There are less than three weeks until the start of the 2005 free agent signing period on March 2, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are still sitting approximately $14 million over the NFL-mandated salary cap, which is expected to be about $85 million this year.

In order to get themselves under the cap by March 2, the Bucs will have to restructure several contracts, with the list of likely candidates including linebacker Derrick Brooks, cornerback Ronde Barber, quarterback Brian Griese, linebacker Ian Gold, wide receiver Joe Jurevicius and defensive end Simeon Rice, all of whom carry significant cap values in 2005.

Tampa Bay’s primary focus has been reworking Griese’ deal, which calls for him to receive a $6 million roster bonus on Mar. 1, which would bring his cap value to $8.1 million.

Although Bucs general manager Bruce Allen and Griese’s agent, Ralph Cindrich, have met and exchanged proposals, the two sides don’t appear to be close to coming to terms on a new contract. Should they not strike a new deal, Griese will be released, which would free up nearly $7 million worth of cap space, but would leave the team without its starting quarterback.

In the meantime, Allen and the Bucs will likely start releasing some players in an effort to receive cap relief. Cornerback Mario Edwards, quarterback Brad Johnson and fullback Mike Alstott appear to be most likely candidates to be cut.

Although he’s signed through the 2009 season, Edwards is scheduled to receive a $1.6 million roster bonus on March 1, which would bring his cap value to $3.325 million in ’05. The Bucs would take a $625,000 cap hit by releasing Edwards, but they’d save about $2.7 million by making such a maneuver.

The Arizona Cardinals recently expressed interest in signing Johnson should he be released, but Tampa Bay is hoping a couple of more teams show enough interest to force a team to trade for the veteran quarterback, just as Jacksonville did with Mark Brunell during the 2004 offseason, although Johnson’s large contract may prohibit that from happening.

But because of his $8.55 million cap value and age (he turns 37 in September), the Bucs will be hard pressed to trade Johnson. Whether they release or trade him, the Bucs will receive about $4.5 million in cap relief by parting ways with Johnson.

Although Tampa Bay may attempt to rework his deal and offer him a league-minimum contact in the next few weeks, Alstott could also become a cap casualty. The “A-Train” carried the ball a career-low 67 times for 230 yards (3.4 avg.) last season, and his $2 million cap value in 2005 along with head coach Jon Gruden’s desire to feature more of a two halfback-driven offense could make him a bit pricey for the cap-strapped Bucs.

Exactly which players restructure their contracts and which ones are released will be determined over the next few weeks, but expect Allen and the Bucs to rework deals and release players on a as-needed basis in the near future and to continue that process throughout the months of March and April.

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. uccaneers merchandise in the world.

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