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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are anywhere from $13-19 million over the salary cap, depending on whether NFL owners and the NFL Players Association agree on a deal that would extend the Collective Bargaining Agreement past the 2006 season.

Should the CBA not be extended before Mar. 3, Tampa Bay will be approximately $19 million over the NFL-mandated salary cap, which means the Bucs will have to restructure several players’ contracts and/or release some players to be in compliance by the start of free agency.

Unfortunately for the Bucs and the rest of the league, reworking contracts is quite the challenge these days since there is plenty of uncertainty surrounding the CBA.

On Thursday, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue began updating owners on the progress made to the extension of the CBA in Orlando. Whether or not those discussions turn out to be fruitful remains to be seen.

In the meantime, the Bucs and the rest of the NFL are preparing for two scenarios – a capped or an uncapped year in 2007. One thing is certain — not having the CBA extended is having a direct impact on 2006.

For example, without an extended CBA there will be no benefit to releasing a player after June 1, which means the remaining portion of a released player’s prorated signing bonus will automatically accelerate into the 2006 season instead of pushing a portion of the signing bonus into 2007.

Without an extended CBA, all incentives will count for the 2006 season instead of hitting the 2007 cap. For instance, Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber activated a $500,000 escalator in his contract by playing 75 percent of the defensive downs, intercepting five passes and making the Pro Bowl in 2005. By doing so, Barber’s salary cap value for the 2006 season increased by $500,000.

If he accomplishes those two feats (75 percent playing time and five interceptions and/or Pro Bowl) again in 2006, Barber will trigger the same $500,000 escalator, but the difference this time would be the fact that the Bucs must immediately have or make available $500,000 in salary cap room in 2006 since the 2007 season is uncapped. So, if Barber has 75 percent playing time and five interceptions and/or makes the Pro Bowl when it’s announced in mid-December in 2006, that $500,000 escalator will be triggered immediately, meaning the Bucs must restructure some players’ contracts or even release a player(s) in order to create the $500,000 in salary cap room.

A few other quirks apply if there is no extension of the CBA, including no not-likely-to-be-earned incentives. And for a player like Barber, who is a candidate for a contract extension, teams cannot increase the amount of a contract by more than 30 percent in the last capped year.

Under the current CBA, Bucs quarterback Chris Simms, who is scheduled to become a restricted free agent in March, would become an unrestricted free agent after the 2006 season, which would be his fourth in the NFL. But without an extended CBA, Simms would not be eligible for unrestricted free agency until after his sixth season in the league.

Signing free agents and draft picks will be a challenge in 2006 without an extended CBA since teams will only be able to prorate signing bonuses over four years instead of spreading them out over five, six or even seven years.

“There are dozens and dozens of characteristics that come into play,” said Bucs general manager Bruce Allen.

The uncertainty surrounding the future of the CBA has made it that much more difficult for Allen and agents to begin reworking deals in an effort to help the Bucs free up some much-needed salary cap room.

“They understand the salary cap,” Allen said of the agents. “They understand the various mechanisms. Whether you’re talking to an agent or a player, the discussions become longer because of the uncertainty of whether there will be a capped or uncapped year in 2007. We have to determine some of the mechanisms and how they fit a particular player. There’s so much more to talk about before you can even get into a particular player or contract. That makes for an extra obstacle.”

But uncertainty surrounding the CBA hasn’t stopped Allen from meeting with agents. In fact, Allen and agent Tom Condon, who represents several Bucs players, including defensive end Simeon Rice, wide receiver Michael Clayton, running back Michael Pittman, defensive tackle Chris Hovan and offensive tackle Kenyatta Walker, had a long meeting on Monday night while in Mobile, Ala. for Senior Bowl.

“Tom represents a number of our players, so we’ve been talking in generalities,” Allen said. “We’re talking about various players and what types of roles they will have with us. Because our season went into the playoffs, we’ll start meeting when we get back to Tampa to go over player evaluations.”

It appears as though many of the deals that Allen is looking to restructure might get finalized last minute due to the fact that most agents are taking a wait-and-see approach to the CBA rather than diving right in to working with general managers to rework some of their clients’ deals.

Like the rest of the NFL, the Bucs are hoping that the CBA gets extended soon so that they can move forward with reworking some of their current players’ deals while creating the cap room necessary to sign new ones. In the meantime, the Bucs are also preparing for life without a CBA, which is proving to be a difficult obstacle to overcome.

This story is intended to be read by PewterInsider subscribers only. Sharing of the PI content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers. Be sure to read the latest issue of Pewter Report on-line in PDF format on PewterReport.com.

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