Over the years, June 1 has become a popular NFL holiday. It's a date in which some teams choose to release players for temporary cap relief while some other teams take advantage by signing those players for what is usually a lower salary.
The NFL contract year runs from March 1 to February. Teams opt to wait until June 1 to release players because the cap hit is much friendlier. For example, let's just say a player signed a six-year contract worth $8 million in 2000 and now has four years remaining on it. The player earns $1 million in base salary and an average of $334,000 in signing bonus per season. He's already earned $2 million in base salary and $667,000 in signing bonus. If that player is paid the signing bonus in $334,000 installments per season and his team chooses to cut him on or after June 1, 2002, the team realizes the savings of $4 million in base salary, but $334,000 of the remaining $1.336 million will hit this year's cap and the remaining $1.002 million will be a absorbed by the team in 2003. If the team released the player before June 1, they'd take the entire $1.336 million cap hit in 2002.
"The rule is in place so that if a team decides to jettison a player, it has substantial future pro-ration they can do only after June 1," said Bucs general Rich McKay. "Otherwise pro-ration is accelerated and the reason for that is a pretty good one, because it says to those teams that have decided to spend a lot of money on free agency than to accordingly pro rate out the future years of the cap hit for free agency. It also says to them, if you are going to do that and change your mind, we are not going to let you do it again that next year. In other words, you are going to have a problem if you decide to cut those players in February or March because we are going to make all the future accelerate into this year and you won't have any room to spend."
McKay insists that roster additions that come as a result of June 1 cuts are a way to add missing pieces, not a way to put together an entire puzzle.
"You are dealing with players that are coming in late in the system and you have already had some mini-camps, and you are set and ready for the season," said McKay. "Can it give you a way to get one or two players? Maybe. As a base, is it a way to add four or five (players)? No, it's very difficult to do. First of all, most of the teams don't have the salary cap to do it and secondly, it is hard to assimilate those players into your system and into your football team. I don't see that as a way to do it. It's very hard to do."
The Bucs plan on being a player in free agency on and/or after June 1, but don't expect them to add more than one or two more veteran players that are released by their respective teams.
"Based on the list that we have seen and what is going to be available, we will probably only entertain one or two players," said McKay. "Of the guys we are talking about, I would say one of them has a chance at being a starter and the other one is probably more of the reserve type, but we're not going to be visiting a bunch of player because our team is pretty well set. I do think we will sign one or two guys and one of them has a good chance at being a starter."
While other teams will be clearing room under their salary cap, the Bucs don't anticipate having to make any significant June 1 roster cuts.
"We had a plan going in and we stuck completely to it," said McKay. "We're not in a situation where we will have to jettison players to make room. We're not in a situation where we have to re-do contracts to make room. We've had a plan and stuck with it and it's worked pretty well from a cap standpoint. We should be fine. We should have plenty of room to sign our rookies and to sign the one or two players we have left."
Which one or two players will the Bucs pursue? The Bucs will likely target a veteran linebacker. Jacksonville middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson, a former Buc, might be an attractive option for the Pewter Pirates. He will likely be released on June 1 in a salary cap maneuver. While bringing in a player like Nickerson, who played in Tampa Bay's defensive scheme, might have its advantages, the four-time Pro Bowler could opt to retire or another team could outbid the Bucs for the veteran middle linebacker's services. Linebacker Robert Jones, who was recently released by Houston, is a player the Bucs might look at. Linebackers Ed McDaniel and Lee Woodall are also possibilities.
Tampa Bay has made it no secret that they're interested in signing another veteran wide receiver. Some of the veteran receivers that could become available on or after June 1 are Kansas City WR Derrick Alexander, Green Bay WR Antonio Freeman and Jacksonville WR Keenan McCardell. But by adding WR Joe Jurevicius in free agency and WR Marquise Walker via the draft, Tampa Bay isn't desperate for another receiver.
"It's been written and talked about that we'll look at the receiver position post-June 1 and we will," McKay said. "I think the nice thing is, when we were able to add (Joe) Jurevicius and Marquis Walker, we now like the depth we have for six wide receivers, if you will from top to bottom. We got into the season and we can start the season and I think Jon (Gruden) is comfortable saying we're good enough. But if one or two guys were available that would fit what we need, or like to have, we'll go after them."
Alexander and McCardell will likely be at the top of Tampa Bay's wish list, but the Bucs won't be the only team interested in their services. The Bucs would also like to sign the player(s) they target on or after June 1 before the team's next mini-camp, which runs from Thursday, June 13 to Saturday, June 15 at One Buccaneer Place. Both of those issues will cause the Bucs to move quickly in their pursuit of free agents.
"I think you have to always move quickly, which doesn't mean you are going to get him signed," said McKay. "That is one of the down sides in free agency because when you get the articles and the talk about a player there is that sense that it has to happen now and that is not necessarily the case because again that player at that point is driving that train and he gets to decide that time table, you don't. So, we will see how long this process plays itself out."
Another possible factor that could hinder Tampa Bay's pursuit of a free agent(s) is the fact that teams are not required to release players on June 1. They can release players whenever they see fit, which can sometimes cause teams to look elsewhere for help rather than wait and see if a player is in fact released.
"There's no law that the guy has to be waived June 1 or June 2," McKay said. "Teams can hold them until June 30. Teams can hold them until July 15. Until they need the room. They don't have to waive the player."
The Buccaneers have already made a significant splash in free agency this offseason. In addition to Jurevicius, the Bucs have landed running back Michael Pittman, tight ends Marco Battaglia and Ken Dilger, QB Rob Johnson, left guard Kerry Jenkins, offensive tackle Roman Oben, defensive end Greg Spires, WR Keith Poole and punter Tom Tupa.
The Bucs believe they have landed at least a handful of those free agents for less money than some other teams were offering them. McKay feels this will help the team land the final one or two free agents they pursue on or after June 1.
"The thing we have been able to do here is establish this franchise as a pretty good place to come and play," said McKay. "When you do that, they (the free agents) will be calling. We signed some players this year that I think we clearly signed for less money that they could get elsewhere. But again, we live in Tampa. We play in a stadium that is a pretty good place to play. This is a good environment. I think that helps us a lot."
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