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July 10, 2013 @ 9:54 am
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Bucs May Face Tough Salary Cap Choices In 2014

Written by Mark
Cook
Mark Cook

Mark
Cook

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While the Tampa Bay front office wants to see how the 2013 season plays out, the Bucs will be looking at a tough salary cap picture in 2014 with $119 million already committed to current contracts, according to ESPN's Pat Yasinskas. This is without figuring in QB Josh Freeman's potential re-signing.
The urgency to win in the NFL is ever-present. For the Buccaneers, it is even more of a pressing need. While even the most die-hard Bucs fans aren’t making travel arrangements to New Jersey, site of this year’s Super Bowl, just yet, a serious run at the playoffs is expected.

As reported by ESPN NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas on Monday, the Buccaneers already have $119 million committed to the 2014 salary cap. While no one is willing to say 2013 is a make-or-break year, anything less than an 8-8 season will surely cause a shakeup of high-dollar veteran Bucs players. Even with a playoff run, general manager Mark Dominik will earn every penny of his 2014 salary, trying to keep the nucleus of the team together, if they in fact manage to reach the 2013 postseason.

If Tampa Bay makes the playoffs, it will be most likely with quarterback josh Freeman at the helm and that would earn the former first-round draft pick a big payday as he is in the final season of his five-year rookie contract. The number Yasinskas quoted did not include getting Freeman under contract in 2014, so there will be difficult decisions to be made if the team's signal caller earns a new deal. High-salary players like Davin Joseph, Carl Nicks, Donald Penn and others could potentially be asked to have their deals reworked or even face the possibility of being released.

While the new media contracts will kick in next season, according to Daniel Kaplan of Street and Smith’s Sports Business Journal in a report last year, the NFL salary cap is expected to stay relatively flat around $123 million until 2016, providing little relief for cap-strapped teams like Tampa Bay.

Kaplan wrote, “The NFL is projecting that the salary cap will stay relatively flat through 2015, a period that represents the first half of the 10-year collective-bargaining agreement signed last August and runs beyond the start of the league’s new media deals in 2014, according to multiple team and league sources.”

Former Packers executive Andrew Brandt agreed with Kaplan.

“There is an overexcitement [among players] about the TV deals, which do not start at the higher levels and have to ramp up,” said Brandt, a former Green Bay Packers executive and co-founder of the National Football Post. “This is something that players will have to come to grips with, and agents and the union will need to be realistic on, with contract projections that this expected windfall in the rise in revenues is not happening any time soon.”

The Buccaneers, like all NFL teams will have some options when the 2014 offseason begins next March. The first, and the simplest way to free up cap space, is to release players. Dominik had structured a majority of the contracts of the current Bucs in a cap-friendly way, rarely handing out signing bonuses, which have to be pro-rated over the length of the deal. Most of Dominik’s free agent signings have come with guaranteed base salaries that are seen through the first two years of the deals.

In the case of newly obtained cornerback Darrelle Revis, there was no bonus at all. Instead, it's a year-to-year option deal, however coming with a high cap hit each season of $16 million in base salary. However, if Revis under-performs, the Buccaneers can release him with no future ramifications to the salary cap because there was no signing bonus.

Another option, and one that is frequently used by NFL teams is restructuring and/or extending current contracts. Dominik has done this in a very cap-friendly way, converting the next year's high base salary into a high roster bonus for the current year at the end of the season to use up all of the remaining cap space in December. He did this with wide receiver Vincent Jackson and guard Carl Nicks last year, essentially paying them handsomely twice in their first season with the Bucs and making them play the 2013 season at or near the veteran minimum base salary.

Jackson was paid $12.16 million in the form of a roster bonus in 2012. That dropped his 2013 base salary, which was supposed to be $13 million, to $840,000. Nicks was given a roster bonus of $11.785 million at the end of the 2012 season, and will make $715,000 in 2013 instead of the $12.5 million he was due to make this year. Those moves freed up $18 million in salary cap space in 2013. This practice is more of a Band-Aid than a cure, but is a way to free cap money immediately.

Something else that NFL general managers have done, as was the case with offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood during training camp last year, is to renegotiate the player's current deal to a lower base salary. Basically with high-priced veterans, teams can go the player and his agent and play a high stakes poker game, asking for a player to play for a lower salary or risk being released. Dominik did that with Trueblood and saved $1 million in cap room last year.

He also cut backup QB Dan Orlovsky and re-signed him for the league minimum, a move that saved close to $1 million in cap room in 2013. With the way free agency played out in 2013, more players than not will likely agree to the option instead of taking their chances on earning their current salary elsewhere.

Regardless of which option is used, Dominik’s work will be cut out for him in 2014. The good news for Tampa Bay is that if it comes down to that the Buccaneers most likely had a successful 2013 campaign and the organization will be trying to keep the team together for another run. If the team falters, and Dominik is relieved of his duties, then expect some wholesale changes in Tampa Bay, and some familiar – and high-priced players – playing in different uniforms in 2014.

Last modified on Wednesday, 10 July 2013 10:25
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COMMENTS

  • avatar


    This is one area where I have supreme confidence in Mark Dominik. I'm going back to sleep!
  • avatar


    The guy with the insane number, if I recall, is McCoy. Correct?
  • avatar


    The big money, one way ,or another will be tied up with Freeman. There's no way I pay him 20 mil a year even if he does have a good season. One good year doesn't put him up there with Brady, and Brees.
  • avatar


    Teams that are competitive are up against the salary cap so our situation is no different than any other team with realistic playoff aspirations. Becoming a playoff team means we have elite talent and that means you have to pay them. I agree the Carimi acquisition may spell the end of Penn after this year unless he takes a cut but I don't think thats a loss we can't absorb with a draft pick or the Carimi/Dotson combo. However I think we will regret not extending Freeman this summer with an incentive laden contract with team options instead of waiting till next offseason but we will see how that plays out as well.
  • avatar


    This article should have came out two months ago when all of us fans where talking about the ramifications of the Revis trade. I'm glad we have him but is he really three and a half times better than Grimes? Either way I think this is Penn's last season in Tampa. Dotson can play LT, Cramini can play right and mark my words that we are starting a T in the first round next year. Even if Free stinks, there's no way the Glazer are going with a QB in the first the year after taking one in the third. We still have to do deals with McCoy and M Williams
  • avatar


    Dom has proved himself adept in managing the cap so far--signing Revis without a signing bonus was a miracle in itself--so I trust him to work it out. If the team has good success this year, everyone should be willing to restructure to keep the team together to make it to the Superbowl. But don't cut Zutah, who is our brightest and most flexible offensive lineman.
  • avatar


    I don't see anything that can not be managed. Bottom line is that some players will perform and get rewarded for it, and those players who don't will be asked to leave or take a pay cut; sounds like America to me.
  • avatar


    The Bucs better pray that things work out and that they are winners on the field because the fans are just now starting to buy in to this team. With the economy starting to bounce back (evidenced by the number of people spending extra money on fireworks) there seems to be a rise in discretionary income. If the Bucs have another purge of veterans like the did in '09, expect the fans to bail big time. If that happens we could see a return to the days of the old sombrero where you could walk up 10 minutes before the game and get tickets dirt cheap.
  • avatar


    Well there's an easy $2M-3M savings in 2014 cap hits waiting in the forms of Barth and Koenen. Whether they are playing for significantly less in Tampa or playing for less in another team's jersey, we won't be paying our kicking specialists an obscene $6.3M in 2014. We'll chop the O-line numbers down some, although where exactly Dominic will target to make it happen. Zuttah seems like the most obvious candidate, and maybe Joseph if he doesn't bounce back strong post knee-injury (of course we're all still hoping he does). Josh's contract number is such a scary question mark for me right now...the potential outcomes are nearly boundless for him after this year. Anywhere from us moving on completely and him signing for $20M per. Hopefully we don't ultimately regret holding off on an extension, cuz if he goes off this year (which I suspect he might), we will have to do some seriously tricky maneuvering to make it happen and keep most of the rest of the team intact.
  • avatar


    Don't panick just yet fans....we also get to roll unusued money from this year to next...post a Mike Will deal that's around $10m roll over, which is more than what we need for Freeman. If Spence plays well we can also cut one of Landri or Gibson and we have a first round pick next year (fingers-crossed a starter) who will make several million less than whichever player he replaces (think O-line - which I know is not Dom's favorite position to draft but if needed would make money - if not football - sense). There also a $million here and there other cuts we could make without much impact (think Wright, Stocker, the plethora of SLBs, Crabtree and Ogletree). While I think Dom brought our salary cap holiday up to the tight line, we are not in salary cap jail and if we ever find ourselves in such position he has the get out of jail free (well it was for a 1st round pick) card of cutting Revis (who at that point will be post 30 years of age). I think we're okay - not free and clear like before but we should be fine.
  • avatar


    I wrote a very similar thought on the Bucs cap in the Revis Thread earlier this off season. With McCoy's rookie contract coming to an end after 2014, I felt the Bucs had many decisions to make. This could be an underlying reason that Freeman hasn't received a contract extension thus far. Contracts to consider- Davin Joseph, Mike Williams, Mason Foster, Jeremy Zuttah, Donald Penn, Gerald McCoy and Josh Freeman.
  • avatar

    If the playoffs don't happen this season then JF is done in Tampa. I think Schiano is such a control freak (in a good way) that he wants his man in place and that would be Glennon going forward. McCoy & Williams should be the priorities.
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