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Tampa Bay general manager Bruce Allen had to be quite creative in order to get the Buccaneers, who were at one point $18 million over the NFL-mandated salary cap of $85.5 million, in compliance with league rules before the start of free agency on March 2.

Part of his strategy involved releasing four veterans – cornerback Mario Edwards, linebacker Ian Gold, quarterback Brad Johnson and wide receiver Joe Jurevicius – and restructuring several players’ contracts.

Although the Bucs are in compliance with the league-mandated cap and have less than $1 million available to spend, Allen might have to be even more creative between now and the start of training camp in order to create some much-needed cap room to sign free agents and the team’s draft picks.

Like Allen stated from the start of free agency, the Bucs will release players and restructure contracts on an as-needed basis. Since Allen signed defensive end Greg Spires to a new contract, there’s apparently been no need to create additional cap room.

However, in order for Tampa Bay to sign additional free agents, the Bucs will have to make a move or two sooner rather than later – unless they sign free agents to league minimum contracts.

Although they’ve approached several players, including linebacker Derrick Brooks, defensive end Simeon Rice, guard Matt Stinchcomb and defensive tackle Anthony McFarland, about the possibility of restructuring their current deals, the Bucs were denied by Brooks and Rice, and they’re probably not too eager to restructure “Booger’s” contract since he’s failed to live up to the deal since inking it in 2003.

That said, Tampa Bay will likely have to make some tough decisions and release a player or two in order to free up the cap room necessary to sign a free agent(s) and sign its 11 draft selections, including a top five pick.

Which players could be released due to Tampa Bay’s cap woes? The list below gives fans the candidates and explains the cap ramifications for cutting them before and after June 1.

CB Ronde Barber – Before you let your jaw hit the keyboard, realize that this is a scenario that probably won’t come to fruition unless it’s via a trade. For the Bucs to part ways with Barber, who is one of their best defensive players and one of only two Pro Bowlers from the 2004 season, the deal would have to be pretty sweet. Still, it would leave Tampa Bay’s defense with a significant void in its secondary.

Barber has a $5.1 million cap value in 2005 and is signed through the 2006 season. Tampa Bay would save approximately $2.3 million by releasing or trading him before June 1.

T Derrick Deese – Tampa Bay actually has a pretty good value in Deese, who got better as the year went on last season. He has a $2.137 million cap value in 2005 and is signed through the 2009 season. Because of the fact that the Bucs would only save about $300,000 by releasing Deese before June 1, don’t look for the versatile offensive lineman to go anywhere this year.

RB Charlie Garner – Again, this is a move that probably won’t happen before or after June 1, but Garner’s name has to be mentioned due to the fact that he’s coming off a serious knee injury and has a $1.4 million cap value in 2005. The fact that Garner and Michael Pittman recently restructured their deals doesn’t necessarily mean they’re safe, especially if the Bucs find a way to trade for Edgerrin James (Indy) or Shaun Alexander (Seattle), or select a running back in the first round of the draft.

T Todd Steussie – Allen openly discussed how signing Steussie as a right tackle was a mistake last year, which means he’ll likely be released, but such a maneuver will have to come after June 1.

Steussie has a $2.66 million cap value in 2005. If the Bucs were to release him now, they’d actually take an additional $1 million cap hit. However, releasing Steussie after June 1 would give the Bucs about $2 million in savings. Then, in 2006, Tampa Bay would absorb the rest of Steussie’s prorated signing bonus, which would be about $2.66 million worth of dead cap money.

G Matt Stinchcomb – Tampa Bay recently approached Stinchcomb about restructuring his contract, but that hasn’t happened yet, which means he could be released. Stinchcomb has a $1.1 million cap value this year, and the Bucs would save about $700,000 by releasing him between now and June 1. After June 1, the Bucs would create $1 million in cap room by releasing Stinchcomb, and the remaining $300,000 of his prorated signing bonus would count towards the 2006 salary cap.

T Kenyatta Walker – Despite the fact that Walker, who was scheduled to make $690,000 in 2005, reached a playing-time incentive in his contract that increased his base salary to $2.5 million this year, the Bucs could create a significant amount of cap room by parting ways with the 2001 first-round draft pick.

Walker’s cap value is scheduled to be approximately $3.4 million in 2005, but if Tampa Bay were to release him between now and June 1, it would create $1.6 million in cap room. If the Bucs were to wait until after June 1 to part ways with Walker, they’d create about $2.5 million in cap room this year and the remaining $903,000 of his prorated signing bonus would hit the ’06 cap as dead money.

Allen stated earlier in the offseason that the Bucs would need at least $5 million to sign all 11 of their draft picks, and although releasing Steussie and Walker after June 1 would leave the Bucs without last season’s starting right tackles, the team would create about $5 million in cap room, which would essentially create the cap room needed to sign their 2005 rookie class.

Should Tampa Bay release both Steussie and Walker, the Bucs could attempt to give Anthony Davis a shot at winning the right tackle spot while bringing in a cheaper veteran to compete with him during training camp and preseason. While Jeb Terry is slated to start at right guard, he has played some tackle and could be an option there as well.

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