So the Buccaneers are about $16.6 million under the 2007 salary cap, leading one to ask — how did they get to that figure?
Well, here's the explanation. During the regular season, every player's salary counts against the salary cap, with a few exceptions (which we'll go into later). So, in looking at Tampa Bay's $92.394 million in player costs, here's the basic breakdown:
53-man roster: Right now the Bucs are paying $71.158 million to its 53 active players;
Injured reserve: Yes, those salaries count against the cap. The Bucs are currently paying approximately $13.425 million to their dozen players on IR;
Dead money: This is what the league calls money each team is responsible for paying to players they've cut (more on this later). Right now the Bucs have approximately $7.172 million in dead money.
Practice squad: Yep, these players costs count, too. The Bucs maintain an eight-man practice squad. Each player is paid $4,700 per week. Multiply that by eight players and 17 weeks and you get approximately $639,000.
Now, what are we missing? Well, there are a couple of things. First, you're probably wondering about Jake Plummer, the wayward quarterback the Bucs traded for in March who has never reported to the team because he's "retired." Well, Plummer's salary — which is supposed to count $5.503 million against the cap — doesn't. Because he is on Tampa Bay's reserve/did not report list, the Buccaneers get some relief. That's also why the Bucs are currently pursuing getting some of that money back.
Second, there are signing bonuses — however small — paid to players like Kenneth Darby and Marcus Hamilton. Both were seventh-round picks of the Buccaneers, but are now on the practice squad. When each was cut, their rookie contracts, signed in the summer, were terminated. If they're re-signed to the active roster, as Darby was at one point, they sign a new deal for the league minimum. But, each likely received a small signing bonus, money that is guaranteed. When they were cut, that bonus was accelerated to the 2007 cap instead of being pro-rated over the life of the contract. These bonuses were likely minor, but were not figured in this article.
So, where to begin? Let's look at the Bucs' Top 10 earners — by cap figure — for 2007. Not surprisingly, many of them are on defense.
Ronde Barber has the top cap figure on the entire team at $6.5 million — that's his base salary of $3 million, plus his pro-rated bonus money of $3.5 million ($200,000 in signing bonus money, $3 million in a roster bonus and $300,000 in likely to be earned bonuses). So, now you understand how the "cap figure" works, as opposed to what Barber is actually earning.
The next nine? DE Greg Spires ($4.967 million), CB Brian Kelly ($4.436 million), LB Derrick Brooks ($3.750 million), QB Jeff Garcia ($3.5 million), DE Simeon Rice (yes, Rice, $3.2 million — an explanation is coming), RB Carnell Williams ($3.350 million), QB Chris Simms ($3.0 million), WR Joey Galloway ($2.485 million) and S Jermaine Phillips ($2.287 million).
Now, let's talk about Rice. Why is he on the books? That's dead money. When a team releases a player before the end of their contract, any guaranteed money — usually a signing bonus — is still the team's responsibility. That money, usually spread over the life of the contract, is accelerated into the current year's books.
When Rice signed his deal with the Bucs in 2003, he earned an $18.5 million signing bonus. That's paid up front. When he was released in July, the Bucs were absolved of his base salary of $7.25 million. But they still had to count the remaining part of his bonus — $3.2 million — against the salary cap.
The same goes for Shelton Quarles. When he was released in April, the Bucs still had to count some of his bonus money, approximately $1.575 million, against the cap. The Bucs also had to finish counting the bonuses DT Ellis Wyms was owed after he was cut, which was approximately $500,000.
Rice and Quarles are the biggest drags on the Bucs' dead money. Other bonuses that continue to count against the cap include CB Juran Bolden ($166,000), LB Jamie Winborn ($300,000), and CB Alan Zemaitis ($306,000). But in comparison to previous years, the dead money is nothing.
Other salary notes:
Both punter Josh Bidwell and placekicker Matt Bryant make more than $1 million each. That's not unusual, at least as far as Bryant is concerned. Almost all of the NFL's frontline placekickers in 2006 made at least $1 million.
DE Kevin Carter's contract is worked in a superb way, in terms of cap sense. Carter is making $5.2 million in 2007 and $3.8 million in 2008, the first two years of a three-year contract. The catch? It's all base salary. The Bucs did not give him a signing bonus, meaning that if the Bucs were to cut Carter at any time, his entire salary would come off the books. Also, by making his deal for base salary, it also makes it easier for the Bucs to re-work the deal to create cap room. This is a deal the Bucs could not have made two years ago.
How drastic a pay cut did Brooks take after the 2006 season? He counted $6.912 million against the cap in 2006. This year, Brooks only counts $3.750 million. Why? He still makes $3 million in base salary, but his bonus money has been reduced from $3.907 million in 2006 to $750,000 each of the following three seasons. He'll also likely earn another $100,000 each of the next two seasons in likely to be earned bonuses. Brooks essentially gave up $10 million in guaranteed money to give the Bucs cap relief. But he also made it far easier for the Bucs to cut him before the end of his contract.
New RB Michael Bennett was to make $1.2 million this year, but the Bucs are likely only responsible for a pro-rated amount of that contract, probably around $700,000.
The best bargain on the roster? It has to be LB Barrett Ruud. He could nab a Pro Bowl berth this year and he's in the third year of a four-year contract in which he'll count just $950,000 against the salary cap. He also counts $991,000 against the 2008 cap. I think he's a prime candidate to have his deal re-worked this offseason. The Bucs did the same things with S Jermaine Phillips in 2004, the year before the end of his original deal with the team.
Who's the most overpaid? It's probably Kelly, who is believed to be unhappy with his contract. Well, he counts nearly $4.5 million against the cap this season and has missed the majority of the first nine games. Plus, he missed most of last season. I think he's a prime candidate to be cut this offseason. His cap figure right now looks about the same next season. But, his bonus figure is only about $450,000 and he's only due a $1 million roster bonus. The remaining $3 million is base salary and that money is not guaranteed.
Finally, on the quarterbacks. Jeff Garcia's contract calls for $2 million in base salary and $1.5 million in signing bonus money this season and next season. Chris Simms' deal features $2 million in base salary each season, but pro-rated bonus money amounting to $3 million. Also Simms could make $2.5 million next season in bonus money, but they're considered "not likely to be earned" bonuses, which don't count against the salary cap.
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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.