So you're trying to figure out what the Buccaneers might have to spend next season on free agents and rookies. Well, look no further. I've already done the research for you.
And the news is very good.
If you're read my earlier pieces, you know the Bucs were in fine salary cap shape in 2007. So, it stands to reason the Buccaneers will be in great shape for 2008. That is certainly the case.
Tampa Bay has approximately $86.575 million in player costs for 2008 already on their books. Given that the 2008 salary cap will be $116 million, the Buccaneers should have about $29.4 million to work with. That certainly puts them among the top half of the teams in the league in cap space.
But it could be more, and I'll explain further later. But let's first break down where the Bucs stand now:
48 players under contract: Right now the Bucs are set to pay $86.575 million;
Money coming off the books: This is in the form of dead cap space (bonus money the Bucs had to count for players they've cut) and players that are set to be free agents. This figure comes to $13.269 million.
Jake Plummer: He is set to make $6.252 million in 2008.
Now, at the moment, Plummer does not count against the Bucs' salary cap because he is on their reserve/did not report list. By putting Plummer there, it gives the team cap relief. I included Plummer's 2008 salary in my figures because it's unclear if he'll remain on that reserve list after the season or return to the active roster. If Plummer remains on the list, his money will not count against the cap and the Bucs will get another $6 million in space to work with, boosting their figure to nearly $36 million.
And, in case you're wondering about cutting Plummer, that may cost the Bucs more than keeping him. Because they are now responsible for his contract, if they cut him after this season they are responsible for counting his remaining pro-rated signing bonus, which is about $8.1 million. That's why the Bucs are pursuing some of his signing bonus money through the NFLPA.
Oddly, Plummer's cap figure will be the largest of the entire team next season. DE Greg Spires has the next largest at $4.361 million. Now, during the offseason, only the Top 51 salaries count against the cap. That means that most of the first-year players the Buccaneers will sign after the regular season will not count against their cap.
At the moment, 16 players are scheduled to be free agents after the season, brining their salaries off the books — FB Mike Alstott, TE Keith Heinrich, WR Mark Jones, DT Jovan Haye, WR Paris Warren, LB Antoine Cash, LT Donald Penn, CB Sammy Davis, LS Andrew Economos, G Matt Lehr, S Kalvin Pearson, TE Jerramy Stevens, LB Jeremiah Trotter, DE Greg White, DT Charles Bennett and RB Michael Bennett. Only Alstott ($1.5 million), Trotter ($1 million) and Bennett ($1.5 million) are making more than $1 million in 2007.
The Bucs will also get back another $3.2 million as DE Simeon Rice's pro-rated signing bonus expires.
Now, the Buccaneers can create even more cap space. How? By releasing veterans. Now, understand that they don't have to do that, given their current cap room. But, if they choose to go after a top-tier free agent, they may choose to create more room by releasing a veteran.
Take CB Brian Kelly. He counted $4.436 million against the 2007 salary cap, and he's set to count $4.653 million in 2008, the final year of his deal. Why cut Kelly? Well, he's missed portions of the 2003, 2006 and 2007 seasons with injuries. Plus, the Buccaneers now seem to have a viable alternative in Phillip Buchanon. Is Kelly worth that money? That's up to the Bucs. But if they decide to cut him, his contract is favorable to create minimal cap impact. His base salary is $3.2 million, which is not guaranteed. His bonus money, however, is just a pro-rated amount of $453,000. Plus, he's due a roster bonus of $1 million, which the Bucs would not be responsible for if he were cut. The Buccaneers could potentially save $4 million by cutting Kelly and going after a younger cornerback who is less of an injury risk.
The Bucs could take that approach with several veterans, if they choose. But I'll explore that in another article.
Note that the Bucs must take into account the cost of signing its draft picks when massaging the salary cap. They'll need to leave enough room to sign their picks, no matter whom they sign or release.
Other salary notes for 2008:
CB Ronde Barber's cap hit drops almost $3 million in 2008. He counted $6.5 million against the 2007 cap, but will count only $3.9 million in 2008. Why? Barber was due a $3 million roster bonus in 2007, which comes off the books. Plus, the Bucs front-loaded his signing bonus money, counting $1.564 million against the cap in 2006, and $200,000 each of the next four years of his deal.
2008 will be the last year the Bucs will get DT Chris Hovan on the cheap. He'll count $2.9 million against the cap in 2008, but that figure will escalate to $4.3 million in 2009 and $5.3 million in 2010. That's because he re-worked his contract to alleviate the Bucs' cap woes in 2006. He'll be due $3 million in base salary in 2009 and $4 million in base salary in 2010, inflating his cap figure.
There is an escalator clause in RB Carnell Williams' contract that could net him an extra $4.65 million in 2008.
C John Wade's contract features voidable years in 2008 and 2009. It's not clear if it's the team's right or Wade's right to void the deal.
WR Ike Hilliard will continue to be a bargain beyond this season. He's scheduled to count $1.325 million against the cap in 2008 and $1.325 million against the cap in 2009.
TE Alex Smith's contract features an escalator that could net him an extra $2 million in 2008.
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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.