The Bucs find themselves in a potentially precarious position heading into this offseason. Tampa Bay has its work cut out with a slew of free agents to re-sign, as well as draft picks to sign and potential free agent to add. Due to Tom Brady’s retirement, the team has went from having nearly $16 million to just over $3 million, per OverTheCap.com. It’s going to take some magic by the front office trio of Jason Licht Mike Greenberg and Jacqueline Davidson, but if anyone can do it it’s them.
There are a few creative ways the Bucs can create some much-needed cap space and we’ll take a look at them here.
Restructure Barrett’s Contract
One easy way is to restructure outside linebacker Shaq Barrett’s contract from last offseason. The Pro Bowl linebacker is set to count for $19.75 million against the cap this season with the base salary of $16 million. When Barrett signed the deal the Bucs had already prorated $3.75 million through 2025, so any restructure turning base salary into a bonus would add to that number. But with Tampa Bay in a window where it believes it can win now, it’s one way to create more room.
The Bucs can create $6 million in cap space by cutting Barrett’s 2022 base salary to $8 million and turning the other $8 million into a bonus. That $8 million bonus would be divided up by adding $2 million to the four remaining years on his contract. Barrett’s cap hit would drop to $13.75 million this season, giving the Bucs $6 million in breathing room.
That move would bring Tampa Bay’s total cap space to just over $9 million.
Restructure Smith’s Contract
Bucs LT Donovan Smith – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Much like Barrett, left tackle Donovan Smith could also be a candidate to restructure to create some cap space. It’s key to remember players usually don’t mind restructuring as they are getting money up front and not taking a pay cut. In Smith’s case, he’s set to count a whopping $18.4 million against the cap. Smith is only signed through 2023, but thanks to voidable years he has a $5.3 million dead cap hit in 2024 and $2.65 million in 2025. That dead money could essentially be absorbed in the future if Smith’s contract is extended either this year or next.
With potentially not as many high-priced free agents in 2023, the Bucs will be able to push more money down the line to gain flexibility this offseason. Simply restructuring Smith’s deal to pay him $6 million in a the form of a prorated bonus would bring his cap hit down to $13.9 million this season. His bonus would then be split into $1.5 million payments throughout the four years (including the voidable years in 2024-25) left on his deal. This would free up another $4.5 million this season.
Tampa Bay’s cap space would be approximately $13.5 million after these two moves.
Brate Takes A Pay Cut
While the Bucs could go the way of restructuring tight end Cam Brate, simply asking him to take a pay cut may be the better route for the team. Brate is set to count $7.285 million against the cap this season, but only has a dead cap hit of $1.9 million. Moving on from Brate, who has redone his deal the last two seasons, may be an option and would open up $5.345 million in breathing room.
Per The Athletic’s Greg Auman, it is a foregone conclusion that Brate’s contract will be restructured if he returns.
With that move the Bucs would then be at nearly $19 million in cap space after the three moves.
Extend Evans’ Contract
Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: USA Today
This one gets tricky when it comes to exact cap space and how much could be freed up. Wide receiver Mike Evans should be a Buc for life and his contract is set to expire after the 2023 season. However, he will have dead cap hits in 2024 and 2025. Even with re-signing Chris Godwin, locking up Evans long term helps the team open up valuable cap space in a year they need the room. As documented earlier, there are much less crucial decisions to be made in 2023 free agency, and creating cap space this year is a priority, especially with the cap rising in future years.
Evans is set to count for $20.622 million against the cap this season. An extension for the Pro Bowl wide receiver could open as much as half of that, at around $10.3 million. Of course Licht and co. will need to get creative with how many years to add to the 28-year old’s contract.
Combined with the other moves laid out, the Bucs would have over $29 million in cap space heading into free agency.
Restructure Brady’s Contract
There are multiple avenues for the Bucs to take here. As of now Tom Brady has a $20.27 million salary cap charge for the Bucs in 2022. If Tampa Bay was to flat out release the retired quarterback right now it would incur a $32 million cap charge. Unlikely to happen but if it did, without any of the moves laid out above, the Bucs would stand about $11.7 million over the cap.
The Bucs are expected to carry Brady on the roster till at least June 2 when they can place him on the retired list. As a post-June 1 roster move Tampa Bay could then lower his cap hit to $8 million in 2022 and push $24 million in dead cap space into 2024. That would create more cap space in June long after the major spending in free agency is over. Either way the Bucs are on the hook for $24 million in dead money cap hit in 2023.
The most likely scenario is as a final parting gift by Brady and he renegotiates his deal. By lowering Brady’s base salary and roster bonus from $10.4 million to $1.12 million and removing any incentives from the contract. His salary cap charge would lower from $20.27 million to $9.12 million. The purpose of doing this is that it immediately opens up around $11.2 million in cap space. The Bucs would still keep him on the roster until June 2 where the $8/$24 million dead cap split would still incur once placed on the retired list.
Bucs QB Tom Brady and HC Bruce Arians – Photo by: USA Today
While there are other factors that could go into a Brady renegotiation, that is the gist of it. There are also other moves the Bucs can make including extending linebackers Devin White or Lavonte David to free up more space. As well as approaching Pro Bowl guard Ali Marpet about another restructure.
The team could also elect to move on from punter and kickoff specialist Bradley Pinion which would save them another $2.9 million. Or even cutting kicker Ryan Succop, which would save $2.5 million. Though the latter is unlikely until Tampa Bay knows what it has in Jose Borregales.
Combined with a Brady renegotiation and the other moves laid out, the Bucs could potentially open up about $40 million in cap space. That freed up money would go a long way to retaining Chris Godwin, Carlton Davis III, Ryan Jensen and Jordan Whitehead, or making a move to bring in a quarterback whether through trade or free agency. Look for the Bucs to start getting active with salary cap moves as the new league year begins in a few weeks.