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The 2004 NFL regular season isn’t over, but with so many Tampa Bay fans wanting to know what lies ahead for their beloved Buccaneers, Pewter Report has decided to give its readers an advanced look at the 2005 season in this article, which has been republished by popular demand. *NOTE: Player stats are updated through Week 12.
MORE CAP CHALLENGES AWAIT
When Tampa Bay hired Bruce Allen to replace Rich McKay as the team’s new general manager last January, it didn’t take long for Allen to figure out that his creative ways of working the salary cap were going to be needed and put to good use in a hurry.
The Bucs had the worst salary cap situation of any team in the NFC last offseason. In order to create some much-needed salary cap room, Allen did some maneuvering. While he restructured the contracts of Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks and cornerback Brian Kelly, Allen also made some unpopular decisions. He released safety John Lynch, who later signed with Denver, and didn’t even offer a contract to defensive tackle Warren Sapp, who signed a lucrative deal with Oakland.
Not that Allen didn’t want to keep those two players around, but money had to be freed up somewhere and parting ways with those two popular, high-paid players allowed the Bucs to do that.
In addition to those moves, Allen traded disgruntled wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson to Dallas in exchange for receiver Joey Galloway, a move that caused the Bucs to take on $7 million worth of dead money from Johnson’s contract.
Although Tampa Bay will rid itself of the dead cap money left by players like Johnson and Lynch in 2005, Allen will be faced with more salary cap challenges this offseason.
In fact, Allen projects the Bucs to be approximately $10-12 million over the NFL-mandated salary cap, which is projected to increase to approximately $83 million before free agency begins in March. While some players will likely have to be released, Allen said he will once again lean on the Bucs players to help remedy their salary cap woes.
“We’ll still have some of the same challenges,” said Allen. “You could look it a number of ways – we could actually be north of [$10-12 million over the cap]. It’s a situation we’ll address in January and February.
“It’s tight. It’s better in some ways that we won’t have the amount of dead money, but we do have some escalations. The key to the cap, and I must have mentioned it before, is the players and their willingness to work with us. If they are willing to work with us, we’ll be okay. I think it will be a little bit different in that they know our system a little bit better now than they did last year. It’s better than last year, it’s still not good. One of the reasons is the Bucs have paid their players well. We have some high-paid players, but they warrant their high salaries.”
Pewter Report takes an early look at which Buccaneers will affect the salary cap the most in 2005, which players may be back and which ones may not in this position-by-position analysis.
It’s no secret that Tampa Bay quarterback Brad Johnson won’t be a Buccaneer in 2005. Not only did Johnson get benched earlier this season in favor of Chris Simms and Brian Griese, his salary cap value is scheduled to go up from $6.8 million this season to $8.5 million in ’05, which will likely make him a cap casualty during the offseason. The Bucs will try to trade Johnson, just as the Jacksonville Jaguars did with Mark Brunell during the 2004 offseason. Whether he’s released or traded, parting ways with Johnson will free up approximately $4.5 million in cap room. That money will go a long way in helping Allen as he tries to get the Bucs under the salary cap prior to the start of free agency, which is scheduled to begin on March 1.
Since taking over as Tampa Bay’s primary signal caller, Griese has given the Bucs offense some much-needed mobility and arm strength. He’s also played well, completing 69.8 percent of his passes and throwing for 1,670 yards and tossing 12 touchdowns and five interceptions. The question that remains is has Griese played well enough to justify the bonus he’s scheduled to receive during the offseason?
Griese, who signed a three-contract with the Bucs during the offseason, is scheduled to receive a $6 million roster bonus next March. By paying Griese that large sum of money, his cap value would escalate from $683,000 this season to a whopping $8.133 million in ’05. The Bucs can avoid paying that bonus to Griese by releasing him or restructuring his contract before free agency begins. Expect the latter to happen.
Although he’s under contract through ’05, the Bucs will likely have to make a decision on Simms, who was named Tampa Bay’s starter in Week 5 but lost his starting job after suffering a bruised throwing shoulder in the first quarter of the game against New Orleans. Should the Bucs decide to let Griese go because of the large bonus he’s due, it could mean the team saw enough from Simms to believe he can be a successful starter in ’05.
With Johnson’s days in Tampa Bay numbered, one can almost be certain that the Bucs will add a quarterback to their roster via free agency and/or the NFL Draft during the offseason.
Because of their need to create cap room and his limited role in Jon Gruden’s offense, six-time Pro Bowl fullback Mike Alstott will likely not be a Buccaneer beyond the 2004 season.
Alstott, who recently restructured his contract in an effort to help the Bucs create some much-needed cap room, signed a new deal that called for his ’04 cap value to lower from roughly $2.25 million to $1.56 million, a savings of about $670,000.
The way Alstott’s new deal is structured would make one think the 2005 season will be Alstott’s last in Tampa Bay since he’s scheduled to earn a $2 million base salary and $3 million roster bonus in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Alstott’s cap value for all three of those seasons would be over $5 million.
One of Alstott’s representatives told Pewter Report that the “A-Train” restructured his contract solely to help the Bucs create cap room this year and that the new deal had “absolutely no barring on 2005.”
That statement, along with the fact that Alstott did not receive a signing bonus by reworking his contract, essentially means number 40 took a pay cut, and although he hopes to finish his career in Tampa Bay, Alstott’s new contract doesn’t guarantee him that chance unless he opts to call it quits after this season.
It will be interesting to see what the Bucs do in the offseason in terms of addressing their running back situation. Michael Pittman has rushed for 594 yards (4.2 avg.) and has scored a career-high six touchdowns while hauling in 25 passes for 280 yards and three touchdowns, but the Bucs’ ground game has still been inconsistent and ranks 28th overall.
The Bucs signed former Raiders rusher Charlie Garner during the offseason to help improve this aspect of their offense, but he suffered a torn right patella tendon in his right knee back in Week 3 and is currently going through rehab. Because he turns 33 during the offseason, some don’t believe Garner will be back, but the Bucs didn’t sign him to a six-year contract that included a $4 million signing bonus to have him play less than a handful of games. Unless he retires and agrees to repay a portion of the signing bonus, Garner, whose 2005 cap value ($2.1 million) is almost identical to Pittman’s, will likely be in the Bucs’ plans next year.
Although they’ll likely bring back both Pittman and Garner, the Bucs could decide to draft a running back and/or sign one via free agency. Sources tell Pewter Report that the Bucs are intrigued by the possibility of drafting Auburn running back Ronnie Brown, who is projected to go in the first round.
Memphis junior DeAngelo Williams could also be an early-round possibility if he elects to enter the draft a year early.
The Bucs could also have a nice selection of backs to choose from in free agency, including New Orleans’ Deuce McAllister, Indianapolis’ Edgerrin James and Seattle’s Shaun Alexander.
Fullbacks Jameel Cook and Greg Comella are both scheduled to become unrestricted free agents in March.
The Buccaneers only have two wide receivers – Michael Clayton and Joe Jurevicius – under contract next season. However, receivers Frank Murphy and Edell Shepherd will be exclusive rights free agents, which means they’ll likely re-sign with the Bucs.
Although Jurevicus is signed through the 2005 season, there’s no guarantee he’ll be a Buc next year because of the fact that his cap value escalates from $1.64 million in ’04 to $2.940 million in ’05. The Bucs might consider that cap value a little pricey for a player who has caught 15 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns in five games since returning to the field after nearly a one-year hiatus.
Tampa Bay wants to add at least one more receiver that can compliment Clayton, who leads the team in receptions with 60. Not only do they have to add some potential starters, the Bucs will have to sign several wide receivers to add depth to their roster. This year alone, the Bucs have placed three receivers on injured reserve.
It is unclear whether split end Joey Galloway, whose contract expires at the end of the season, will be re-signed. Galloway has battled through a groin injury that caused him to miss nearly half of the season. If Galloway, who has caught 10 passes for 111 yards, is going to return to Tampa Bay, it will have to be for much less than the $2 million base salary he received this season because injuries haven’t allowed him to earn his keep.
Wide receiver Charles Lee, who has been frustrated with his lack of playing time in Gruden’s offense, is also scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. He’s caught 15 passes for 207 yards this season. Although he’s publicly voiced his displeasure with his offensive role, Lee told Pewter Report that he won’t hesitate to re-sign with Tampa Bay if the opportunity presents itself during the offseason.
Tim Brown, 38, has caught 20 passes for 161 yards and one touchdown in spot duty. He’s scheduled to become a free agent in ’05 and will likely retire.
This position will be made a priority in both free agency, where Jerry Porter and Plaxico Burress will be available, and the NFL Draft, which will offer USC’s Mike Williams, Michigan’s Braylon Edwards and Oklahoma’s Mark Clayton as first-round picks.
The Bucs will make drafting and/or signing a tight end a priority during the offseason. Three of their four tight ends – Ken Dilger, Rickey Dudley and Dave Moore – are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents after the 2004 season.
In fact, the 33-year-old Dilger, who has the second-most receptions on the team with 26 for 259 yards and three touchdowns, could conceivably retire along with Dudley, 32, and Moore, 35, at the end of the season. If he doesn’t, he would be worth re-signing for a one-year deal.
Will Heller, who has seen significant action with Dudley on injured reserve, has caught nine passes for 79 yards and one touchdown this season. He’s scheduled to become an exclusive rights free agent at the end of the ’04 season.
Some believe Tampa Bay will once again attempt to revamp its offensive line next offseason. After surrendering 31 sacks through 11 games, which is eight more than the Bucs gave up all of last season, and helping to produce the league’s 28th-ranked rushing offense, one would be hard pressed to argue with that notion.
But because of their salary cap situation, the Bucs may not be able to afford to put much more money into this unit.
Although he was benched in Week 5 of the regular season due to poor play, tackle Todd Steussie won’t likely be going anywhere in 2005. By releasing Steussie, whose cap value is scheduled to escalate from $1.42 million in ’04 to $2.66 million next year, the Bucs would take a $3.33 million cap hit, which wouldn’t make much sense since it would be cheaper for the Bucs to hold on to Steussie than it would be to release and/or trade him. Unless Steussie, 34, decides to retire and give back a portion of his $4 million signing bonus, the Buccaneers will likely be stuck with him next year.
Center John Wade and right tackle Kenyatta Walker will enter the final year of their contracts in 2005. Their cap values are $1.75 million and $1.49 million, respectively. The Bucs would like to see Sean Mahan, who is starting in place of Wade (dislocated knee), push the veteran center for the starting job next year, especially since ’05 is the final year of both players’ contracts.
Bucs left tackle Derrick Deese is signed through the 2009 season, but his cap value goes up from $1.171 million in ’04 to $2.137 million in ’05. The team likes Anthony Davis and will almost certainly bring him back as an exclusive rights free agent. Some within the organization believe Davis can push Deese for playing time or possibly the starting job next year.
Guards Matt Stinchcomb and Jeb Terry are under contract for the 2005 season, but Cosey Coleman and Matt O’Dwyer are not. Unless Coleman re-signs for the veteran league minimum, he probably won’t return. The Bucs want to see what O’Dwyer, who was projected to start at left guard before being sidelined for all of training camp and preseason, and the team’s first 11 regular games, with a torn pectoral muscle, can do before they make a decision on whether to re-sign him.
The Bucs would like to use free agency and the draft to add some competition and depth to their O-line next year.
Tampa Bay will be focused on adding depth and a potential starter to its defensive tackle rotation next year.
Two starters on the defensive line – defensive end Greg Spires and defensive tackle Chartric Darby – are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents after the 2004 season.
The Bucs want to re-sign Spires, who has been the team’s most consistent defensive lineman this season, notching 63 tackles, 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. However, the team is not sure how much Spires, 30, will command on the free agent market. Although they could sign him to an extension before he hits free agency, Allen will probably take into consideration the fact that former G.M. Rich McKay’s decision to extend the contracts of former Bucs defensive ends Marcus Jones and Chidi Ahanotu, who recently re-joined the team for league minimum, didn’t pan out.
Even Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice, whom McKay made the NFL’s highest-paid defender during the 2003 offseason when he signed him to a $41 million contract extension that has Rice signed through the 2007 season, isn’t playing up to his contract.
Because of the manner in which that deal was structured, Rice’s cap value is scheduled to more than double, escalating from $5.5 million in ’04 to a $10.7 million in ’05. The Bucs may have a hard time justifying Rice’s cap value next year. He has, after all, registered just 30 tackles and six sacks through 11 games, which is down dramatically from his first three years with the Bucs, where he notched a total of 41.5 sacks and averaged 13.8 sacks per season.
Although it may be a necessity, restructuring and extending the three-time Pro Bowler’s deal might not be prudent since he turns 31 next season. In fact, a pay cut may be in order and is justified.
The Bucs might feel comfortable allowing Darby to test the free agent market, especially since they signed Ellis Wyms to a six-year extension last season. The problem is Wyms played primarily at under tackle this season and was placed on injured reserve earlier this year after undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery.
That said, Damian Gregory, who also went on IR around the same time as Wyms with a knee injury, is under contract next season and could start at nose tackle should Darby leave via free agency.
Look for Tampa Bay to sign a nose tackle in free agency or select one like USC’s Mike Patterson in the draft. The Bucs have been inconsistent against the run and currently rank 19th (119.7 avg.) in that category. Darby has played admirably at times this season, but the Bucs might want an upgrade over his 6-foot, 270-pound frame, which hasn’t been able to fight off or through double teams this season.
Bucs defensive end Josh Savage and defensive lineman Dewayne White, who has notched 4.5 sacks while teaming up with Ahanotu to fill the void left by under tackle Anthony McFarland, are under contract next season.
“Booger” is signed through the 2009 season and his cap value is scheduled to increase from $2.245 million in ’04 to $4.7 million in ’05. Since he will have missed a total of 19 games over the past four seasons, ’05 will be big for McFarland, who had recorded three sacks before going on injured reserve in November.
Because McFarland has been plagued by injuries over the past few seasons, the Bucs could put extra emphasis on re-signing the 34-year-old Ahanotu, who has notched 12 tackles and 2.5 sacks over three games in McFarland’s place.
If Allen leaves their contracts as is in 2005, starting linebackers Derrick Brooks, Shelton Quarles and Ian Gold will account for 17 percent ($14.5 million) of the estimated $83 million salary cap.
Brooks, who leads the team in tackles with 115 and has notched one sack, one forced fumble and one interception, received a contract extension last season. His cap value is scheduled to escalate from $4.907 million in ’04 to $9.647 million in ’05. Unless Allen restructures his contract again, which could be difficult since Brooks turns 32 next season, he could become a cap casualty in ’06, where his cap value escalates again to $11.6 million.
Despite missing some playing time due to various injuries, Quarles, who turns 34 next year, has notched 104 tackles and 3.5 sacks. He has been active on game days this year, but if the Bucs are pressed for cap room they may have to make the difficult choice of parting ways with Quarles, whose cap value goes up from $2.04 million in ’04 to $3.57 million next year.
The team has been pleased with how backup middle linebacker Jeff Gooch, 30, has played in place of Quarles this season. Gooch, who has quietly notched 32 tackles and half a sack, is signed through 2009 and has a cap value of just $715,000 in ’05.
However, the the Bucs would only save about $250,000 by releasing Quarles, so the more likely scenario is that Quarles returns next season and becomes a cap casualty in ’06, where his cap value shoots up to $4.75 million.
It should be interesting to see what the Bucs decide to do with Gold, who actually ranks third on the team in tackles with 76. He’s also notched one interception and two passes defensed. Last year, the Bucs opted not to keep Dwayne Rudd around after his less than stellar debut on the strong side. Gold has been better, but is he worth keeping around?
Although he signed a five-year contract with Tampa Bay, the Bucs essentially rented Gold for a season. His cap value is scheduled to escalate from $833,000 in ’04 to $2.8 million next year. Some believe the Bucs will keep Gold around with the idea of having him succeed Brooks one day. That would allow the team to move rookie Marquis Cooper, who has been playing primarily at the strong side behind Gold, to take over there whenever Brooks retires or is released.
Backup linebacker Keith Burns hasn’t seen action on defense and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. However, he could demand more than the veteran league minimum next year because of the tremendous impact he’s made on special teams, where he’s notched a team-leading 18 tackles and one forced fumble. Re-signing Burns will likely be made a priority.
Ryan Nece, who beat out Rudd for a starting job last year, has been serving as a backup behind Brooks on the weak side. He’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Like Burns, Nece has made a positive impact on special teams, notching 12 tackles and recovering one fumble.
Allen kept one of his free agents-to-be off the market by signing safety Jermaine Phillips to a four-year extension in November. A fifth-round choice in the 2002 draft, Phillips, who led all Bucs defensive backs in tackles with 71 before being sidelined with a fractured forearm in Week 8, received a $1 million signing bonus and a $1.35 million roster bonus that’s due next spring. His cap values appear to be cap friendly, amounting to just $1.135 million for ’05 and ’06.
When the season is over, Allen will likely turn his attention to safety Dwight Smith, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. Smith, 26, hasn’t had a spectacular season in terms of statistics. He’s notched 66 tackles, nine passes defensed and has just one interception. However, his ability to play both corner and safety as well as on special teams makes him versatile, which in turn could raise his asking price in free agency. No one is quite sure what Smith’s asking price will be, but it will likely be a bigger contract than the one Phillips received last month.
Smith and his former agent, Gene Burrough, rejected a few contract offers from Allen this past summer. Negotiations were apparently put on hold after Smith fired Burrough and hired Drew Rosenhaus.
However, those negotiations could resume as soon as the 2004 season concludes. Should he leave Tampa Bay via free agency, Smith could be replaced in the starting lineup by Will Allen, the team’s 2004 fourth-round draft pick.
The Bucs have two more safeties – John Howell and Dexter Jackson – scheduled to become unrestricted free agents at the end of the season. Howell has been playing in place of the injured Phillips and has recorded seven tackles. His biggest impact has been on special teams, where he’s notched 16 takedowns, which ranks second-highest on the team.
Jackson, the MVP of Super Bowl XXXVII, returned to Tampa Bay in November after spending a year and a half in Arizona. He’s notched seven tackles as a backup and could be re-signed, especially if the Bucs lose Smith in free agency.
Starting cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly have been outstanding this season and are under contract in 2005. Barber leads all Bucs defensive backs with 72 tackles. He’s also notched two fumble recoveries for touchdowns, two sacks, two interceptions and eight passes defensed.
His cap value ($4.61 million) stays the same next season unless he notches three more picks between now and the end of the regular season, a scenario that would call for Barber’s cap value to increase by $500,000 next season.
Kelly has recorded 42 tackles and leads the team in interceptions (three) and passes defensed (14). Kelly, 28, restructured his contract during the spring. He’s due a $400,000 roster bonus in ’05, and his cap value for next season escalates from $1.37 million to $3.63 million.
Although they signed him to a six-year contract last spring, the Bucs won’t likely be able to keep cornerback Mario Edwards around next season due to his cap value, which goes up from $875,000 in ’04 to $3.325 million in ’05. Edwards, who notched just nine tackles and three passes defensed before being replaced in nickel situations by second-year corner Torrie Cox, is also due a $1.6 million roster bonus that the Bucs can avoid paying him by releasing him in the offseason.
Should the Bucs release Edwards, Cox, who has recorded eight tackles and returned his only interception for a touchdown, could serve as the team’s nickel cornerback next season. However, a recent DUI arrest could cloud his future in Tampa.
Reserve cornerback Corey Ivy is scheduled to become an unresticted free agent at the end of the season. He hasn’t seen much action on defense, but Ivy has recorded 12 tackles on special teams.
Although he won’t be on their roster, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Martin Gramatica, who was signed through the 2008 season before being released last week, will hit the salary cap for about $1.8 million. New kicker Jay Taylor is only under contract for one season, and even if he performs well, the Bucs will likely target a kicker in free agency and/or the NFL Draft where Ohio State’s Mike Nugent will be the first one selected.
Punter Josh Bidwell is signed through the 2006 season and has performed well in his first season as a Buc, averaging 43.3 yards per punt and dropping 17 of his 56 attempts inside opponents’ 20-yard line. His cap value is just $581,000 next year.
Although he’s 35, Dave Moore has done a nice job of long snapping this season and the Bucs would like to re-sign him during the offseason.
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