The announcement, as it often does from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, came via press release.
It's hard to determine why the Bucs made the move, but it likely comes down to age. Both players are entering their mid-30s and are likely to experience a diminishing of their skills soon. Spires missed several games with an injury. Carter, of course, is one of the NFL's most durable players. But eventually his body, as all NFL bodies do, will break down.
It's still curious, though, for a team to release two players even though they're reportedly nursing $35 million in salary cap space entering free agency on Friday. So what does it mean?
Well, first let's talk about the savings the Bucs will receive. When the Bucs signed Carter last year they did so without paying him a salary bonus. His entire contract was base salary. So, if the Bucs ever decided to cut him, they could do so without taking a cap hit. The savings? $3.8 million.
As for Spires, he had two years left on a deal that was to pay him $3.894 million in base salary in 2008 and $4.2 million in 2009. Spires did have a prorated salary bonus — $467,000 over each of the next two years. So take his $3.894 million in base salary and subtract the $467,000 prorated bonus and you get approximately $3.3 million in cap space in 2008.
So by cutting Carter and Spires the Buccaneers cleared approximately $7.1 million in cap space, brining their projected salary cap total to $42.1 million.
Whoa. So now what?
The Buccaneers, as a rule for the past several years, have pursued mid-tier and lower-tier free agents, partly out of necessity. They didn't have the cap space to pursue the top-tier free agents until last year. Even then, when the Bucs finally had the money, Carter and Jeff Garcia represented their top signings. The total outlay? About $10 million in salary and bonus money.
So does this signal a shift in the team's philosophy? Scout.com's Senior NFL Writer, Adam Caplan, said he was taken aback by the move. He told Bucsblitz.com on Wednesday that the Bucs have traditionally been thrifty spenders in free agency.
So what now?
"I was a little surprised at what they did there, which could indicate that they finally may spend a lot of money in free agency," Caplan said.
In examining the situation, three conclusions come to mind. First, the Buccaneers will likely pursue defensive ends in free agency. By cutting Carter and Spires, the Bucs now have only Gaines Adams and Greg White as pure defensive ends. Jovan Haye can play end, but he is a restricted free agent and as of Wednesday night he had not been tendered a contract offer. If Haye is allowed to depart, the Bucs will be in desperate need of defensive end help.
So who's available? One name leaps immediately to mind — Cincinnati's Justin Smith. The seven-year veteran is considered a solid pass rusher, and just as importantly a solid run stopper, something the Bucs will need on the left side in 2008. Smith is one of two five-star free agents on the market, the other being Kansas City's Jared Allen, who has been franchised.
Caplan agrees Smith is a possibility, but that the market for Smith's services will be competitive.
There is also Tennessee's Antwan Odom, a player that Bucsblitz.com liked in his appearance at Raymond James Stadium last year.
But the market is pretty bare after that, mostly mid-tier free agents that won't cost the Bucs much and won't demand their attention at the start of free agency.
Possibility two? That the Bucs are preparing to make a player at another position a big offer, perhaps an Asante Samuel or a player of that level. Caplan threw water on that idea on Wednesday, and he doesn't think anything has changed. He believes the $30 million in guaranteed money that Samuel is seeking will be too rich for Tampa Bay's blood.
"I would think they would look at defensive end and wide receiver hard," Caplan said.
Possibility three? They're clearing cap space for a potential trade for a top-tier player with a big contract. Both GM Bruce Allen and head coach Jon Gruden have hinted in the past that the extra cap space allows them flexibility in that regard.
But who could it be? Javon Walker? Talk about a trade for Walker is cooling. Maybe Shaun Rogers of Detroit? He's definitely on the block and he could be a huge answer to the Bucs' need at defensive tackle.
Or it could be a player we don't know about yet.
The Bucs know their roster still needs to get younger, and by cutting Carter and Spires they accomplished that. But to get younger, and to remain talented enough to be one of the best defenses in the NFL in 2008, they're going to have to do something they're not used to.
Spend some money.
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. An award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he appears frequently on Scot Brantley Show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1470-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.