As Tampa Bay’s 2014 season nears with the start of the waiver system, which begins after the Super Bowl on February 3, it’s time for PewterReport.com to take a look at what lies ahead for the Buccaneers now that general manager Mark Dominik and head coach Greg Schiano have been fired.
2014 NFL CALENDAR – IMPORTANT DATESFebruary 3 – Waiver system begins for the 2014 NFL season.February 17 – First day for teams to designate franchise or transition players.February 19-25 – NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.March 3 – Franchise tag or transition tag deadline for teams.March 8-11 – Teams are permitted to contact and begin contract negotiations with agents.March 11 – 2014 NFL free agency begins at 4:00 p.m.March 23-26 – NFL owners meeting in OrlandoApril 7 – Teams with new head coaches in 2014 may begin offseason workouts.April 21 – All teams may begin offseason workouts.May 2 – Deadline for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets.May 7 – Deadline for prior club’s right of first refusal for restricted free agents.May 8-10 – 2014 NFL Draft in New York CityMay 19-21 – NFL owners meeting in Atlanta
TAMPA BAY’S 2014 SALARY CAP REPORT The Buccaneers are in great shape with regards to the team’s salary cap room in 2014. Without having to re-sign quarterback Josh Freeman, who was demoted and released after Week 4, the Bucs will have about $10 million in cap space in 2014, in addition to nearly $7 million worth of unused cap space in 2013 that will be rolled over. With approximately $17 million worth of cap room, the Buccaneers can once again be active players in free agency.
That number could swell to $24 million, as there are some rumblings that left guard Carl Nicks may not be back in 2014 due to complications from a second toe surgery, which was intended to clear up a second reoccurrence of MRSA. In fact, there are some whispers about Nicks ever resuming his playing career again. If the new regime cuts Nicks it would free up $7 million in additional cap room next year.
The way Dominik structured the contracts of Buccaneers players was to give them guaranteed money the first two years and no signing bonus. That way the team would have very little – if any – dead salary cap room. Heading into 2014, there are no Tampa Bay players that have any guaranteed money, which would become dead salary cap dollars should the team elect to make any roster cuts.
The new Buccaneers general manager and head coach will be in terrific shape moving forward in terms of salary cap room and the overall situation with the salary cap.
NO CONTRACT RESTRUCTURES PRIOR TO THE END OF THE 2013 SEASONOver the past couple of seasons, Dominik has followed the lead of his predecessor, former Bucs general manager Bruce Allen, and restructured a few deals of high-priced players to take up existing, unused cap room of the current year and reduce the players’ base salaries for the following year to create more cap space. That’s what happened last December with Nicks and Jackson, who played for $715,000 and $840,000 respectively this year.
Without having to worry about needing a lot of cap room for Freeman’s contract extension in 2014, which obviously won’t happen, Dominik believed that $17 million is all the team needed to be able to accomplish its goals next year (with potentially another $7 million freed up if Nicks was to be released).
BUCCANEERS’ 2014 UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTSThe Buccaneers have a total of 19 unrestricted free agents, but thanks to the contract extension of wide receiver Mike Williams prior to training camp, Tampa Bay doesn’t have any player the team is fretting over losing in free agency. There are a couple of players the team was going to put a higher priority on re-signing, specifically starting linebacker Jonathan Casillas and starting fullback Erik Lorig, and there was some interest in re-signing linebacker Dekoda Watson, but that may change with a new regime. Tampa Bay’s new coaching staff and general manager will have to carefully review the 2013 game tape to see which players may best fit the new schemes and which ones won’t.
Here’s a list of the Buccaneers’ unrestricted free agents in 2014 as well as insight as to whether these players will return to Tampa Bay next year.
QUARTERBACKSQB Dan OrlovskyThe former regime would have liked to have Orlovsky back because he was such a good student of the game and helped Mike Glennon develop behind the scenes. But the new regime may want to upgrade the talent at the quarterback position and bring in a more talented arm to compete with Glennon next year.
RUNNING BACKSRB Brian LeonardFB Erik LorigFB Spencer LarsenThe Bucs did want Lorig back and he should be able to be re-signed rather cheaply at around $1 million per season, which is what he made this year. But will a fullback be needed in the new offense? Only time will tell. There is little chance that Leonard returns because he was a Rutgers guy and Schiano won’t back in 2014. The emergence of Bobby Rainey and Mike James and the return to health of Doug Martin gives the Bucs a crowded backfield next year and there won’t be room for the 30-year old Leonard.
WIDE RECEIVERSWR Tiquan UnderwoodThe Bucs liked Underwood’s speed, but felt as if he’s reached his ceiling as a player and is better suited to be a fourth or fifth wide receiver rather than a third. The chances of Underwood, a former Rutgers player, returning with Schiano drop significantly in 2014.
TIGHT ENDSTE Nate ByhamThe Buccaneers saw the emergence of rookie Tim Wright, a receiving tight end, this year and he figures to be the team’s starter heading into the 2014 season. Luke Stocker can’t stay healthy, which bodes well for Byham if he is re-signed, which isn’t a certainty given his one-dimensional abilities as a blocking tight end.
OFFENSIVE LINEMENG Jamon MeredithC Ted LarsenThe Bucs liked Meredith’s flexibility to play both guard and tackle, but under the former regime there was not going to be any sense of urgency when it came to re-signing him unless it was a bargain deal. Tampa Bay wanted to move on from Larsen, who has the versatility to play guard and center, because of his tendency to get overmatched physically and draw penalties.
DEFENSIVE LINEMENDE Daniel Te’o-NesheimDT Gary GibsonTe’o-Nesheim was a huge disappointment after signing a one-year, $1.26 million deal as a restricted free agent a year ago. With just one sack despite starting 14 games in 2013, Te’o-Nesheim was not going to be re-signed and the Bucs planned on letting Will Gholston, Da’Quan Bowers and either a veteran free agent signing or a draft pick battle it out for the right to start at defensive end in 2014. Gibson, a former Rutgers player, is an aging veteran who helped mentor Akeem Spence, but the Bucs wanted to stay young get and get more athletic at the defensive tackle position moving forward.
LINEBACKERSLB Dekoda WatsonLB Jonathan CasillasLB Adam HaywardLB Jacob CutreraThe Bucs wanted to have Casillas, who suffered a season-ending knee injury, back as he added speed to both the defense and special teams. Casillas’ injury likely helps Tampa Bay’s bargaining power if the new regime feels like he is a fit for the new scheme. The Bucs also wanted Watson to return, but the team was afraid that his physique, athleticism and special teams prowess will lure a team to spend $3 million per year on him and make him a starter – perhaps as a rush linebacker in a 3-4 scheme – and that’s more than the Bucs wanted to pay. Cutrera is nothing more than a special teamer, but the Bucs might have been interested in re-signing him if Hayward departs in free agency. Hayward, a two-time special teams captain, is a pricy backup at $1.257 million per year, but he could have returned if he would have taken slightly less money in 2014.
DEFENSIVE BACKSCB Danny GorrerCB Michael AdamsThe Buccaneers wanted to bolster the talent at the cornerback position, as the former regime felt great about starters Darrelle Revis and Johnthan Banks and good about nickel cornerback Leonard Johnson. Gorrer and Adams are likely expendable, as the Bucs will seek upgrades in the offseason. The former regime was also high on practice squad cornerback Anthony Felder, who is under contract.
SPECIAL TEAMSLS Andrew EconomosK Rian LindellK Lawrence TynesThe Bucs would have liked to have Economos back, but didn’t seem willing to pay more than the $840,000 in base salary that he’s making right now. Economos is steady, but Tampa Bay might be looking for someone who can come in and do just as good a job for a lower price. Both Lindell and Tynes likely won’t be back next year as Connor Barth is expected to return from a season-ending Achilles injury and once again be Tampa Bay’s kicker.
BUCCANEERS’ 2014 EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTSRB Bobby RaineyTE Kyle AdamsThe Buccaneers planned on re-signing Rainey, the team’s leading rusher in 2013, and having him compete for carries with Martin and James next year. Adams might have been back as the team is in flux at the tight end position with Byham likely departing.
WHAT’S ON THE HORIZON CONTRACTUALLY FOR TAMPA BAY McCoy is entering a contract year earning $10.295 million, making him the second-highest paid Buccaneer behind Darrelle Revis’ $16 million base salary and slightly ahead of Vincent Jackson’s $10 million salary in 2014. The Bucs should try to extend his contract prior to the start of the 2015 season, and before Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh, who was picked second overall in 2010 and one spot ahead of McCoy, who has a career high nine sacks in 2014, sets the market with a new deal.
Cincinnati Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins recently cashed in on a five-year, $54.755 deal during the 2013 season that averages just over $10 million per season. Because Suh and McCoy were drafted prior to the rookie salary cap, each player will make that this season and will likely want a raise heading into their respective new deals. Tampa Bay would love to hold McCoy’s price at $10 million per year – or even less if possible.
The new regime will have a decision to make on several high-paid Buccaneers, including Revis, Nicks, left tackle Donald Penn and right guard Davin Joseph. The salaries of Revis and Nicks have already been documented, and it seems like Revis would certainly stay given his Pro Bowl status, the need for good cornerback play in the NFC South division and the team’s positive salary cap situation with him already on the books. The play of Penn and Joseph declined significantly in 2013 and each comes with a high price tag. Penn has a base salary of $6.4 million in 2014, while Joseph is on the books for $6 million.
The good news for the Buccaneers is that a lot of the team’s star players will still be on their rookie deals for the next one to three years. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement prohibits rookie deals from getting renegotiated until after the third year, which means players like Glennon, Martin and linebacker Lavonte David cannot attempt to renegotiate their deals until after three seasons in the NFL. That makes all three huge bargains for the Buccaneers.
Scott Reynolds is in his 22nd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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