According to the NFLPA, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the second fewest available salary cap dollars available heading into free agency. Tampa Bay has just $3,350,607 worth of salary cap space after signing left tackle Donovan Smith to a three-year contract extension worth $41.5 million with $12.5 million counting against the cap this season.

Only New Orleans has less cap room as it is currently has to clear $10,300,288 in cap space to be compliant by 4:00 p.m. next Wednesday, March 13, which is the start of free agency.

The Bucs haven’t been this tight against the cap entering free agency since the days of Jon Gruden. That’s due to recent contract extensions over the last two years, including wide receiver Mike Evans ($20 million), left tackle Donovan Smith ($12.5 million), guard Ali Marpet ($11.025 million), tight end Cameron Brate, in addition to Jameis Winston’s fifth-year option year, which will cost the team $20.92 million this season.

Bucs DE Jason Pierre-Paul and DT Gerald McCoy
Bucs DE Jason Pierre-Paul and DT Gerald McCoy – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Throw in Jason Pierre-Paul’s $14.9 million salary cap charge, Gerald McCoy’s $13 million, Ryan Jensen’s $10 million and DeSean Jackson’s $10 million and Tampa Bay has eight players set to make $10 million or more in 2019 – not to mention linebacker Lavonte David is knocking on the door with $9.75 million this year.

So in order for the Bucs to sign another free agent or tender restricted free agent running back Peyton Barber an offer, general manager Jason Licht and director of football administration Mike Greenberg have to make some moves to clear more cap room. Here are some options for Tampa Bay.

Cut Players That Are Due Roster Bonuses

There are two Buccaneers that are due roster bonuses in the coming week, which could prompt the team to release them or be financially committed to them for the 2019 season.

DT Beau Allen – $1.5 million roster bonus, $3.5 million base salary
DT Mitch Unrein – $1 million roster bonus, $2.75 million base salary

Releasing Allen could have $3.5 million, which is this year’s base salary, and only result in a $1.5 million cap hit to the team. Fellow defensive tackle Mitch Unrein, who suffered a severe concussion during training camp and still had been clearly medically by the end of the season, is set to make $2.75 million in base salary this year with a $3.75 million cap charge. If the team were to release him Tampa Bay save $2.75 million with $1 million worth of dead cap money.

Restructure Big Contracts

Greenberg has avoided restructuring in the past because the Bucs have never really needed to create cap room before, and his philosophy of simply guaranteeing the first year or two of a base salary has sufficed in most contracts up until now instead of giving out signing bonuses, which is money upfront that is spread out evenly over the life of the contract. Teams that give out big signing bonuses can get in trouble with the salary cap down the line if a player needs to be cut or traded before the end of his contract because the prorated signing bonus accelerates and hits as dead cap money.

Bucs director of football administration Mike Greenberg - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs director of football administration Mike Greenberg – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

For example, if Greenberg gave Evans a $30 million signing bonus when he signed his five-year, $82.5 million contract extension last year, that $30 million that Evans would pocket at the day of his signing would be spread out over the life of his contract, which was six years. So aside from his base salary – whatever that may be in a given year – Evans would have an additional $5 million prorated signing bonus for all six years.

The problem in doing this – and the Bucs used this method under both former general managers Rich McKay and Bruce Allen – is that it can create a lot of dead salary cap money if implemented often. Under this scenario, if Evans underperforms three years from now and the Bucs want to cut or trade him halfway through his deal, when he leaves the team the remaining $15 million worth of signing bonus proration ($5 million for three years) accelerates and hits the salary cap in one year.

That’s $15 million in dead salary cap room for Tampa Bay, which essentially means the Bucs have $15 million less than other teams to spend under the cap for actual players.

Instead, Evans was given a $10 million roster bonus, which is not prorated, when he signed the contract. That, along with his $8.258 million base salary, made his cap value last year $18.258 million. The reason why Evans took $10 million upfront in the form of a roster bonus instead of asking for a $30 million signing bonus was to help the team out by not having any upfront money be prorated in the form of a signing bonus.

In return, the Bucs guaranteed $38.258 million, which was last year’s base salary, last year’s $10 million roster bonus and this year’s $20 million base salary. So Evans got $8.258 million more in guaranteed money by doing it this way rather than taking $30 million guaranteed in the form of a signing bonus.

Now that you know the difference between signing bonuses and Greenberg’s preferred use of roster bonuses and guaranteed base salaries, understand that this might be the year the Bucs have to turn to restructuring, which is taking a base salary and converting a portion of that into a signing bonus. Teams that engage in restructuring pick the players that have remaining years left on their contracts that will likely play with that team for the full duration.

Bucs WR Mike Evans - Photo by: Getty Images
Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: Getty Images

It’s unlikely that Gerald McCoy will remain in Tampa Bay through 2021 when he’ll be 31, especially with cap values of $13 million (2019), $12.5 million (2020) and $12,932,253 (2021) on the horizon in the twilight of his career. Yet it’s highly likely that Evans will be a Buccaneer through the final year of his deal in 2023 when he’ll turn 30. So it makes sense to turn to Evans to restructure as opposed to McCoy.

Because Evans’ $20 million is the largest base salary this year in Tampa Bay, Greenberg and Licht could reduce his cap value down to $12 million this year if the team wanted to, thus creating $8 million in salary cap space with a restructure. By doing that, Greenberg could reduce Evans’ base salary to $10 million in 2019 and give him a $10 million signing bonus. That $10 million would be prorated over the remaining five years at $2 million per year.

Evans would still get his fully guaranteed $20 million this year it’s just that $10 million would be upfront right now as a restructured signing bonus and the other $10 million would come in the form of weekly game checks during the season. Evans’ cap value this year would be lowered from $20 million to just $12 million and Tampa Bay would have $8 million worth of cap room to spend on other players.

Bucs WR Mike Evans
Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: Getty Images

What helps in this situation is that Evans’ cap value decreases over the remaining years of his contract as his base salaries are $16.75 million in 2020, $12.25 million in 2021, $14 million in 2022 and $14.5 million in 2023. Adding a $2 million cap charge in each of the remaining years with the signing bonus proration will still keep his overall cap charge under $20 million moving forward. In this scenario, Evans’ cap charges would be $12 million in 2019, $18.75 million in 2020, $14.25 million in 2021, $16 million in 2022 and $16.5 million in 2023.

Greenberg and Licht could create cap room with a restructured deal including a signing bonus with any other player with a high base salary on Tampa Bay’s roster, but Evans is clearly the most likely candidate.

Sign Barber To An Extension

The Bucs are considering using a second-round tender for restricted free agent running back Peyton Barber, which would be a one-year, $3 million contract for 2019. Because Barber was an undrafted free agent, if the team were to use the lower, original-round tender worth $2 million, the Bucs would not receive any draft pick compensation if he were signed to an offer sheet. Barber is expected to start this season in Tampa Bay, so that will force the team to use the higher tender offer to fend off any other potential suitors.

Bucs RB Peyton Barber
Bucs RB Peyton Barber – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Or the Bucs could approach Barber about doing a short-term extension with more than the $3 million guaranteed. Tampa Bay could offer Barber a three-year deal with $5 million in guaranteed money, including a base salary of $1.5 million in 2019, which would be double what Barber made last year, with a $3.5 million guaranteed base salary in 2020 and an extra year that is not guaranteed tacked on after that at around $4 million.

A proposal like that would help the Bucs’ cap situation in 2019 by getting Barber at a $1.5 million base salary instead of $3 million, thus saving the team $1.5 million in cap room.

Part Ways With Big Money Contracts

Of course the easiest way to create cap room is to make some roster moves by cutting some high-priced players that don’t have any more guaranteed money that could result in a dead cap money situation. The two obvious targets for this type of cap space creation are McCoy and Jackson.

DE Jason Pierre-Paul $13.65 million ($14.9 million cap charge with bonuses)
DT Gerald McCoy – $13 million
WR DeSean Jackson – $10 million
TE Cam Brate – $7 million
DE Will Gholston – $3.75 million
P Bryan Anger – $3 million
G Evan Smith – $2 million

The Bucs traded a third-round pick for Pierre-Paul last year and he responded with a team-high 12.5 sacks. He’s not going anywhere.

Bucs DT Gerald McCoy and DE Will Gholston - Photo by: Getty Images
Bucs DT Gerald McCoy and DE Will Gholston – Photo by: Getty Images

Licht and Arians have both indicated that they would like for McCoy and Jackson to remain in Tampa Bay, but they stopped short declaring that it would happen when pressed on the subject in interviews with PewterReport.com and other media members at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

It seems likely that Anger and Smith will be released, and the team could be debating whether or not to keep Gholston, who has some position flexibility in a 3-4 defense and is still relatively young at age 27.

PewterReport.com has reported that Brate, who is slated to make $7 million this year in base salary, will not be released or traded, nor will he be asked to take a pay cut.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd 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: [email protected]

36 COMMENTS

  1. I would keep Gmac and JPP but cut the rest of the big money contracts. That gives you enough to sign a couple of impact guys. Which is what we need more of. Too many average players on this team.

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  2. I guess the lesson here is that it’s better to build your team from the draft. Most of the free agent signings just seem to be dead weight who eat up valuable cap space.

    If I could cut one guy on this team, it would be Ryan Jensen. Yeah, I know, his salary is guaranteed this year, but what a waste of ten million dollars.
    In the meantime, I’d restructure Evans and see if we can renegotiate the contracts of McKoy and DJAX. Then I’d cut Smith, Anger, and Gholston.

    But, bottom line, Bucs have dug themselves into a pretty deep hole thanks to free agency. I hope we’ve learned our lesson.
    Go Bucs!

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    • The challenge with the draft is each person is basically a coin flip if they will work out or not. It’s actually less than 50% and while cheap you only have a limited number of them.

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  3. Every team in the NFL GOES THROUGH THIS every once in a while, it’s just the nature of the beast.
    But BucBalla85 you are absolutely right, we are paying to much money to some average players like David, McCoy and Jensen.
    We have $40 mill invested in our starting OL and they were a C- group at best last year. Egads. And we still are short an NFL calibre guard like we always have been since Logan Mankins retirement.

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    • This isn’t the first time You’ve tried to slide in there that David is an Average player that we should cut which is just absurd. Just get that outta your head. “Egads”

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    • If you think Lavonte David is an average player then you don’t know football. Take him off this team and see what happens, he will be very successful in this more aggressive defense

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  4. I’d be cool with cutting All except JPP, Brate, and possibly McCoy if they can restructure him. If not he can go Down road too and they won’t miss him mich IMO.

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    • I think we need to keep either DJAX or Humphries. Losing both would be a pretty big blow. I bet Bucs figure out a way to keep at least one, maybe both.

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      • I disagree, Hump is easily replaced by next man up and Winston thus far can’t utilize DJax’s speed.

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        • Cant utilize his speed, or can’t get him to give better effort? Anyone who watched knows Jax gave half assed effort all year unless his buddy fitz was behind the helm.

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  5. Keep Jpp for another year and release/cut the rest! It’s not that I don’t want some of these players… because I do… as a Buc fan I’d like to keep Brate… but 7 million for a back up TE when OJ will take most of the reps, just doesn’t make fiscal sense when we have other needs! Brate is coming off a major injury as well. I’d like to see Hump resigned. He is a good safety check down for Jameis. If we could get one of the talented Defensive lineman to replace McCoy at a much more reasonable choice and a second tier FA Defensive lineman for depth I think we will be good. These decisions r always difficult and often clouded with emotion but in the end it’s a business and this business is one of constant turnover and youthful restocking of talent. I’m just saying…

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  6. With the exception of JPP which of the proposed cuts showed up much last season? Crank up the chainsaw…

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  7. Cold hard unapologetic truth will guide the coaches through these cuts.

    The eye in the sky doesn’t lie. Players who are COASTING ON REPUTATION can’t be afforded any longer. It is a production business. One cut solves a ton of problems and JPP called this player out last year. He isn’t wrong.

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  8. Jason Licht war plan
    Fire every coach on team
    Hire Bruce Arians
    Hire a d coordinator who just was fired from other team
    dump 3 High priced starters give there money to
    Winston a 4 year average 90 rating QB
    Dump Fitz QB that gets a couple wins for team each year!
    Bring in 2nd string that is bad enough will not upset Winston or cause
    other players to want him in instead of Winston .
    add a offensive lineman
    Bolster D line with a free agent to replace Mccoy for less money
    Move back to middle round in Draft pick up Linebacker or lineman
    Start Veta Vea who had 3 sacks and 29 tackles in 2018.
    And showcase Peyton Barber as running back.
    And take this team from last to first.

    And Buc Ass Bob has a negative outlook for this plan so light up the negatives trolls for this post.

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    • You are the only troll here Ass-Bob

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      • Nah, he’s not the only one. There’s a few

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  9. The ‘cold hard unapologetic truth’ is that Licht has made a mess of this roster to an extent that FA can’t correct for years of overemphasizing exciting skill players while ignoring the foundational lines, and overpaying prior FAs expecting them to perform at a level they never have before.

    There’s a reason Lixht was only given a one year extension, the proverbial check is coming due.

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    • @matador It’s hard to argue with the team’s results since Licht has been the GM. His blunders have been all world (The ABC’s-Aguayo, Baker, Collins), but he’s put some talent on the roster too. Trading for JPP last year was a win.

      At the end of the day, I want the Bucs to win, like we all do. He’s the GM for at least another year and they aren’t letting him write any long term deals on high priced free agents. He will either succeed with limited resources this year or he will be replaced. Same may be true of the coaching staff.

      Time will tell on the cuts. If the Bucs can’t get any return value for McCoy, which is likely the case, it will be interesting to see how long he lasts. If the Bucs want to retain Barber and add a Linebacker and/or Safety in free agency, McCoy is the logical choice to be cut. His salary nearly pays for all 3.

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  10. So cut Allen, Unrein, Anger, Gholston, and Jackson. That’s around 20 mil in cap space. No one will miss them and are replaceable. Sign an edge rusher or safety. Sign a WR like John brown add a veteran guard and RB. Draft the rest.

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    • Jackson won’t be cut.

      He might be traded. Depends on where AB gets traded to. Jackson was #1 in yards per catch last year- in the entire NFL. You can call him a diva, but no one is a bigger diva than Antonio Brown and considering they are about the same age and that AB is getting Pittsburgh a 1st round pick, you can bet the Bucs won’t cut him.

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      • AB got a 3rd and a 5th and he is a hof’r. So, maybe a fourth for DJ?

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        • Raiders paid a 3rd and a 5th and gave AB a new 3 year deal worth $54m. Bills were willing to give up higher draft picks, but Brown refused to play for them.

          DeSean Jackson has a $10m contract and has HOF numbers just like AB. There’s definitely a market for him.

          The real question is, will Bruce let Licht trade him. I have heard ZERO rumors about Jackson going anywhere.

          If anything, I’ve seen Winston and Arians giving interviews and going out of their way to say how important DJax is to the team.

          Why bother if the player will be cut or traded??

          On the flip side, I haven’t heard one coach or player stick up for Allen, Gholston, Anger, or Unrein.

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  11. I like the Evans restructure and Barber contract. We have so many big money guys that are average at best. There’s plenty of cap space here if we’re just smart about it. My take to free up resources to sign better players.
    – GMC: Trade, cut, renegotiate his contract. No better than a $3million guy.
    – D-Jax: Trade or cut. Cancer that’s not worth the potential upside.
    – Allen: Cut
    – Unrein: Cut
    – Gholston: Cut
    – Anger: Cut
    – Smith: Cut

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  12. WR Jackson is as good as gone! Guys a diva and certainly not a team player. I think we saw that this past season. He is not nor will he be the alpha male on THIS team! Should be announced soon.

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  13. Let’s cut or trade who ever it’s going be pronto! Time to get this party started! We haven’t won with anyone on this team so does it really matter who you trade or cut? Not to me. I’m sick of waiting around while everyone else is trimming down to make cap space and like always we are sitting on our hands! Go Bucs ! Make us Proud! Sick and tired of last place.

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    • Need to change the culture of this team. Time for a new chapter for this team!

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  14. Scott I know PR keeps reporting that Brate will be retained, but after all the free agent dust settles how does Licht justify paying a 2nd string TE 7mil when he could fetch possibly a 3rd pick in this years draft. Not only that with FA’s safeties like Mathieu asking for 7mil and Landon collins who would instantly start on this current roster I’m not confident in this report that Brate is not being shopped. Don’t get me wrong I love most of your reporting but if the right offer is presented I can’t see Licht and BA turning it down. I believe all the reporting coming out of 1 Buc place right now are just smoke screens.

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    • I think it has more to do with Winston being in a contract year. Brate and D. Smith are integral cogs for Winston and this offense. This is a view proliferated by OBP which probably sounds logical. And also keeping Brate is a measuring stick to see if OJ Howard can surpass Brate for a full season.

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      • Alldaway2.0, someone can make the case for Humphries on offense and Kwon on defense. Not trading Brate is all about the business of football. Brate is the pink elephant in the salary cap room, how can you not consider a trade before going to Evans with hat in hand asking for money? I love Brate as a player but if I can get a pick this year and a pro bowl safety for the same money that deal is signed. Finally you say Brate is a “measuring stick” to see if OJ can surpass him. In what statistical category are you speaking of when say this?

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  15. All of this player salary and cap talk has my head spinning. All of the analysis and various scenarios of who’s in and who’s out are totally meaningless. Fact is, every year players come and go and the headlines perk our interest as if the savior has arrived in the form of Swaggy Baker and the like.

    Sadly, in the past, when our free-agent merry-go-round stopped spinning, the same mediocre players, albeit with different names and faces, were sitting on the painted horses. Our March free agency excitement has rarely lived beyond Halloween when the play-off conversations morph into Draft talk.

    If Jason Licht and Bruce Arians have a player or two targeted, we sure have a lot of players on the roster whose sacrifice would be barely noticed. Certainly we can still be the 30th ranked Defense with virtually any of those folks given up for cap space. Plus, who needs a high priced average punter? But after the dust settles on the balance sheet, will the team be any better? Isn’t that the goal here?

    Hopefully, Bruce Arians can influence Jason Licht to make the right moves in free agency and even more importantly, the Draft to allow us fans to grab the brass ring.

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    • WHAT DO YOU MEAN MEANING LESS TALK SCUBOG? Okay you’re right talk is pretty cheap but its a fun exercise. I believe we’ll be singing a new song this time next year though Scubog. PALM PALMS waiving😁 go Bucs!

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      • I guess I’m more interested in talking about who ends up on the roster instead of who might be. It’s like fantasizing about the cheerleader accompanying you to the Prom when you should be focusing on the young ladies who might actually respond to your texts. (See, I’m modernized)

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  16. As this season gets closer more and more posts on this site are understanding nothing changing in Tampa with same clowns running show
    At first with all the Bruce Arians excitement I was getting 100% negatives now 6 thumps up 25 down gap will continue to close as Licht train heads to last place in league.

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  17. Thanks for your stupid, negative troll commentary of run on sentences and no punctuation Bob. Your a complete negative moron.

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  18. When we drafted OJ I read about what a wasted pick it was. The Bucs already have a TE. Now, Brate is a 2nd stringer. WTF? Pats have Gronk and still pay $$ for a FA TE. They win a lot of games playing Tiger. Billy B went to Oregon practice and studied their 2 TE set. (Common FSU, you remember Oregon don’t you?) On a team with so many weaknesses, why take away a strength? Underutilized true. But a redzone staple.

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  19. We only need two more Free Agents: A Veteran Safety and a Veteran CB. The rest we can get in the draft and with superior development from our outstanding Coaches.

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