The Tampa Bay Buccaneers started the first day of NFL free agency with around $14 million in cap room after re-signing quarterback Tom Brady, inside linebackers Lavonte David and Kevin Minter, and the team’s exclusive rights free agents last week. After re-signing outside linebacker Shaq Barrett, who will have a $5.6 million cap value in 2021, and tight end Rob Gronkowski, who will have a $4.8 million cap value this year, the team has approximately $3.6 million in cap room left.
And the Bucs will need more cap space to continue their quest to sign their own free agents.
Up next are defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, kicker Ryan Succop, running back Leonard Fournette, backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert and possibly wide receiver Antonio Brown or another Buccaneer or two like reserve tackle Josh Wells in the next 24-48 hours.
Mike Greenberg and Jason Licht – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs general manager Jason Licht and director of football administration Mike Greenberg do not subscribe to the practice of making a bunch of cap-related moves on the onset of free agency just to create a ton of cap space. Instead, Greenberg and Licht take a “cut-as-they-go” approach and create cap room as needed.
There are a few options the Bucs have to manufacture the necessary cap space, and one move that the team is considering is extending the contract of left tackle Donovan Smith, who is entering the final year of his contract and will be a free agent in 2022. The 28-year old Smith is set to have a $14.25 million base salary and cap hit this season.
The Bucs and Smith reached agreement on a three-year, $41.25 million contract extension in 2018 that paid Smith an average of $13.75 million. Smith is currently the 12th-highest paid left tackle in the league and would likely want a pay increase in order to forego a chance to test the open market in free agency next March.
Green Bay’s David Bakhtiari is the highest-paid tackle in the NFL with an average of $23 million per year, followed by Houston’s Laremy Tunsil at $22 million. Bumping Smith, who has never been to a Pro Bowl, up to $15.5 million per year would put him on the same contract level as New York Giants left tackle Nate Solder. If Smith were to get $16 million per year that would tie him with Tennessee’s Taylor Lewan for the fifth-highest paid offensive tackle in the league.
Extending the contract of center Ryan Jensen is also an option being explored. Like Smith, the 30-year old Jensen is in the final year of his contract and is set to make $10 million in base salary and cap value. Adding a year or two to Jensen’s contract could help the Bucs lower his 2021 cap hit.
The Bucs could also go to left guard Ali Marpet or wide receiver Mike Evans and ask them to restructure their contracts. Marpet, who is 27, has a cap value of $12.025 million in 2021 and is under contract for three more years through 2023 when he’ll be 30. The Bucs could convert some of Marpet’s $10.25 million base salary into a guaranteed roster bonus or a signing bonus and spread that out over the remaining years on the deal.
Bucs LG Ali Marpet and LT Donovan Smith – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Tampa Bay could do the same with Evans, who has a $12.25 million base salary and a cap value of $16,637,500 in 2021. Like Marpet, Evans is also under contract through the 2023 season, and he has helped the team in prior years with similar restructures.
Yet with Marpet having more reasonable future cap values of $11,775,000 in 2022 and $12 million in 2023, as opposed to Evans’ cap values of $18,387,500 in 2022 and $18,887,500 in 2023, going to Marpet makes more sense. The Bucs don’t want Evans’ cap value to be over $20 million when he’s age 30 and possibly in decline.
One final option that the Bucs could be considering is asking tight end Cameron Brate to take another pay cut or to cut Brate outright, which the team doesn’t necessarily want to do. Brate took a $1.75 million pay cut last year from his $6 million base salary down to the $4.25 million. He’s set to have a base salary of $6.25 million this year, which seems rich for a tight end that is third on the depth chart behind Rob Gronkowski and O.J. Howard, who is entering his fifth-year option.
The fact that the NFL salary cap has retracted this year to $182.5 million from the $198 million level it was at last year due to the economic woes from the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t helping Tampa Bay’s salary cap crunch, but Greenberg has positioned the Bucs well for 2021 and beyond enough to weather the storm. Due to the NFL negotiating new television and broadcasting deals for 2022, there will be an influx of new revenue that should increase the salary cap next year by $20-$30 million.
Yet with Tampa Bay needing at least another $10 million right now to finish the team’s mission of re-signing its’ core Super Bowl-winning nucleus, some big cap moves in the form of extensions, restructures or pay cuts will be coming soon.
You can hear more insider information on the current thought process of the Bucs front office from Scott Reynolds and Jon Ledyard on Monday night’s episode of the Pewter Report Podcast.
Scott Reynolds is in his 27th 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 spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive coordinator/defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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