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With Tampa Bay’s 2006 regular season officially put out of its misery, most people, including the Buccaneers and their fans, are now focused on 2007, particularly free agency and the NFL Draft.

The Buccaneers didn’t fare well on the football field this season, but their books are certainly in order. After years of call hell, Bucs general manager Bruce Allen and his staff have set the team up to be extremely active and competitive in free agency for the first time in several years.

With quarterback Chris Simms signing a two-year contract extension just before the season ended, the Bucs are now scheduled to be approximately $23 million under the 2007 NFL-mandated salary cap of $109 million.

That number currently stands at $20 million, but nearly $3 million in cap room that was created by the Bucs trading defensive tackle Anthony McFarland to Indianapolis in October will roll over to 2007 since the Bucs didn’t use it in 2006, bringing the total amount of cap space to approximately $23 million.

While each NFL team will reap the benefits of the cap increasing by $7 million this year, Allen still managed to position the Bucs nicely compared to the rest of the league.

In fact, the Bucs currently rank 14th out of 32 teams in terms of available cap room in 2007. Here are the 13 teams that have more money to spend than the Bucs during the offseason:

San Francisco
40.7 million
Tennessee $40.2 million
Arizona $35.2 million
Buffalo $34.6 million
New England $29.7 million
Cleveland $29 million
Cincinnati $28.4 million
Green Bay $27 million
Jacksonville $26.5 million
St. Louis $26.1 million
New Orleans $26 million
New York Jets $24.2 million
San Diego $23.4 million

While Tampa Bay appears to fall right in the middle of the league’s 32 teams in terms of available cap room for ’07, it’s actually still better off than most teams when one considers the fact that the Bucs’ available cap room doesn’t take into account any cuts or trades, or any contract restructurings that may happen during the offseason.

As reported in Pewter Report Future Forecast article in the Pewter Report Cheerleader Issue in December, the Bucs can free up an additional $20 million in cap room by parting ways with a few players – DE Simeon Rice ($7.25 million), LB Shelton Quarles (3.3 million), OT Kenyatta Walker ($2.7 million), CB Brian Kelly ($2.7 million), C John Wade ($1.2 million), S Jermaine Phillips ($1.2 million and DE Greg Spires ($1 million).

Unlike most of the teams with more available cap room than Tampa Bay, the Bucs also already have most of their players under contract for 2007. Only FB Mike Alstott, CB Phillip Buchanon, T Cornell Green, TE Keith Heinrich, G Sean Mahan, LB Wesly Mallard, LS Dave Moore, QB Tim Rattay, FB Jerald Sowell and DE Dewayne White are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents in March.

The black cloud that has plagued Tampa Bay’s salary cap for several years has moved on to other teams that are in big trouble in 2007 and beyond.

Even with the cap scheduled to increase $7 million to $109 million in 2007, there are eight teams that have less than $10 million in available cap room this offseason. The good news for the Bucs is two of those teams – Atlanta and Carolina – are in the NFC South division with Tampa Bay.

Kansas City $8.3 million
Atlanta $7.9 million
Baltimore $5.5 million
Denver $5.3 million
Indianapolis $4.8 million
Carolina $3.1 million
Pittsburgh $1.1 million
Washington $783,600

Those teams still have to re-sign their free agents and ink draft picks to contracts in 2007. They likely will suffer some cap casualties as a result of their cap challenges, which are quite severe and would be even worse had the cap not increased by $7 million this year.

For years, Tampa Bay has been forced to watch from the sideline as its division rivals remained active in free agency. But with the Falcons and Panthers likely to have to part ways with some players due to cap restraints, and not likely to be active in free agency, the Buccaneers have positioned themselves to make a significant amount of noise in free agency, which in turn should help the Bucs gain a significant amount of ground in the NFC South division this year.  

Want the inside scoop on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2007 offseason plans? Want to find out who the Bucs are targeting in free agency and the NFL Draft? Subscribe to PewterReport.com's Pewter Insider by clicking here.


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