FAB 4. Look Ahead To Bucs’ 2019 Salary Cap Situation
Save for a possible low-cost signing here or there before training camp, Tampa Bay is essentially done in free agency this year. Although many of the free agent moves weren’t particularly splashy, they were effective as the team added a great deal of mentally and physically tough players to help reshape the culture within the organization.
In the month of March the Bucs were able to re-sign quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, cornerback Brent Grimes, linebacker Adarius Glanton and wide receiver Adam Humphries to one-year deals, and also bring back guard-center Evan Smith on a two-year deal.
Bucs general manager Jason Licht and director of football administration Mike Greenberg were successfully able to sign wide receiver Mike Evans and tight end Cameron Brate to long-term contract extensions, which was key to the team’s long-term future.
Tampa Bay also added several new players in free agency, especially along the line of scrimmage with center Ryan Jensen, defensive tackle Beau Allen, versatile defensive lineman Mitch Unrein and defensive end Vinny Curry. The highlight of the offseason may have been Licht’s trade with the New York Giants for pass rushing defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.
These moves didn’t come cheap as the Bucs began free agency with over $70 million in salary cap space and have a reported $12,279,403 left in salary cap room, according to OverTheCap.com. Because of Greenberg’s sound cap management and the way he tries to avoid signing bonuses in contracts to help alleviate any dead cap money has resulted in just $814,506 in dead money, which is one of the lowest amounts in the league this year.
The Bucs have 70 players on their roster, and only the top 51 salaries currently count against that. Between now and training camp the team will add 20 more players, most of whom will be draft picks and undrafted free agents.
During training camp, Greenberg and Licht will attempt to extend the contracts of linebacker Kwon Alexander, left guard Ali Marpet and left tackle Donovan Smith, but the recent absorption of Pierre-Paul’s $12.5 million cap charge in 2018 has affected those plans by shrinking the amount of available room to do those extensions this year. Keep in mind with that available $12 million in cap room that the Bucs will need to sign their draft picks, which will be an estimated $6 million, and leave some cap room left over to head into the season to sign injury replacements throughout the 2018 campaign.
Alexander, Marpet and Smith are entering the final year of their contracts, and Alexander is set to make $2,019,546, Smith is scheduled to earn $1,931,000, and Marpet is on the books for $1,200,687. Greenberg could still do an extension with all three before the season starts, and increase the base salaries of those players by $1 million each, giving them a small bump this year in the form of a roster bonus with the big money coming in 2019 and beyond.
In order to do that Greenberg needs to have just as much of a hold on the 2019 cap situation as he does with the current year, and the reality is that he plans out the Bucs’ salary cap situations for each season several years in advance.
Math is not my strong suit, which is why I rely on a site like OverTheCap.com for salary cap projections. I’m a writer – a creative guy. Yet Greenberg is math guy, and is also quite creative with how he works his player contracts and how it pertains to the future.
So let’s take an early glimpse of Tampa Bay’s 2019 salary cap situation, knowing that the Bucs need to make sure that four key members of the 2015 draft class – Alexander, Smith, Marpet and quarterback Jameis Winston – are all re-signed.
In 2019, the Bucs are ranked number No. 24 in salary cap space with $42,781,178 in cap room available and $147,218,882 spent against a 2019 cap projection of $190,000,000. This year’s salary cap number is $177,200,000, so that’s a projected increase of $12.8 million for next year. The Bucs have 39 players under contract for 2019, which is about average. Evans is the highest-paid player next year with a $20 million base salary.
In case you are wondering, the Bucs rank below Kansas City ($43,075,682) and above New England ($42,746,427) in cap space. Super Bowl champion Philadelphia only has $726,622 in cap room next year, and the only team that is projected to be over the cap is Jacksonville, which is projected to be $16,472,564 over.
Part of the reason why the Bucs have as much cap space as they do is the fact that the salaries for several players that are on one-year deals fall off the books in 2019. Here is list of the players that count $1 million or more against the 2018 cap that aren’t currently scheduled to be under contract next year:
CB Brent Grimes – $8.5 million
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick – $3.3 million
WR Adam Humphries – $2.914 million
SS Chris Conte – $2.875 million
FS Josh Robinson – $1.875
QB Ryan Griffin – $1.375 million
If the Bucs want to keep any of those players past this season it will naturally take away some of the 2019 salary cap space. Greenberg needs to plan for not only big increases in the salaries of Alexander, Smith and Marpet – likely to the tune of around $8 million apiece – but he also has to take into account how much it will cost to pick up Winston’s fifth-year option for the 2019 season, which is expected to be north of $24 million. Add those four numbers together and you get $48 million, which already puts Tampa Bay over the cap in 2019 by about $5 million.
Even if Greenberg gets creative and slowly stair-steps the contracts for Alexander, Smith and Marpet, which he can do with a lot of guaranteed money, and pays them each around $5 million instead of $8 million in 2019, that only gives Tampa Bay about $1 million in projected salary cap space. While the Bucs can restructure the deals of existing players to create some more cap space, that typically comes with signing bonuses that get prorated and accelerate when players are released with years left on their deals, which is what Greenberg wants to avoid.
So where is Greenberg going to get the necessary cap space to ensure room for Alexander, Smith and Marpet in 2019 due to the coming extensions this summer, and Winston’s fifth-year option in 2019?
There are some players that are susceptible to being released or traded to create some additional salary cap room in 2019, and the list includes some of the free agents that the Bucs just signed to deals that only feature a small amount of guaranteed money limited to just their 2018 salary, and perhaps a roster bonus this year. Here is the list of players that could be cut or traded next year to clear some salary cap room for Winston’s big fifth-year option:
DE Jason Pierre-Paul – $14.5 million
DT Gerald McCoy – $13 million
WR DeSean Jackson – $10 million
DE Vinny Curry – $8 million
RT Demar Dotson – $4.85 million ($125,000 dead money – frees up $4.725 million in cap space)
RG J.R. Sweezy – $5,125,000 ($1.25 million dead money – frees up $3.875 million in cap space)
DE Will Gholston – $3.75 million
DL Mitch Unrein – $3.75 million
G-C Evan Smith – $2 million
A lot can happen in a year. Former running back Doug Martin fell from grace after receiving a huge contract extension and was cut two years later. Defensive end Robert Ayers went from 6.5 sacks in 2016 to just two last year and was also released this offseason.
Unless they have big bounce-back years, it’s doubtful that Sweezy and Gholston are on the team in 2019, and that would free up over $7 million in cap space, and there is even a chance that Curry or Unrein could be gone, which would save either $8 million or $3.75 million in cap room, depending on which player is released.
Depending on how they perform in 2018, this could also be the last year in Tampa Bay for McCoy and/or Jackson, as there is no dead cap money for either player if they are released prior to the 2019 season.
McCoy just turned 30, and while he’s still playing at a Pro Bowl level, his sack numbers have been in decline in each of the last three seasons. If the Bucs draft a pass-rushing defensive tackle this year as expected – especially if the team does so in the first round with a player like Washington’s Vita Vea or Florida’s Taven Bryan – it could indicate that the team is planning for life without McCoy and his precious $13 million in cap space next year.
Tampa Bay is high on wide receiver Chris Godwin, who was last year’s third-round pick, and he could steal some snaps away from the 31-year old Jackson this season. Don’t be surprised if the Bucs draft a wide receiver this year, as Humphries is playing on a one-year deal and the team may need Jackson’s $10 million to be reallocated towards Winston in 2019.
It’s potential future financial decisions like the ones the Bucs may face with McCoy and Jackson that impact how a team can approach the draft. Keep an eye on that as Licht drafts his players this year.
Don’t fret about Tampa Bay’s salary cap situation in 2019. Greenberg and Licht have been planning for the big extensions for the remaining members of the 2015 draft class for some time, and there are several escape hatches – as in no guaranteed money in 2019 – in quite a few contracts like the ones listed above that could allow the Bucs plenty of options to create the cap room it needs by making a few cap-oriented roster moves next offseason.