I’ve got a secret. I don’t think anyone has heard it yet, but I’m going to let you in on it. Tom Brady is returning to the Bucs. Oh, you heard already? Well, damn…thought I was breaking my first piece of news. I digress though.
With the return of Brady, the Bucs offseason approach likely changes. While the team doesn’t have any cap room at the moment, they can create a lot of cap room if they want to. How? Mostly through restructures. They have several veteran players with large cap hits that come from, in part, large base salaries. Those base salaries can easily be converted to restructure bonuses that are then prorated over the remainder of the player’s contract.
I won’t bore you with details. But let’s just say by restructuring the contracts of Brady, Mike Evans, Shaq Barrett, Donovan Smith and Lavonte David, the team can open up almost $49 million in cap space. They currently sit about $4 million over the cap at the moment, so these moves could free up $45 million for the team to use for the 2022 season. Throw in an expected Chris Godwin long-term deal that will lower his cap hit and a Cam Brate pay cut, and the team could very well have $55 million to pursue the best team they can put together.
What will that team look like? It would most likely start with keeping key components of their 2020-2021 teams. So let’s look at those players in two groups and see if Tampa Bay can bring everyone back.
Group One: Veteran Bucs On Short-Term Deals
Bucs TE Rob Gronkowski – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
This is a move the Bucs already showed a willingness to make last year when they re-signed Ndamokung Suh, Lavonte David and Rob Gronkowski. The likely candidates for these deals would be Suh, Gronkowski and perhaps Will Gholston. All three are over 30 and could be in-line for 1-year deals.
Projections for Suh and Gronkowski, per Pro Football Focus, have their deals valued at $5 million and $7 million, respectively. Using three void years for each player could keep their cap hits as low as $2.09 million and $2.59 million. I have Gholston projected for a 1-year, $4.5 million contract. Using the same mechanism, the Bucs could bring him back for as low as $1.97 million against the cap in 2022.
Author’s note: Shortly after drafting the original version of this article, but prior to publishing, the Bucs and Ryan Jensen came to terms on a three-year contract. Tampa Bay used void years to keep the salary cap hit in 2022 low. Due to Jensen being over 30 and the contract using void years, I amended the article to include that information here.
Group Two: Younger Players Looking to Cash In
This group is going to be a bit trickier to retain. These players include safety Jordan Whitehead, cornerback Carlton Davis III and guard Alex Cappa. All three are widely expected to be seeking contracts that are three years in length or more. This makes the use of void years more difficult to help with the cap situation this year. That may lead the Bucs to doing something they don’t normally do.
Bucs CB Carlton Davis III – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Tampa Bay could uncharacteristically push large portions of guaranteed money into the second year of those deals. The Bucs can do use league minimum salaries in year 1 and give the players moderate signing bonuses. But the upside for players is that they receive larger guaranteed salaries and large roster bonuses in year two that are guaranteed at signing of the contract. This would allow the Bucs to conceivably bring back all four players at market rate contracts with low cap hits for 2022. How low you ask? How does $12.5 million total sound?
Now this is an extreme scenario. It’s not too extreme though. And it certainly has to be a strategy the team is considering. Under this premise, the Bucs could bring back all of the above players, filling out seven of the 10 remaining open starting positions from last year. And Tampa Bay would still have somewhere between $27-$31 million left to pursue other free agents.
The Bucs could pursue Leonard Fournette or Jason Pierre-Paul. They could also use that space to pursue outside free agents. Will Tampa Bay be aggressive to fill a gaping WR3 spot? Or will they opt to find the “quick” interior pass rushers that head coach Bruce Arians outlined at the NFL Combine? There are a lot of possibilities for Tampa Bay to be aggressive in improving the roster this offseason.
So what do you say, Bucs fans? Is it worth going “all in” in 2022? How would you spend the available funds under this plan? Who would you try to sign?