With Carter and Spires gone, the Buccaneers had about $43 million to work with as they signed Saints C Jeff Faine, Chiefs DE Jimmy Wilkerson and Bears TE John Gilmore on the first two days of free agency. The Bucs shelled out $37.5 million to Faine, taking up a good portion of the Buccaneers' projected cap figure.
Do the math. Faine's deal averages about $7.5 million per year. Subtract that from $43 million and you get approximately $35.5 million in cap space from the Bucs' $116 million in total salary for 2008.
Except that's not totally accurate. According to figures from the NFL, as reported by SI.com's Reuben Frank, the Bucs actually have a cap threshold of $130 million in 2008.
Now you're confused, and that's understandable.
The answers are in the NFL's Collective Bargaining Agreement and were broken down by Frank in a recent online article. The article reveals that the Buccaneers actually have an "adjusted" cap figure of $130 million in 2008, well above the $116.7 million figure you've heard thrown around as the maximum teams can spend.
So how can this be?
According to Frank, teams can create credit for the next cap year through "likely to be earned" bonus categories. These are the performance bonuses built into many players' contracts.
The regulation is one you've probably never heard of — Article XXIV, Section 7, section ii, paragraph c, part (iii).
Many teams write LTBE bonuses in contracts that are in actuality never earned, Frank wrote. LTBE bonus money is figured into a player's salary cap figure for that year.
But what happens if that LBTE money is not earned? The team gets it back in the form of a credit for the following year's salary cap. It's a manipulation that many teams are taking advantage of, including the Bucs.
When Bucs GM Bruce Allen came to Tampa Bay in 2003, his reputation was that of a cap manipulator who understood how to manage player salaries and create cap room. It appears that last season Allen was extremely busy working toward 2008.
The Buccaneers had $13.3 million in LBTE bonuses that were not earned in 2007 (and, according to Frank, teams have ways of making sure they're not met). Therefore, that credit went toward their 2008 cap.
So take the $116.7 million unadjusted cap figure and add the Bucs' $13.3 million in LTBE rebates and you get the $130 million figure. The Buccaneers, according to the figures, have the third largest adjusted cap figure behind Minnesota and Philadelphia.
This is a clause that allows teams to create a higher cap threshold, thereby creating more money to spend. The Bucs still had $43.7 million in cap space entering free agency, a figure derived by taking their $130 million in adjusted cap room and subtracting their player costs entering free agency (that's their top 51 salaries, plus tenders, which came to $86.2 million).
What if the Bucs did not get those LBTE bonuses back? Then their cap figure entering free agency would have been approximately $30 million and their cap threshold would have been the NFL's mandated $116.7 million.
So why aren't the Bucs spending a ton of money? It may not be for a lack of effort. Twenty-four of the league's 32 teams earned cap credit due to this obscure regulation in 2008 and therefore have plenty of money to spend, too.
That's why Tampa Bay, Philadelphia and Minnesota were all able to shell out big contracts on the first day of free agency.
To learn more about this little-known provision in the CBA, check out this story by Frank. He has a list of all 32 NFL teams and their adjusted cap numbers in that piece.
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.