FAB 3. Greenberg’s Cap Wisdom Gives Bucs Advantage

Sometimes the simplest things work best in life. We as human beings often tend to overcomplicate things and make things harder than they should.

Remember a few years ago when Coca Cola rolled out cans in the summer with people’s names on them? Have a Coke Zero with Scott. Have a Coke with Ashley.

Yep, I bought those for my wife and I for the novelty of it – and I don’t drink much soda. Guilty as charged.

It was such a genius idea and it boosted sales for the first time in 10 years. Put people’s names on soda cans and they’ll buy them for themselves, their friends and their family members – just because of the names.

The genius was in its simplicity, and you know somebody in Pepsi’s marketing team got fired for not thinking of something so obvious first.

A few years ago when Bucs director of football administration Mike Greenberg worked under former general manager Mark Dominik he decided to do something different with signing bonus money. Instead of giving a new Buccaneer a signing bonus, which had to be prorated over the life of the salary per league rules, Greenberg thought of guaranteeing the base salary over the first year or two of the contract because the player was essentially guaranteed to be on the roster the first year anyways, and then include a roster bonus into the equation that wouldn’t be subjected to proration.

Dominik saw the Buccaneers get into some serious salary cap problems under former general manager Rich McKay – and to an extent former G.M. Bruce Allen – and prorated signing bonuses that created a lot of dead salary cap space were a big culprit. If Tampa Bay wanted to release an aging veteran who was four years into a six-year deal and he was given a $12 million signing bonus, that meant that $2 million worth of prorated signing bonus from each of the remaining years would accelerate and hit the cap that year.

Bucs co-chairman Bryan Glazer and director of football administration Mike Greenberg - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs co-chairman Bryan Glazer and director of football administration Mike Greenberg – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

So while the team would save the base salary, it would still cost the Bucs $4 million in dead cap money that year. There were years where Tampa Bay had to move on from multiple players that had prorated signing bonuses and that dead cap space would choke the Bucs’ cap room in the 2000s.

When Greenberg came up with the idea of using roster bonuses and guaranteed base salaries for a year or two in place of signing bonuses, Dominik immediately loved the idea, as it was a way to keep Tampa Bay out of salary cap hell. Several teams around the league have adopted Greenberg’s method, too.

The reason why not all teams can go to that method is because they are too close to the cap limit and need to use the proration method to spread out the cap hit from the signing bonus over multiple years. The Bucs can get away with paying a high-priced free agent like cornerback Brent Grimes because they have the cap room to afford to pay him $8 million per year.

When Grimes signed his two-year contract in 2016, he was paid a $3.5 million base salary, had a $3.5 million roster bonus and had a likely-to-be-earned incentive of $1 million. That made Grimes’ total cap hit $8 million that year.

A team that was salary cap-strapped would have lowered his cap number by having the roster bonus be a signing bonus that could be spread out over two years. But because of excellent salary cap management by Greenberg, the Bucs don’t have to do business that way. It’s more pay-as-you-go in Tampa Bay with Greenberg’s methods.

If Grimes had lost a step, or if the Bucs wanted to move on for any reason after the first year, they could have released him after 2016 and saved $6 million in base salary and another $500,000 in roster bonus money. Grimes had $7 million in guaranteed money, and that amount was satisfied in the first year with his $3.5 million base salary and his $3.5 million roster bonus.

Former Bucs DT Chris Baker - Photo by: Getty Images
Former Bucs DT Chris Baker – Photo by: Getty Images

It’s this type of contract structure that allowed Tampa Bay to move on from defensive tackle Chris Baker, who signed a three-year deal, after just one season without any dead salary cap money impacting the Bucs. Baker had $6 million guaranteed upon signing his deal, and that was fulfilled between his $3 million base salary and his $3 million roster bonus.

Baker also had an additional $3 million guaranteed from his $4.875 million base salary in 2018 if he were on the roster on March 18, and that’s what brings me to discuss another genius move by Greenberg and general manager Jason Licht. Instead of having the roster bonuses due on the first day of the league year, which is March 14 this year, like most teams do, the Bucs’ decision day for roster bonuses comes several days later.

The Bucs made March 18 the trigger date for a lot of players, giving Greenberg and Licht 72 hours after the official start of free agency – really five days after the true beginning of free agency, which comes on March 12 when agents are allowed to open negotiations with teams – to see which free agents they can land.

The Bucs knew they were moving on from Baker and also backup center Joe Hawley, so they released them well before March 14, but the team is not sure if it will keep 32-year old defensive end Robert Ayers, who is due a $1 million roster bonus on March 18. If Tampa Bay can sign a defensive end in free agency worthy of replacing Ayers it will likely happen in the initial wave of free agency on March 14 or 15. Then the Bucs could save $6 million in cap space – Ayers’ $1 million roster bonus and his $5 million base salary – and have Ayers’ replacement on the roster.

Without mentioning Ayers by name, Licht discussed the practice of having the roster bonus date come after the start of free agency.

“We have decisions some decisions to make once the UFA period starts,” Licht said. “We value on every player, and there’s a value that we have in mind, and I’m sure there’s a value that the player has in mind. Sometimes you have to make a decision that if you’re not seeing eye-to-eye you have to move forward.”

“There are constant evaluations going on. We’ve evaluated all the players, but the evaluation now is – is it better to move on and sign this person? Is this person available?”

Aside from Ayers, right tackle Demar Dotson has a $750,000 roster bonus and safety Chris Conte has a $250,000 option bonus due on March 18.

Bucs GM Jason Licht, director of football administration Mike Greenberg and director of football operations Shelton Quarles - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs GM Jason Licht, director of football administration Mike Greenberg and director of football operations Shelton Quarles – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“There’s not going to be a mass exodus of these guys,” Licht said. “There are maybe one or two players that we’re discussing things on. But it’s not every player that has an option don’t assume that they are out the door. I like all of them to a degree.”

Players might not favor Greenberg and Licht’s method of pushing the roster bonus date back a few years past the start of the league year because it may put them at a disadvantage if they are released, missing out on competing with other top free agents for the windfalls that come in the first 48 hours of free agency. But that’s probably the last thing on their minds when signing lucrative deals with Tampa Bay at the time – and it works to the Bucs’ benefit.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 24th 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 son's Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]

28 COMMENTS

  1. Good Fab 5 SR!

    Sign me up for signing Ryan Jensen and Kyle Fuller!!

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  2. “Anytime you force a pick – anytime you force a pick – because of a need, you run a greater risk of it not working out. I’ve seen that happen a lot of times.”

    THIS THIS THIS THIS THIS

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    • Yet we may end up doing a the same thing!

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  3. Free Agency Strategy

    *Bucs projected cap space for 2018 per OverTheCap (OTC) is 70.5mil. Additional Buc veterans expected to be cut – Ayers 6.0mil, Sweezy 5.2mil and Hawley 2.5mil = savings of 13.7mil + 70.5mil = approx. 84.2mil cap. This will change every time a player is cut, added, extended, or restructured.

    I believe this is the year the Bucs must make most of their team improvements through free agency. This administration does not have the time to develop drafted players that will make an immediate difference. I estimate they will spend 40 to 45mil of a projected cap more than 84mil after additional cuts.

    Free Agency Targets

    *There is no Calais Campbell out there this year and DE Demarcus Lawrence and DE Ziggy Ansah will not likely make it to free agency. But there are a few possible contributors. DE Denico Autry/Raiders 6-5 270 (had 5 sacks last year) and DE Aaron Lynch/49ers 6-6 270. Lynch has edge rush talent, but hasn’t shown the motivation to excel, but still worth a look. DE Alex Okafor/Saints 6-4 260 had 4.5 sacks before his Achilles injury. Okafor was drafted by D-Line coach Brentson Buckner at Arizona.

    *Whether CB Brent Grimes retires or not, the Bucs should look at CB Kyle Fuller/Bears and five-time pro bowler, two-time all pro and former Buc CB Aqib Talib/Broncos if he is released from Denver. Maybe 6-2 CB former Buc Rashaan Melvin who went to the Colts and became a shutdown corner would welcome a return. The Jags are going to let CB Aaron Colvin test free agency and the Eagles are going to let 30yr old CB Patrick Robinson walk after 1 year. EJ Gaines/Bills is a free agent. CB Malcolm Butler is now questionable and twice tagged CB Trumaine Johnson will be too expensive. Recently released and former Buc Darelle Revis appears to be done. Any one of these guys would be an upgrade.

    *There are several safeties that are worthy of a look. Larmarcus Joyner/Rams, Kenny Vaccaro/Saints, Eric Reid/49ers, and Marcus Gilchrist/Texans. Former Buc Bradley MacDougald is a free agent but I think he stays with the Seahawks. The Steelers are rumored to cut S JJ Wilcox so who knows maybe second time is a charm. If safety is a target, Vaccaro should be at the top of the list.

    *The Bucs should end the Ali Marpet at Center experiment. Move Marpet back to RG where he is a likely pro bowl candidate. C Weston Richburg/Giants will likely make it to free agency and would be an excellent replacement center if he checks out medically due to a concussion that forced him to IR. The most likely center get would be C Ryan Jensen/Ravens 6-4 320. Jensen is only 26 and he anchored Baltimore’s front in 2017 with the physical style the Bucs really like.

    *The Panthers are not going to tag LOG Andrew Norwell who made the PFF All-Pro team. This should be our highest priority pursuit. Word is the Giants will be in competition. However, there will be no lack of talent at the left guard position. Josh Sitton/Bears and Zach Fulton/Chiefs will be available. The fallback would be OG Quenton Nelson in the draft but there is no guarantee that he would be there at 7.

    *The Bucs should select one of RB Isaiah Crowell/Browns 5-11 225, Orleans Darkwa/Giants 5-11 219, Jeremy Hill/Bengals 6-1 230, or Carlos Hyde/49ers 6-0 238 to complement the RB stable in addition to a draft pick. Add CJ Anderson to this list if he is cut by the Broncos as expected. Hyde would be my first choice but we’ll get competition for him. If we get a good left guard any Buc RB is going to be better.

    *DT Dontari Poe (expected release from the Falcons) could be the nose tackle that Chris Baker never was.

    Conclusions

    *I read these reports every day. There has been 1 mention of a Buc free agent TE Cameron Brate (RFA) that other teams may be interested in (which I do not recommend). Other teams are not interested in or inquiring about Buc free agents.

    *The Jason Licht strategy of waiting until the end of free agency to get value (not hiring top dollar free agents) has not worked – we get Chris Baker instead of Calais Campbell. Six of the top 10 2017 spenders in free agency made the playoffs: The Patriots, Titans, Rams, Vikings, Panthers, and the Jaguars (who spent $20 million more than any other team). Maybe this year it’s time to prudently (key word) join the party!

    *Three or four of these guys could really help our needy Buc squad – can’t do it all in the draft. With the proper due digilence the Bucs have the resources to get this done. Go Bucs!

    https://overthecap.com/salary-cap/tampa-bay-buccaneers/

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    • Mac-

      I agree Marpet should go back to guard, and the highest priorities should he Norwell & Jensen. That would shore up the interior of the OL.

      Target 1 top CB & 1 RB.

      I would also look at a trade for Bennett from Seattle (which should be a lower middle round pick).

      focus on Defense & 1 top RB in the draft.

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      • INDIANAPOLIS — The Seattle Seahawks are shopping Pro Bowl defensive lineman Michael Bennett in trade talks, a source tells ESPN.

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    • It is a shame that the Bucs left cap money in the bank last year that would have bought more than it will this year. The Bucs had the money to go after LT Andrew Whitworth and DE Calaiis Campbell. They “pinched pennies” and passed on two Pro Bowl players. It is hard to see who is worth spending the money on this year who will have Pro Bowl impact.

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  4. Big question I have is Fab 2.

    “head coach Bill Belichick wasn’t convinced that he was a top-flight cornerback and instead of signing him to a long-term contract extension, the Patriots signed free agent Stephon Gilmore to a five-year, $65 million deal. New England tendered Butler, who was a restricted free agent, a one-year deal with first-round draft compensation, and there was even talk about New Orleans either signing him to an offer sheet or trading for him prior to the 2017 season.

    The fact that Belichick considered that spoke volumes”

    Could you not say the same thing about Norwell? Carolina elected to resign Trai Turner last yer to a 4 year $45 million contract.

    I’m not saying that Norwell is a bad option at all, but looking at the 2 phases of the offseason to add to the franchise (FA and Draft) you would think that Butler would be a better option. The draft is deep at OG, we could draft a plug and play guy easily. CB usually has a learning curve once you get in the league and I personally don’t think there is much depth in the draft for it. Then taking it a year out from now, the 2019 draft class has no real big time CBs (as of now), top guys I can think of is: DeAndre Baker, Sam Beal, and Levonte Taylor.

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  5. Most of the Bucs misses in free agency were due to character flaws and a lack of work ethic. I don’t care how talented a player is. I don’t want to sign him if there are any red flags in either of those areas.

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    • That applies in part to draft picks as well in cases like ASJ and Donovan Smith and Martin (not to mention Freeman and Talib and others in years past).

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  6. If Chubb or Barkley are available at #4, would the Bucs consider a trade with Cleveland?

    Potentially giving up a 3rd and a 5th (according to the draft chart I used this looks right). These two players are legit and I think the drop off is significant after them.

    Yes I know the Bucs got holes to fill, but with the right pieces added in FA. I think I would consider this.

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    • I hear you, but I’d rather trade down with the Bills. The Bucs have more needs than picks as it is. A trade with Buffalo could net us two more bites at the apple.

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      • It’s a tough choice. Two more bites at the apple, but they aren’t the same quality apples that are at #7.

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      • I am not too sure where I stand, I think either would be good. I do not like the thought of us staying put at 7 though if Barkely, Chubb, and Nelson are gone.

        I dont think Vea is worth a top 10 pick. and I dont really think Minkah is a scheme fit/positional need (unless Bucs brass is 100% confident he can play outside CB)

        So for me the 3 best options are (in no particular order):
        Trade up to secure Barkely or Chubb.
        Stay put and grab Nelson
        Trade down

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  7. This draft should be focused on defense as the Bucs have huge holes on the line & secondary. The only exception pick should be RB in the 2nd or 3rd round. (Praying for Sony) Don’t reach just maneuver to set the picks up.

    The Bucs are drafts (yes drafts-plural) away from really filling holes with young talent, and unfortunately time is not on Koetter & Licht’s side. PR points that out every year. I’m a Licht guy and truly believe he’ll get the talent where it needs to be, but this team needs play makers on defense (outside of its LB’s), and that will take time with the draft.

    As for the combine…the interviews are the only thing that matters. Workout warriors in underwear hardly ever translate to on field success. The tape will show what kinda player they are or aren’t.

    Go Bucs & In Licht We Trust

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    • Licht has had four drafts already yet as you note we are multiple drafts away. That timeline is exactly re reason we should be overemphasizing the lines (OL as well as DL) this draft and potentially the next one.

      Winston is young build the team for the long term. The team and owners and fans have time, it’s not our fault if the GM sealed his own fate with poor, sometimes idiotic draft day moves and bad free agent shopping habits. Build from the inside out this is not fantasy football.

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  8. * Correction SR, Derwin James can bench press 450

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  9. Fab 2, yes stay away from free agents who are let go from their teams for any reason other then becoming a cap casualty. Stay away from players that are over 30 just for a quick fix unless they’re willing to play for vet minimum on a one year deal. I can’t believe Seattle is looking for someone to trade for Bennett, and more stunned fans want him back. I hope Licht isn’t stupid enough to trade for a player he let go of years ago. Fab 3, as for saying the Bucs have had more luck with small school prospects in recent years under Licht sighting Marpet, Spence, and Smith, I say bull spit. Marpet was a guard picked in the second round, a guard picked that high better work out no matter what school he went to. We moved up into the second round for Spence, and he’s had no impact hampered by injuries since he’s been here. If you want to call R. Smith a success you’re as delusional as Licht. I consider a small school player a good pick if they’re drafted after round four, and make it to their second contract. Fab 5, very close? This coming from the G.M. who cringed at expectations last year, which is it?

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  10. I normally love your Fab 5s SR, but this one was painful to read. Your mentality is the same reason the Bucs have been mediocre for so long. Why are you holding Talibs troubled past against him, has he been in any trouble since the Bucs days? He learned how to study film and is actually one of the best route recognition corners in the nfl, right up there with Sherman. He could teach our youth how to study film and anticipate routes. Remember after he picked Winston twice, he said he knew what routes were coming, that is film study and not a guy who is a bad influence. He won a super bowl as the best corner! I would be devasted if we passed on him. As for Mo Wilkerson, I’ll give you a pass there, but we can afford to gamble because we don’t have a culture to ruin. We have to be desperate! We aren’t the patriots! we don’t have any culture to mess up. As for the honey badger, you have to pursue him if your Licht. He came back from his first acl the same if not better, and I’m sure he will do the same for the second. He is a passionate playmaker who would help our defensive culture. You are writing about small school defensive lineman but don’t want a super bowl proven cornerback, what am I missing?

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    • Let’s see! Aqib Talib played for five years with the Bucs, two years with the Pats and four years with the Broncos. Outside troubles behind him. (?) He had 31 TKL, 7 PDEF and 1 INT for the 2017 season.

      How much would he co$t the Bucs for one year? Why not ?

      https://www.foxsports.com/nfl/aqib-talib-player-stats
      _____________
      Go Bucs!!!!

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  11. I’ve been advocating for the Bucs to consider drafting UCF CB Mike Hughes in the 2nd round. He might not make it out of the first round. The guy is a lock down corner, runs sub 4.4, and is probably the best returner in college.

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  12. Hughes had a 95 yard kickoff return in the last minute of the game to beat USF in that classic game last year

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  13. Bucs looking for right fit in free agency? Apparently a 27 year old DE that would fill a need isn’t the right fit for the Bucs. And Quinn was gone for a mid round pick. I”m a big Licht fan, but this is inexcusable.

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    • cg, the Bucs are 70mil over the cap, the Dolphins are 8mil under the cap. Be interesting to see how they handle this and get over the cap by the 12th of March – gotta be some massive cuts coming. If the Bucs were not aware (friend called a friend), I understand. But if they had the chance and walked away, that would be inexcusable. #JMO.

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      • Got a good point Mac as maybe this trade was predicated on Quin going to an AFC team. We don’t know, but gees, I would hope that this is one Licht didn’t pass up on.

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  14. This is concerning. The last time there was talk about the right fit of players there was a mass exodus of talent during the Schiano era. For example, Bucs went from a young WR corps with promise pre-Schiano to nothing and a cloud of dust outside of Vincent Jackson. Also like the Schiano era, there was an overemphasis of building the defense from the back to the front and too much stunting. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

    Bucs haven’t made the playoffs since Gruden was coach because of a lack of talent. Even in the playoff loss against the Giants the Bucs lacked talent on the lines as the Giants lines dominated in comparison. Bucs do not have the luxury of not stacking talent, especially on the lines. This is because the Bucs DC is not Mr. Belicheck and Mr. Smith needs some talent to work with whether it is three man or four man fronts he wants to use.

    Bucs can take risks with low contract deals and give players a shot at competing. The problem with Licht and free agency is that he gives these mercs contracts and also guarantees them a starting gig which is a big no no. Licht needs to take a cue from the Patriots and sign talented players whether older or troubled a role to play and only that role.

    Ward for example was signed by the Bucs but was not given a clear role and he struggled to adjust as a result. Players need direction sometimes and the Bucs FO and coaching staff needs to let players play and master a single role. If Ward was used primarily as a box player like he was in Denver he would have done a lot better. Also, Baker should have been a rotational player for McCoy and not a NT as he was worn out taking on double teams. Hargreaves is another example of the Bucs misjudging his talent as a boundary CB while he clearly shows he has the talent as a nickel CB.

    It is easy to blame players but the coaches and FO have to be reasonable for what they ask of players to do.

    Bucs lack of focus on building talent on the lines combined with the lack of niche areas for players to excel in is obvious. Part of that is bad scouting by the Bucs but also that is bad adjustments by the coaching staff in not realizing the niche roles players should fill.

    Not every player is McCoy on this Bucs team that can excel where you put him on the line. That shouldn’t be the standard by which players are judged as McCoy is a rare talent.

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  15. Sony Michel will have the best draft value as a running back after all is said and done. The Bucs should draft the Notre Dame guard or the Washington DT in the 1st round and then grab Michel in the 2nd. He can do it all and has shown to be very durable.

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  16. Living in Ohio, ive been listening to a lot of fox sports radio, and i’ve heard multiple times from multiple hosts that this is going to be one of the worst free agencies as far as talent goes! I hope the bucs do not waste a lot of money on free agents. Play low ball and do not give too much money to a guy that is good but not GREAT just to fill a need! DE is not deep this year in free agency.. Build within the draft, pay the core players we have on the roster, and let most of the left over money roll over into next year. Just because we have a lot of cap space does not mean we should throw money at overrated guys to fill a need! I think we will benefit by rolling over a lot of our cap space into next season!

    I am not a Koetter fan, Even though i wish this team was, but it is not just a FEW players away from making a huge leap. And based on the schedule we will be playing next year i cannot see this team making the playoffs. I hope i am proven wrong though!

    Just take a look at Jacksonville last off-season, They had the amount same amount of cap space as the Bucs do this year give or take… The guys they brought in Campbell, Bouye, and church. Along with Albert, and the draft they had. I do not see a comparable player to Campbell, Bouye this off-season..

    So IMO i think the Bucs should spend sparingly, pay their own guys (Evans, Alexander, Marpet, etc.) And roll over as much cap space as they can to next season!

    I did not list Winston because i am not yet sold on him being a Franchise QB. This season will be a huge one to see if he finally make that leap.

    GO BUCS

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