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FAB 1. Greenberg Has Bucs’ Future Salary Cap In Great Shape
Jason Licht made two huge moves in his first season as general manager of the Buccaneers back in 2014.
Licht’s first-ever draft pick as Tampa Bay’s G.M. was to select future Hall of Fame wide receiver Mike Evans with the seventh overall pick. While that move turned out to be quite amazing, not much went right for the Buccaneers in 2014, as the team finished with a dismal 2-14 record in Lovie Smith’s first season as head coach.
Yet his other move turned out to be amazing, too – although the Bucs’ new G.M. probably didn’t realize it at the time. Licht decided to give Mike Greenberg, Tampa Bay’s director of football administration, who was a holdover from the Mark Dominik regime, a year to prove himself as the team’s capologist.
It was a move that would end up having a lasting impact on the long-awaited rise of the Buccaneers and the team’s Super Bowl championship in 2020.
Greenberg originally joined the Bucs as a player personnel assistant in 2010 when Dominik was the team’s general manager before replacing Digger Daley as director of football administration a year later. When Licht took over as G.M. in 2014, Greenberg aided him in re-signing defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to a contract extension, then star linebacker Lavonte David shortly thereafter.
Greenberg proved he was loyal to Licht, and his visionary approach to salary cap management mirrored that of his friend Kevin Demoff, who was the Tampa Bay’s capologist under Bruce Allen in the late 2000s. Demoff left the Bucs to join the Rams as the chief operating officer in 2010, which essentially paved the way for Greenberg to fill that role as the team’s cap manager and chief contract negotiator.
Not only has Greenberg been responsible for helping Licht negotiate some of the most important contracts in team history, such as Tom Brady’s initial contract and his recent extension along with Shaquil Barrett’s big contract extension, but also so much more. Here is Greenberg’s bio on Buccaneers.com, which details his job duties:
“Greenberg works directly with General Manager Jason Licht on all aspects of the salary cap, contract negotiations, compliance with the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, as well as the club’s financial and strategic planning. He also oversees budgeting for all football operations, including the coaching, scouting, video, athletic training, equipment, groundskeeping, strength and conditioning and player development departments.”
Bucs director of player personnel John Spytek describes how Greenberg does it all.
“Greenberg does a great job organizing our entire personnel department,” Spytek said. “He’s always kind of grabbing things from here, there and everywhere, and helping formulate a plan from that, whether it’s building a draft day trade scenario charts or setting up the cap spreadsheets. He makes sure we’re always on point and know what’s coming at all times. He has his hands in everything. I kill him all the time because he never says no to anybody, so he gets pulled in a thousand directions. But he’s excellent at taking all of it and putting it together in a way that Jason needs, but also helping myself, (director of college scouting) Mike [Biehl] and (director of pro personnel) Rob [McCartney] run our departments on a daily basis, too.
“He’s a selfless guy and he’s always willing to help you with what you’re doing. Sitting down with all of our scouts and formulating a plan for undrafted free agency was huge last year because it was so different. He said, ‘Here’s the money we have,’ and then explained it to them, so if they get a question on the phone from the agent and that’s the last part of the negotiation, then the deal doesn’t fall apart. They were able to talk about splits or one- or two- or three-year contracts. They were very well prepared.”
Greenberg’s salary cap wizardry has been on display for years, keeping Tampa Bay’s dead cap money to a bare minimum as a result. His approach has been to avoid using signing bonuses, which allows for short-term cap relief by prorating that bonus money over the length of the contract. But all that does is kick the can down the road and add dead cap money if a player is cut or traded prior to reaching the end of his contract.
And instead of back-loading contracts for immediate cap relief, Greenberg has not been afraid to do the opposite and front-load deals, especially by using guaranteed money and roster bonuses instead of using signing bonuses. That way if a player signing doesn’t work out the team can usually move on with little or no dead cap money negatively affecting the salary cap.
When Licht and Greenberg signed center Ryan Jensen to a four-year, $42 million contract in 2018, Jensen had a base salary of $2 million, a roster bonus of $10 million that year and a salary cap charge of $12 million. The first two years of that contract featured all the guaranteed money, which was a total of $22 million. Greenberg’s thinking was that the team obviously wanted him in 2018 and even if he didn’t play great that year the Bucs would give him another year for sure to prove his worth before deciding to move on from him. With no more guaranteed money after 2019, the Bucs could cut Jensen in 2020 without any dead salary cap hit if it wanted to.
And instead of getting a signing bonus, as most other teams do, Greenberg gave Jensen $10 million upfront in the form of a roster bonus, which would hit the cap in 2018 as planned without having any proration element that comes with signing bonus money.
But given the retraction in this year’s salary cap from $198 million to $182.5 million due to the economic woes from COVID-19 in 2020, Greenberg is deviating from the norm and using signing bonuses to help lower the 2021 cap value of players he’s re-signing this offseason.
“Well the reason a lot of those contracts were set up that way for so long, which some were before I was even here, is so that when you get to a point where you have a very successful team and you want to keep as many of the core players that you can together,” Licht said. “We don’t want to do anything that’s going to mortgage or completely disrupt the future, but we have flexibility now and the ability to try to keep this team together, as Bruce [Arians] and I have both been saying.”
The Bucs’ dead cap money this year is only $2,196,595, according to OverTheCap.com, which is the fourth-lowest amount in the league. And that includes $1.372 million that Barrett recently received for the grievance he filed over the franchise tag last year when Tampa Bay tendered him at the linebacker value rather than the defensive end value.
The median dead cap amount in the NFL is $9,345,071 this year, and Greenberg’s successful cap management in previous years means that the Bucs won’t be mortgaging their future. Greenberg and the Bucs will be back to using roster bonuses rather signing bonuses and guaranteeing the first two years of deals again when the salary cap rises in 2022.
Greenberg’s way of handling Tampa Bay’s salary cap is a far cry of how former general manager Rich McKay bungled it after Super Bowl XXXVII which put the Bucs in salary cap hell, forcing the team to cut star players and have to deal with a lot of dead money. Instead, the Bucs’ are reloading for another Super Bowl run and their cap situation is alive in well – not just in 2021, but in the years to come – thanks to Greenberg’s greatness.
And Licht’s wise decision to keep Greenberg around.
FAB 2. How Greenberg Used Voidable Years To Create Cap Magic
Let’s take a look at how Bucs director of football administration Mike Greenberg has been able to deviate from the norm and squeeze all of Tampa Bay’s big free agents under the salary cap in a year in which the league’s cap actually contracted from $198 million to $182.5 million due to the economic woes of COVD-19.
In examining Tom Brady’s contract extension, Greenberg used voidable “dummy” years for the first time. The Bucs added a legitimate year on to Brady’s contract, which means he’ll play in Tampa Bay through the 2022 season, but there are three voidable years at the end of the contract that allows Greenberg to spread the $40 million in roster bonuses Brady received and other bonus money over five years instead of just two.
That’s why Brady only counts for $9.1 million in cap value this year instead of the $28.375 million he was supposed to before his extension. Brady’s base salary is just $1.1 million in 2021 with $8 million of his pro-rated bonus money. So what happens when those three dummy years are voided after 2022? Then Tampa Bay will get hit with $24 million in dead cap money, but the