. 3 on the team's depth chart heading into training camp to No. 4 after a better preseason showing by Hamilton.

In four preseason games, Hamilton completed 11-of-19 passes for 94 yards (57.9 percent) and had one touchdown pass to compile an 88.5 QB rating, which was the highest on the team. Leaf completed just 7-of-19 passes for 81 yards with one interception and a QB rating of only 28.6.

The Bucs toyed with the idea of keeping four quarterbacks on their roster, and for one day, they did. But one day after the team trimmed its roster down to 53 players, the Bucs coaches and personnel staffers determined it would be best to waive Leaf, whom they picked up on waivers from San Diego in the offseason.

Aside from Hamilton beating Leaf out for the No. 3 spot, there were these other factors that led to his departure:

1. There wasn't much logic in Leaf, being the fourth quarterback, making $900,000 in base salary this year. That's more money than Shaun King ($325,000) and Joe Hamilton ($275,000) will make this year combined in base salary. The team asked Leaf to take a pay cut of around $200,000 to help the team, and he refused. It would certainly make for an awkward situation in the locker room having a high-paid as the fourth-string QB. If the team had placed him on injured reserve, they still would have had to pay him the money, and he still would have been the team's No. 4 QB. But Leaf's refusal wasn't the only reason why the Bucs waived him.

2. Leaf would hardly get any reps this year, and if the team wanted to redshirt someone, why not redshirt a player like wide receiver Milton Wynn, a receiver they were very high on, according to a report in last week's Buccaneer Magazine. With the Bucs only having two receivers under contract for the 2002 season - Keyshawn Johnson and Frank Murphy - Wynn gives them a receiver that they can develop over the course of a year so that he can know the offense and contribute next season.

Leaf wouldn't have made much on-field progress this season and would basically have to wait until the spring mini-camp to continue his development. Quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell would spend more time getting Brad Johnson ready for his weekly opponent than he would teaching Leaf. Most coaches spend only the spring and summer in the teaching mode. When the season hits, it becomes a preparation mode.

3. With the advanced development and track record for success that Shaun King has, the team had a hard time envisioning Leaf ever catching up to the ever-improving King and becoming the team's starter over time. With Leaf due to make a little over $900,000 this year, $1 million in 2002 plus a $500,000 reporting bonus, and then $7.2 million in 2003, Leaf was too expensive to keep over the long haul after not showing much development this season. King's contract is up after 2002 and has proven that he is worth receiving a long-term contract extension. How large that extension is depends on King's future progress.

Sure, Leaf's ailing wrist may have played a factor in his poor performance, but the Bucs would never know if his accuracy or production would have increased with a healthy wrist, and if it did, by how much.

4. The Bucs actually saved some money by cutting Leaf. Leaf was scheduled to make $900,000 this season, and the Bucs are now only obligated to his $600,000 signing bonus on the salary cap. If Leaf is claimed by another team today off of the waiver wire, the Bucs' salary cap will be hit by all $600,000 on this year's cap. If Leaf clears waivers and then signs with another team as a free agent, the Bucs' cap will only be hit $200,000 this year (his proration from his $600,000 signing bonus spread over the three-year contract), and then $400,000 on next season's cap.

The difference is a savings of $300,000, which will pay for new receiver Milton Wynn's contract. Wynn, who was claimed off of waivers on Monday, was signed to a three-year deal by the St. Louis Rams, who drafted him in the fourth round, and is scheduled to earn $289,000 in 2001, $298,000 in 2002 and $389,000 in 2003. He also has workout bonuses of $5,800 in 2002 and $6,400 in 2003. Wynn's signing bonus of $291,000 will hit the Rams' cap.

5. Hamilton's popularity may have also played a small factor. He is a favorite of head coach Tony Dungy and gets along well with all of the players. Leaf was a model citizen in Tampa, but was often seen by himself in the locker room. Dungy made it clear that the 53 most talented guys wouldn't comprise the team, and that it would be the 53 players who gave the Bucs the best talent and chemistry.

Hamilton also makes a better practice squad quarterback than Leaf would have. The mobile Hamilton can simulate the quickness of several quarterbacks that the Bucs' defense will face this season, such as Quincy Carter, Donovan McNabb, Daunte Culpepper, Kordell Stewart and Aaron Brooks among others.


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