The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were $18 million over the NFL-mandated salary cap of $85 million less than one week ago. Like all NFL teams, the Bucs had find a way to come into compliance with the salary cap before the free-agent signing period was scheduled to begin Wednesday.

Although it wasn’t easy, Bucs general manager Bruce Allen’s remedy for that potential cap problem proved to be somewhat simple in the end.

Allen spent the past several days restructuring the contracts for quarterback Brian Griese, fullback Mike Alstott, center John Wade, safety Jermaine Phillips and running backs Michael Pittman and Charlie Garner. That, along with the release of four players — cornerback Mario Edwards, linebacker Ian Gold, quarterback Brad Johnson and wide receiver Joe Jurevicius — got the Bucs under the cap and even left $1 million to spend.

“We went to the NFL Combine with a specific goal, and it started a year ago,” said Allen. “We were $45 million over the cap for the 2005 and 2006 seasons. We cleared $40 million from that this week. The players we worked with — it’s appreciated — because we wanted to clear room for our draft choices to make sure they have homes once we draft them, and so that we’re not in this pickle in the future.

“With the steps we’ve taken and made over the last year, addressing this year’s and next year’s salary cap problems was the goal. We needed to see the end of the tunnel, and we’ve gotten to that point.”

Of course, $1 million won’t go very far in terms of signing free agents and/or draft picks, which is why more players could be asked to restructure their contracts or be released over the next couple of weeks and months.

“That’s not the say our cap work is done for the year,” Allen said Tuesday. “We’re going to need to clear enough room for our rookie pool, which we’re projecting to be in the $5 million range, and we’ll obviously need to have some other money available for the salary cap. We’re going to need to clear more room.”

Among the Bucs players who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents Wednesday are starters like tight end Ken Dilger, wide receiver Joey Galloway, fullback Jameel Cook, guard Cosey Coleman, defensive tackle Chartric Darby and safety Dwight Smith, but Allen suggested Tuesday that the team was close to re-signing one of the team’s free-agents-to-be.

Allen also suggested the Bucs would release players and rework deals on a as-needed basis, which is what happened last year when the team released safety John Lynch two weeks after free agency began in an effort to free up money to sign a couple of free agents.

“We know where we have room, but before we utilize that room we want to know who we’re going to be spending it on,” said Allen. “Until you have an agreement with a free agent, there’s no reason to to actually have the room. It’s not like it gains interest if you have the room.”

Defensive end Greg Spires, who is scheduled to have a $3 million cap value in 2005, was not released Tuesday as some expected he would be. In fact, Allen and Spires’ agent, Drew Rosenhaus, are scheduled to meet later this week in an effort to work out a new contract for Spires.

“I talked to Drew from the airport in Indianapolis and we’re going to get together later this week in hopes of resolving that situation,” Allen said of Spires.

Allen said the Bucs wouldn’t necessarily release Spires should the two sides not come to terms on a new deal. Other candidates to restructure their contracts include cornerback Ronde Barber, guard Matt Stinchcomb and defensive tackle Anthony McFarland.

In the meantime, Tampa Bay has tendered a contract to restricted free agent linebacker Ryan Nece, but it chose not to do the same for RFAs Corey Ivy and Frank Murphy, which means they’ll become unrestricted free agents Wednesday.

Despite their cap challenges and limited funds (currently $1 million under the cap), Allen feels the Bucs will be somewhat active in free agency.

“We can still be a player,” said Allen. “There’s still ongoing talks with various people. As always, it will be an evolving system during the offseason.”

One thing the Bucs don’t have going for them is winning. The team has put together a 12-20 record over the past two seasons, which might not make Tampa Bay an attractive place to play for less than what another team might offer them. However, Allen said there were plenty of selling points that he and the Bucs coaching staff planned to put into play when the clock struck midnight, signalling the start of the free-agent signing period.

“Players want to come here,” said Allen. “The Tampa Bay area is exciting, and our coaching staff is the best in the league across the board. I’ll have to make sure we show some video of Jon [Gruden] tearing down the part of that building for our new training facility — there’s excitement about our franchise, and I think we’ll see that the phone calls aren’t just going one way tonight.”

While they could be limited in terms of big-name free agent signings, the Bucs plan to improve their roster through the NFL Draft, where they have 11 picks to use on what Allen has deemed a talented group of players.

“Through the draft,” Allen said when asked how he planned on improving Tampa Bay’s roster, which compiled a 5-11 record last season. “We enjoyed the draft process last year and we feel we accomplished a great deal. Each one of our draft choices made a NFL team last year, and each one of them played for a NFL team last year.

“Last year we started acquiring extra picks in an effort to make sure we brought in an infusion of talent to the core of champions that were on this team so we could develop them in our own way. We’re excited about these 11 players we’re going to have this year. That being said, there are going to be 2-5 free agents that we get that are going to make key contributions to the team this year.”

The Bucs could wind up calling on younger players like tackle Anthony Davis, guard Jeb Terry, safety Will Allen, linebacker Marquis Cooper and several of this year’s first-day draft selections to help upgrade the team’s roster and solidify positions that are currently in need of capable starters and/or depth.

“We’re determined to have a very good draft, and we’re determined to make sure we put the best players on the field,” said Allen. “I believe we’re going to have enough job openings where the young players will be able to find a spot and be given the opportunity to show their talent.”

Wide receiver Joe Jurevicius’ days as a Buccaneer may not be over just yet.

During his Tuesday evening press conference, Bucs general manager Bruce Allen stated that he would like to re-sign Jurevicius, who was released in a salary-cap maneuver earlier in the day due to the fact that he was scheduled to receive a $500,000 roster bonus and would’ve counted nearly $3 million towards this year’s salary cap.

“I don’t want to write the ending chapter to the Joe Jurevicius story yet,” said Allen. “I spoke with his agent today and again after I arrived here in Tampa, and we’ve made an offer for Joe to come back. We’ll see what happens.”

Jurevicius’ agent, Neil Cornrch, told PewterReport.com before the roster cut was announced Tuesday that he and his client would be open to the possibility of playing in Tampa Bay this season and possibly beyond.

“No matter what happens, Joe Jurevicius has considered it an honor to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and hopes to continue to do so through the 2006 season and beyond,” said Cornrich.

Jurevicius, who was plagued by a knee and back injury over the past two seasons, caught 27 passes for 874 yards and eight touchdowns during his three-year tenure in Tampa Bay.

Michael Clayton is the only receiver under contract for the 2005 season who played for Tampa Bay in the 2004 regular season, which means the receiver position will be a point of emphasis for the Bucs in both free agency and the draft.

Allen also suggested that linebacker Ian Gold, who despite coming off of the field in nickel situations last season finished third on the team in tackles (120), could return, although that appears to be highly unlikely since he wants to play on the weak side, where Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks has made eight Pro Bowls.

“Ian came in here where we didn’t have a position for him,” said Allen. “We loved his talent and he made a nice contribution playing out of position. He’s going to look for a ‘Will’ job around the league, and if he doesn’t find the right one there’s a chance he’ll be back.

“Ian at any other spot, there is a home for. He really wants to play ‘Will.’ It might sound childish or selfish, or something like that, but it’s a different world playing that linebacker spot. We happen to have a Hall of Famer playing that spot. So letting go of a young guy is a bit of a concern. He’s a potent player. We’re going to miss him, but he only got to play in 50 percent of the plays because he came out in nickel. You don’t have the ability to hold him down. He will get a starting job. I’m sure he already has several phone calls.

“I talked to Ian as well, not only to let him know what we were doing, but to keep the door open as well.”

Despite the real possibility of losing Gold to another team, the Bucs may not necessarily dip into free agency to find his replacement.

“We have a few players on the team who have played (strongside linebacker) in Jeff Gooch and Ryan (Nece) and Marquis Cooper has been cross-training (at Sam).”

One of Tampa Bay’s top priorities this offseason will be finding a kicker.

As a matter of fact, the Bucs could sign one to compete with Jay Taylor as soon as tonight.

“Boy, talk about a position that is going to be calling us,” said Bucs general manager Bruce Allen. “Any free agent kicker is going to call Tampa Bay. We finished last in 2003 in field goal percentage and I think we finished last in field goal percentage in 2004. Players know statistics. Kickers know that there is a job opening. We’re going to sign someone tonight who is a veteran kicker. We still have Jay Taylor who made four or five kicks last year. We’re going to have some healthy competition. It’s the easiest position to scout.”

Jay Feely (Atlanta), Joe Nedney (Tennessee) and Steve Christie (New York Giants) are among the available free-agent kickers.

Although he will no longer be under contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after tonight, safety Dwight Smith’s arrest (charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon) on Tuesday morning for allegedly pulling out a BB gun when approached by teenagers at a McDonald’s drive-through in Tampa has general manager Bruce Allen concerned.

“The story sounds bad, but I don’t want to lean one way or another,” said Allen. “We’ll see what Dwight’s future holds for him, and I’m not talking about with the Bucs. Let the legal process take its course of whether he’s guilty or not. If he’s guilty, he’s going to face discipline other than what the courts give him.”

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ grievance against former wide receiver Keenan McCardell, who held out for a new contract last season before being traded to San Diego for two draft picks, wasn’t heard in time to give the Bucs a chance of receiving $1 million in cap relief.

Even if the Bucs win their grievance vs. McCardell, they won’t receive the $1 million in cap relief until 2006.

“They’re waiting for just one more piece of procedure to take place and then it will be closed and go to the arbitrator,” said Allen. “It hasn’t actually gone to the arbitrator yet.”

Tampa Bay has three quarterbacks — Brian Griese, Chris Simms and Akili Smith — under contract for the 2005 season, but expect the Bucs to add one or two more to their roster between now and the summer.

Although former Cleveland quarterback Jeff Garcia is interested in signing with Tampa Bay, Denver and Detroit are also interested in his services and could have more money to throw his way. Former Miami signal caller Jay Fiedler is also a veteran signal caller the Bucs may look at adding this offseason, but they could also turn to the draft for an arm, according to general manager Bruce Allen.

“We’re looking for a veteran quarterback,” said Allen. “Last year, we went to camp with four quarterbacks, and three of them were veterans, and then we had the young Chris Simms. We’ll probably do that again as well as we’re seriously looking at the NFL Draft for a quarterback, but don’t say it’s the first round.

“Last offseason, Chris had a tremendous offseason. Not only did he improve both mentally and physically, he really emerged as a leader. In the fifth game of the season he got the start. Coach Gruden went to Chris to start, but unfortunately for him he got hurt. Obviously Brian came in and performed well in many areas, but Chris is here. You’re going to need more than one or two good quarterbacks.

If you liked this story, be sure to get the inside scoop and more detailed information on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offseason plans regarding roster changes, free agency and the NFL Draft with a Pewter Insider premium subscription.

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