Jon Gruden seemed elated that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were out of salary cap purgatory last spring.
Did the Buccaneers spend, spend, spend their newfound wealth? No, they didn't. And, by doing so, they may have set themselves up for a big 2008 on the free agent market.
In this portion of my Buccaneers salary cap update, I'll explore the basics of the Bucs' salary cap situation for 2007 and for 2008. Later, in premium articles, I'll go in-depth on how their money is broken down, who will come off the cap next year and what Buccaneers will be free agents in 2008.
At the beginning of last offseason, Bucs general manager Bruce Allen told the media that the Bucs were $24 million under the 2007 salary cap, $36 million under the 2008 salary cap and $49 million under the 2009 salary cap. That's a long way from where the Buccaneers were when Allen arrived after the 2003 season.
"We're in the top half of the league this year," Allen said in January. "We're in the top third in '08, in the top quarter in '09, which in a comparison with that, in '04, we were last in the NFC. And three years ago we were last in '05 in the NFC and we were last in '06 in the NFC at that point, in January '04."
The Buccaneers adopted a judicious approach to free agency this year, opting not to break the bank. Part of that was beyond their control. Thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, almost every NFL team got relief from the salary cap, thus giving each team more money to sign free agents. Players like Cincinnati lineman Eric Steinbach, who the Bucs coveted, never made it to Tampa Bay as they were snapped up early in a spending frenzy the NFL had not seen in years.
The 2007 salary cap was approximately $109 million. The Buccaneers have not come close to exceeding that mark this season.
As of now, the Bucs have spent approximately $92.394 million dollars in player costs this season, giving them approximately $16.6 million in money to work with. At this point in the season the Bucs aren't going to make any moves that will eat up that cap space. But, if the Bucs had chosen to make a flashy trade during the offseason or the regular season for a top tier player, they could have absorbed just about any contract.
Now, in terms of next season, the Buccaneers' restraint on the free agent market in 2007 may prove prophetic. Tampa Bay stands to have approximately $29.4 million to invest in players (that includes the cost to sign whatever rookies they select in the draft). Plus, in the offseason the NFL only forces the Buccaneers to count their Top 51 salaries against the cap. Currently the Buccaneers have 48 players under contract for 2008 at a cost of $86.575 million.
Also, at this time, approximately $13.269 million in player costs will come off the Bucs' books in the way of current players who are eligible for free agency.
In other words, if the Bucs want to be players in free agency this year, money won't be an excuse.
Salary figures used in this article were compiled through league sources, the NFL Players Association and published reports.
Want to know why Jake Plummer's contract isn't a drag on the 2007 salary cap? Want to know who the highest-paid Buccaneer is? Want to find out which former Buccaneers are still counting against the salary cap? Click here to read our exclusive 2007 salary cap report and find out.
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Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for Bucsblitz.com and the Charlotte (Fla.) Sun-Herald. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and his coverage of the Buccaneers has won numerous state and national awards.