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.

Bucs DE Jason Pierre-Paul and GM Jason Licht - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs DE Jason Pierre-Paul and GM Jason Licht – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

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.

Bucs QB Jameis Winston and LG Ali Marpet – Photo by: Getty Images
Bucs QB Jameis Winston and LG Ali Marpet – Photo by: Getty Images

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.

Bucs director of football administration Mike Greenberg - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs director of football administration Mike Greenberg – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

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.

Bucs WR DeSean Jackson - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs WR DeSean Jackson – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

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.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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Pete Wood

I really hope Bucs trade down. We need picks desperately.
My favorite scenario is the least likely, but we’d be in great shape if we traded with New England.
Assuming the Bucs don’t draft stupid.

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FLBoy84

Barring a couple questionable picks, especially the move up to draft “he who shall not be named”, Licht has a pretty solid draft history for the first 4-5 rounds. The FO seems much more in tune with the type of player they’re targeting, so wouldn’t expect any “stupid” moves, but ya’ never know I guess.

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tbb345

It’s amazing to me how many writers slavishly stick to and reference a point system for trades involving draft picks that is clearly outdated. Not only is the system outdated but it’s clearly completely useless when teams are trying to move up into the top 10 to take a QB. In literally every trade where a team has traded up to take a QB in the last 5 years, the team trading down’s value has blown away the point system. Basically, it’s worthless to use that chart to draw up trade scenarios. I can guarantee if the Bucs do trade… Read more »

Pete Wood

I agree. I think Bucs should throw the trade value charts out the window and get the maximum value for their pick. If a team wants to move up enough, that team will pay.

The value of a pick is whatever somebody wants to pay. It’s not like trading stocks and bonds.

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Destino102

I am hoping we pull off the NE trade, and your right about the trade value charts being irrelevant when it comes to a QB top 10 pick. If I am Jason, I would need both of NE 1st round pick, 1 of their 2nds and their 3rd. I would then try to trade the 23rd and the 2nd rounder we got from NE to try to get back into the top 15 to get either Derwin or Vita if they are still there. Take our RB with pick # 31, and our 2nd rounder on whatever CB we like.… Read more »

Freeman Strickland

I would love to see it. But, those picks are worth a little more than Cleveland’s fourth overall pick. How long has it been since the Patriots paid that sort of premium?

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Reynaldo Viera

I really have no ideas what’s PRs fascination with Vea, they question Hurts stats but fail to mention that Vea only had 9.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss in his college career. Vea will not get drafted in the top 10 and I’ll take Ward over Vea everyday and twice on Sunday. Vea won’t hold Donald’s jock no matter how much PR wants to push him on us. I’m all for the trenches but to draft a Nose Takle in the top 10 better yet the 1st rd because he’s an underwear warrior is idiotic. If we make the… Read more »

e

Nice Fab 5, Scott… I wouldn’t discount the Dolphins in a trade, either… They are hot for Mayfield. I like your list of players that you’d pick at #7… I’d go Nelson, Chubb, (Trade), James, Barkley, Fitzpatrick. I’m really rooting for a trade though…

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Cody

So thankful that Tampa is staying away from Taven Bryan. Literally no idea why he is even being considered in the first round.

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Kevin

Um have you seen any of his film? Hes a very good player, with a gerald mccoy-esque first step. I’d put money down he gets drafted in the first round. I agree though, would rather see the bucs help out some other positions.

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Cody

Yeah I’ve watched some of his film. He didn’t look nearly as good as Maurice Hurst, Vita, or Payne. Maybe I just watched a bad game he had though. Send me a good one that isn’t just a highlight tape and I’ll watch it.

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Jonathan Goodfellow

I personally believe the Bucs can get more than Scott suggests here with the trade charts.

QB related trades typically trash the standard trade values. Especially if there are multiple teams looking to move up. For instance, look at how the Jets MASSIVELY overpaid according to the charts. I do get that they were also paying for the most prime QB spot available.

Still, with BUF, MIA, AZ, heck even the Saints and the Pats potentially looking to move up, I think Licht can squeeze a little more.

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Especially if 3 Qbs have been taken, that leaves 1 of the “top” QBs still on the board. Someone is going to want to pay a premium for one of the top QBs, theres a drop off after that where the remaining QBs are all very late 1st, or 2nd/3rd day picks

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Mike Wright

iF THE TOP 4 QB’S are gone, its gonna be real hard to find a trade partner to move down with. Even then, many teams will not bite. So I see the Bucs staying put. One of the top players will still be there. Barkley or Nelson. I’m not enthuised about either given our many needs. If you gotta go with a defensive back, I’d go with Fitzpatrick because of his versatility. Just hope we get a very good player. Now if only our Bucs had swallowed their pride and tanked that last regular season game, Think about where we… Read more »

Pete Wood

Never a good reason to tank for a better draft pick. If a team doesn’t have enough self respect to try and win, they shouldn’t be in the league.
Spurs didn’t tank. Robinson was injured most of the season.
If four QBs are picked in top six, we won’t need to trade down, we’ll have one of the big three left on the board.

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FLBoy84

Being that the Jets overpaid by 840pts (= to a #20 1st rnd pick) to move up from #6 to #3, don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect the Bucs to receive quite a bit more than just a mere 40pts in an overpay from Buffalo or 11pts from Arizona. If you’re trading up to secure a QB, it shouldn’t be an equal swap. Have stated before that deal making doesn’t appear to be Licht’s strong suit, guess we may find out in a few weeks..

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JC5100

Hughes being thrown out of UNC is a big deal for me. We’ve gone through enough years when we drafted these kind of guys. And yes Spence has stayed out of trouble, but he hasn’t been good either.

There is a big difference between Ward and these other CBs because he sticks on WRs like glue. The others allow too much separation.

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Buc 1976

#5 would look really good now.

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jerseybucsfan

Congrats Scott. One of the better Fab 5s.

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geno711

Scott – I loved this article. I like when you guys step out and just don’t follow the national media’s picks on who the Buc’s will be selecting. Last year, you were correct in stating that you felt like the Buc’s liked Justin Evans over a lot of other guys at safety. Great job there! I will be reading for your insights the rest of this draft season. Just a thought on Vernon Hargreaves. I agree that there is not much to get excited about. However, for a comparison, let’s look at LaMarcus Joyner’s career. A 2nd round draft choice… Read more »

Horse

Scott, solid Fab 5! Here’s my thoughts. As much as I would like a trade down in the 1st Round I don’t see it happening unless one of the 3 QB’s is there at Spot 7. I think we have a better chance moving down in the 2nd Rd . I don’t see us taking a RB at Spot 7, but Barkley is hard to ignore if Chubb and James are gone and we can’t move down. Sure would like to pick up an extra pick in 2019; maybe trade a 2018 Round 7 pick for 2019 Rd 6 pick.… Read more »

Cody

Disappointing to not hear anything about Sony Michel or Lorenzo Carter. I assume the Bucs will go after Nyheim Hines in the third or fourth and use him as a change of pace back alongside Peyton Barber and Quizz. I don’t think running back is nearly as big of a need as a lot of people make it out to be. Obviously it could be better. But I feel pretty great about Peyton Barber.

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FLBoy84

Who do you feel good about if/when Peyton Barber gets injured? 😉

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Cody

Lol. I’m just saying that we don’t have to spend a top pick on a running back. I still think I’d rather see us pick up a corner and another defensive end in the first two rounds.

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Brandonges

Why is this team so keen to extend Donovan Smith? The dude is a turnstile.

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seat26

It’s always exciting to get one of the most coveted players in the draft. But when you need as many holes filled as the Bucs do and you only have 7 picks in the draft, and most of them are south of #4, trading down and stocking picks is logical. But it takes patience and strategy. And things have to fall right for you. If QB’s have a run in the first 6 picks, lots of really good players will be available for the Bucs to grab and it will be tempting. But if QB’s don’t dominate the first 6… Read more »

surferdudes

The trade chart is a guide, not the law. It’s a reference point on what value should be, but not set on. I know we’re trying to resign our own, but I don’t see the need to get D. Smith done this year. I’d rather see them use some money for a vet corner who’s still available, or one who may get cut, and become available. I’d like to see us come out of this draft with two corners, and still bring in a vet C.B..

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cgmaster27

Very good fab 5 Scott, one of your better ones. Very informative stuff on the bucs not being keen on guys like Davenport or Guice. I’m really starting to think if the big three are gone, and they don’t trade back, which at that point I think they would since the QB’s would still be there. They draft Derwin or Vita. I am really hoping for a trade down with the BIlls. And as other stated above, that chart gets thrown out when you are talking about QB’s. Id make them pay both of their firsts and a second to… Read more »

XpfcWintergreen2

FAB 1: SR’s Top 5 Picks at No. 7 I am with you wholeheartedly in your remarks. I have arrived at quite similar conclusions for some of the same reasons. (I am tickled pink as they say, to have arrived independently at these conclusions.) These rankings could be argued effectively based on BPA weighted against short-term needs and long-term needs. Others may well have the same 5 players placed in a differing order. ___________ If we should somehow find ourselves with Buffalo’s 12th and 22nd picks I would be ecstatic if we came away with the likes of DT Da’Ron… Read more »

Dman

I’m an outlier, but I’d stay at 7, and trade D. JACKSON for a second or a third.

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Pete Wood

I would trade Jackson for a second round pick in a heartbeat!

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GoldsonAges

I am open to a trade down if we can still get either Vea or James. That would be ideal unless Chubb is there. If you take away the RB and OG my top players align perfectly with SR. Chubb, Vea and James.

Mike Hughes and Jaire Alexander are my top 2 cb. If we can get in round 2 we must. We have drafted offense WAY too much since Licht got here we NEED to go defense this year BIG TIME

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fanofdabucs

So the only reason Mayfield is being considered as a top ten pick, is because he’s cocky?! Otherwise he’d be a second rounder? Come on now. You do realize just how ridiculous that sounds? He struggled in the 2nd half against Georgia because Georgia’s defense started getting pressure almost every play. I’ll take the other angle. If Baker was 2 inches taller, he’d be the sure fire top pick. He’s the best QB in this draft despite his size. Vea is going to be a decently player, but this team needs a real difference maker at 7 or hopefully trade… Read more »

e

There’s a lame 5-round draft over at NFL.com with the Bucs making only two picks in the entire draft… Oh, the disrespect.

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FLBoy84

Licht trades for JPP and suddenly he’s Mike Ditka??

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Pete Wood

I have seen a lot of mocks, but this takes the prize for the most idiotic. Trading up into the first and giving up picks to get a rb Bucs could have snagged in the second anyway?
Please.

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macabee

e, I saw that mock and it is a 5 round Chad Reuter mock that has the Bucs taking Derwin James at #7, then trading back into the 1st round by taking their 2nd pick #38 and their 4th round pick #102 acquired from the Giants and trading back into the 1st round with the Patriots for pick #31 where they then select RB Derrius Guice/LSU. As you recall the Bucs traded away their 3rd pick and under Reuter’s scenario, do not pick again until the 5th round where they select DT PJ Hall. The Bucs would still have 2… Read more »

Pete Wood

I think Pewter should give you a job, Macabee. I love your analysis. It is always spot on.
And, you definitely have the best avatar.

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owlykat

Outstanding detailed article once again Scott. If four QBs go ahead of us we should have one of the big 3 to take and at this point we should take any one of them, even if it is a Guard. Second round I would trade down and get a third pick. Take Best RB with the second , hopefully Penny, pick and Best CB with the third round pick or move Tandy to CB and pick Best Strong Safety. In the fourth Miami’s DE who has the ability and size for our DL Coach to develop into an outstanding DE.… Read more »

plopes808

Another great read, thanks Scott. I’m liking the trade down scenario more and more as time goes by. Licht needs to not be nice though, and take both firsts from Buffalo at least. Franchise QB is the big prize every team wants and if they want it, they’ll pay big. As for the cap, it shouldn’t be much of an issue as we will have some good sized contracts coming off the books next year. Even if DJax has a big year this year, at his age, and with Godwin on the roster, it’s hard to justify keeping him on… Read more »