So now it's $50 million in salary cap space? What are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers up to?
That was the second question most observers must have asked themselves after Tampa Bay released five veterans, including LB Derrick Brooks, and cleared about $12 million in cap space on Wednesday.
Our Ed Thompson broke the details of the cap savings the Bucs would receive. The Bucs already had nearly $40 million in cap room entering free agency. Wednesday's moves put them around $50 million as free agency nears.
Certainly that give the Bucs more flexibility, especially important with an uncapped year coming up in 2010.
The Bucs have been a frugal outfit the past few years under head coach Jon Gruden and GM Bruce Allen, even when they had the cap space to spend.
I don't think that will be the case under GM Mark Dominik. I think he has set the franchise up to spend some money this offseason. I think he has also set up the Bucs to be competitive for some of the top free agents on the market.
Sure, the Bucs want to give their younger players a chance. But they do have to spend some of that cap room, as there is a minimum spending threshold.
The extra money gives the Bucs flexibility to attack free agency in many ways:
DE Albert Haynesworth: No player will be more coveted than the Tennessee DT. Put him in the middle of new defensive coordinator Jim Bates' 4-3 scheme – which is designed to use bigger tackles to stop the run – and Haynesworth would be a perfect fit.
This is a player that I've touted for years. Tampa Bay didn't have a chance last year because the Titans smartly put the franchise tag on Haynesworth. That doesn't seem likely this year. The Titans are a player in keeping Haynesworth, as they have a solid amount of cap room themselves. The Titans are projected to have $35 million under the cap. Plus, he's already comfortable with their system. The Titans and Haynesworth are negotiating.
So the Bucs have to sell Haynesworth on Bates' system being a better fit – and they have to pay him. Most believe that Haynesworth is seeking a deal that will pay him more than Minnesota DE Jared Allen's $32 million guaranteed and $12 million per year, a contract he signed a year ago.
Guess how much cap space the Bucs cleared on Wednesday -- $12 million. Coincidence?
QB Matt Cassel: You may have heard that the Patriots put the franchise tag on Cassel, who would get roughly $14 million in a one-year deal if he signs it.
But that doesn't preclude other teams from negotiating to sign Cassel to a long-term deal. But they'd have to give up a lot – including two first-round draft picks – to sign Cassel away from the Pats. Good luck.
A more likely scenario gaining traction is a version of the NBA's sign-and-trade scenario – the Pats could work out a trade for Cassel in which they sign him to a new, long-term contract, and then deal him to a team willing to take on said contract. It would still probably cost the suitor a first-round pick, but they could get Cassel at a lesser cost than trying to match his one-year deal with the Pats.
The Bucs have enough cap space to explore either scenario. Plus, their first-round pick is in a smart location, cap-wise, for the Patriots, who could use that and their own first-rounder to plug the holes in their secondary.
The Bucs, in return, get a player who could finally be the answer at quarterback. And they could probably get him for less than if they tried signing him as a free agent.
WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Cincinnati: With WRs Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard no longer in Tampa, this could be a clear signal that the Bucs intend to go after the top receiver in free agency as soon as free agency begins. He would offer a great complement to WR Antonio Bryant, now the Bucs' No. 1 receiver, and allow WR Dexter Jackson to continue to develop. Houshmandzadeh probably deserves to be paid like a No. 1 receiver, and the Bucs can provide that kind of a package – hefty bonus and a robust annual salary for the next four or fives years.
Re-sign their own players: S Jermaine Phillips, DT Jovan Haye and CB Phillip Buchanon are among the players the Bucs could re-sign to long-term deals instead of dipping into the free-agent market head-first, as many of the Top 20 players are either franchised or already signed. It certainly provides the Bucs and those players with familiarity entering 2009.
Whatever the Bucs do, they won't have to get that creative to do it.
After all, even $50 million goes a long way in the NFL.