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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are $23 million under the NFL-mandated salary cap, but that number likely will be $30 million once the free agent signing period officially begins on Feb. 29.
The great news for the Buccaneers is they are not in a position where they have to cut players to create cap room. Tampa Bay could justify several players' escalating salaries if it feels those particular players will add quality competition and depth to the Bucs roster in 2008.
While they are in the top quarter of the league in terms of available cap room, there's still a chance the Bucsl could make some salary-related roster moves between now and the start of free agency, which could give the team closer to $40 million in cap room.
PewterReport.com lists, in no particular order, Tampa Bay's top 10 cap casualty candidates below.
DE Kevin Carter: While he provided great veteran leadership in the locker room and serviceable play on defense, Carter is clearly past his prime as far as his pass-rushing ability is concerned. He notched three of Tampa Bay's 33 sacks last season. The Bucs would like to have Carter back for another season, but he has two things going against him. First, Carter turns 35 this year, which isn't exactly ideal for a team that's attempting to get younger on defense. Second, Carter is scheduled to earn a $3.8 million base salary and have a team-high $5.8 million salary cap value in '08. Carter might have to play at a reduced salary if he wants to be part of the Buccaneers this year.
DE Greg Spires: Spires had an injury-plagued season in 2007, missing six games due to a calf injury. He notched just two sacks when he was on the field, and the fact that Spires is scheduled to turn 34 in August doesn't bode well for his chances of being a Buccaneer in 2008. Spires is scheduled to earn a $3.9 million base salary and have a $4.136 million salary cap value. Tampa Bay can free up nearly $10 million in cap room by parting ways with both Carter and Spires. Even if he agrees to reduce his salary, Spires might have a tough time getting on the field as the Bucs have two up-and-coming defensive ends in Gaines Adams and Greg White and likely will pursue at least one younger, veteran defensive end in free agency.
CB Brian Kelly: The Bucs like Kelly, but he hasn't been able to stay healthy over the last two seasons. That caused him to lose his starting job to Phillip Buchanon this year. Kelly will turn 32 this month and could be deemed too expensive to keep around as he's scheduled to earn a $3.2 million base salary. Kelly is also scheduled to earn a $1 million roster bonus in March. The Bucs can avoid paying that bonus to Kelly, who has one year remaining on his contract, by releasing or trading him before the start of the free agent signing period. The Bucs could also free up over $4 million in cap room if they decide to part ways with Kelly this year.
QB Jake Plummer: The Buccaneers will once again attempt to lure Plummer out of retirement. If he refuses to play for Tampa Bay, Plummer likely will lose the three grievances he has against him, which were filed jointly by the Buccaneers and Broncos. That would mean Plummer could have to give the Bucs as much as $7 million in bonus money he received while playing in Denver. As of right now, Plummer's base salary is on the team's books. However, Tampa Bay would also create an additional $5.3 million in cap room if Plummer lands on the Did-Not-Report list again this year. That scenario makes it unlikely that the Bucs would release Plummer since his cap value would come off of their books if he decides not to play.
QB Chris Simms: Although he told the media on Monday that he feels like he's on the mend, Simms could prove to be too expensive to keep around in 2008, especially if still is not throwing well and Plummer reports to the Bucs. Simms, 27, is scheduled to earn $2 million in base salary and has a $3 million cap value. The Buccaneers could trade Simms, but there might not be many teams interested in dealing for him since he has missed nearly two seasons of football and has yet to prove he's fully recovered from the spleen injury he suffered in Sept. of 2006. The Buccaneers could free up approximately $2 million in cap room by releasing or trading Simms this offseason.
WR Michael Clayton: The fact that Tampa Bay will be in the market for a veteran wide receiver this offseason doesn't bode well for Clayton, a 2004 first-round draft pick. After a sensational rookie campaign, Clayton has struggled to find his role in head coach Jon Gruden's offense. He's also struggled to catch the ball and stay healthy. In fact, Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber scored more touchdowns this season than Clayton has over the last three years. However, the Bucs still see upside in the 25-year-old Clayton, who is a good leader, blocker and special teams player. While his cap value is scheduled to be $1.8 million this year, Clayton will earn a base salary of just $980,000, which the Bucs might be able to justify. The Bucs had some discussions with at least one team about trading Clayton last offseason. Don't be surprised if you hear those rumors emerge again this year.
LB Ryan Nece: The Bucs might have a tough time justifying Nece's $1.1 million base salary in 2008 seeing as he lost his starting job to Cato June last offseason. While Nece ranked fourth on the team in special teams tackles with 16 last year, the Bucs can free up about $1 million by releasing him. With two 2007 draft picks invested in linebackers Quincy Black and Adam Hayward, that scenario appears to be more likely than not unless Nece agrees to restructure his deal.
OL Anthony Davis: The fact that Davis has started 32 career games at left tackle for the Buccaneers might convince the team to keep him around in 2008 despite the fact that he's scheduled to have a $800,000 base salary and a $1.266 million cap value this season. Davis is also scheduled to receive a $300,000 roster bonus before free agency starts, which the team can avoid paying him if they cut or trade Davis before Feb. 29. In addition to having those starts under his belt, Davis is also considered a versatile player and could provide depth at the tackle and guard positions.
LT Luke Petitgout: Petitgout is coming off of a partially torn ACL, an injury that should be completely healed by the time organized team activities start this offseason. The Bucs would like to have Petitgout, who signed with the team last offseason, compete with Donald Penn and earn the starting job at left tackle since he's more experienced than Penn. However, if Petitgout isn't completely healthy and playing well the Bucs could decide to release him, especially after seeing the way Penn performed in his place. Petitgout is scheduled to earn a $2.5 million base salary and has a cap value of $4.9 million. The Bucs can justify that salary if Petitgout can prove to be healthy and solidify the left tackle position.
LB Derrick Brooks: Although it's unlikely, Brooks has to be mentioned as a possible cap casualty simply because he will turn 35 in April and has a $3.85 million base salary in 2008. Brooks missed the Pro Bowl for the first time in 11 seasons, which supports the notion that he's past his prime. However, Brooks still notched 162 tackles, which ranked second on the team, and provided great leadership both on and off the football field. Tampa Bay might be open to bringing in competition and/or a successor for Brooks, who is under contract through 2009, in free agency, but odds are he will remain a Buccaneer this year.
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