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.
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.
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.
“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.