SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.

FAB 1. AS QUARTERBACK SALARIES RISE, BUCS’ WINSTON SET TO CASH IN
As PewterReport.com first reported weeks ago, the Buccaneers are going to explore contract extension talks this summer with Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans, the team’s first-round draft pick in 2014. While Tampa Bay will likely declare to pick up Evans’ fifth-year option by the deadline in mid-May, the plan is to work on an extension with agent Deryk Gilmore and have a long-term extension in place by the start of the 2017 regular season as the team did last August with right tackle Demar Dotson and linebacker Lavonte David in August of 2015.

Depending on the length of the contract, Evans could be Tampa Bay’s first $100 million man, surpassing the six-year, $95.2 million deal that Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy signed in general manager Jason Licht’s first year in 2014. If Evans doesn’t hit the $100 million mark this summer you can bet quarterback Jameis Winston will as early as 2018. That’s the first year Winston is eligible for a contract extension.

Here’s a breakdown of Winston’s rookie contract, which was $25,351,277 fully guaranteed over four years, including a $16,697,292 signing bonus:

2015: $435,000 salary – $4,174,323 signing bonus – $0 roster bonus – $4,609,323 cap value
2016: $525,000 salary – $4,174,323 signing bonus –  $1,062,331 roster bonus – $5,761,654 cap value
2017: $615,000 salary – $4,174,323 signing bonus – $2,124,662 roster bonus – $6,913,985 cap value
2018: $705,000 salary – $4,174,323 signing bonus – $3,186,992 roster bonus – $8,066,315 cap value

Bucs QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Winston’s fifth-year option is projected to be north of $13 million in 2019 unless a long-term extension is worked out prior to 2018. Given what Winston has been able to accomplish in first two seasons in Tampa Bay with back-to-back 4,000-yard seasons, a Pro Bowl berth in 2015 and leading the Bucs to their first winning season since 2010, it’s a safe bet that the team’s franchise quarterback will be locked up for the long term prior to 2019.

While many might think that former Bucs backup quarterback Mike Glennon made out like a bandit in free agency, signing a three-year deal worth $45 million, including $18.5 million in guaranteed money, the real winner in free agency was Winston, who is sitting back and seeing lesser quarterbacks continue to drive the QB market up..

Contracts for former backups like Glennon and Brock Osweiler, who was foolishly signed by the Texans to a four-year deal worth $72 million – an average of $18 million per year – including $9.5 million in guaranteed money, only justify paying Winston north of $18 million.

“It’s generally a very positive sign about the economic health of the game,” said Greg Gaske, Winston’s agent. “The NFL has done very well as a sport, and it’s no surprise that the quarterback position is the most highly compensated position given the importance on the field for the success of any team. We’re not surprised when the top quarterbacks in the league – your Tom Bradys – receive record-setting contracts and receive new levels of compensation.

“But we have seen some players without that level of success rewarded quite handsomely. I don’t think it’s surprising for me. Again, it’s a reflection of the overall health of the sport and the importance of the position.”

In 2018 Winston could be set to cash in.

Top 15 Quarterback Salaries In 2017
1. Indianapolis QB Andrew Luck – $112.970 million total contract – $24.594 million avg. per year – $47 million guaranteed
2. New Orleans QB Drew Brees – $24.245 million total contract – $24.245 million avg. per year – $24,245 million guaranteed
3. Washington QB Kirk Cousins – $23.944 million total contract – $23.944 million – avg. per year – $23.944 million guaranteed
4. Baltimore QB Joe Flacco – $66.4 million total contract – $22,133,333 avg. per year – $44 million guaranteed
5. Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers – $110 million total contract – $22 million avg. per year – $54 million guaranteed
6. Seattle QB Russell Wilson – $87.6 million total contract – $21.9 million avg. per year – $31.7 million guaranteed
7. Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger – $87.4 million total contract – $21.85 avg. per year – $34.25 million guaranteed
8. Cincinnati QB Carson Palmer – $21 million total contract – $21 million avg. per year – $11.65 million guaranteed
9. New York Giants QB Eli Manning – $84 million total contract – $21 million avg. per year – $36.5 million guaranteed
10. San Diego QB Philip Rivers – $83.25 million total contract – $20,812,500 million avg. per year – $37.5 million guaranteed
11. Carolina QB Cam Newton – $103.8 million total contract – $20.76 million avg. per year – $41 million guaranteed
12. Atlanta QB Matt Ryan – $103.75 million total contract – $20.75 million avg. per year – $42 million guaranteed
13. New England QB Tom Brady – $41 million total contract – $20.5 million avg. per year – $28 million guaranteed
14. Miami QB Ryan Tannehill – $77 million total contract – $19.25 million avg. per year – $21.5 million guaranteed
15. Cleveland QB Brock Osweiler – $72 million total contract – $18 million avg. per year – $9.5 million guaranteed

Without a playoff win or at least a trip to the postseason, it would be difficult for Winston and his agent, Greg Gaske, to ask for a deal that would put Winston in the realm of Luck, Brees or Cousins range in the $24 million per year range. But a six-year, $120 million contract worth $20 million per season with over $40 million in guaranteed money would not be farfetched.

Bucs QB Jameis Winston and Saints QB Drew Brees – Photo by: Getty Images

That’s why this year is crucial for Winston and the Buccaneers. A playoff berth in 2017 could really escalate Winston’s bargaining power in 2018 if he and the team want to do a contract extension prior to his fourth season in the league.

And knowing that Winston’s salary cap value will be jumping from $8 million in 2018 to possibly $20 million means that the Bucs’ salary cap will have to be under a very watchful eye. There has been a reason why general manager Jason Licht and director of football administration Mike Greenberg haven’t gone wild with spending in free agency over the past two years since drafting Winston. They know their star quarterback is going to take up a big chunk of money down sometime between 2018-20 and they must leave room for a figure around $20 million for the future.

That’s a number the Bucs have never had to deal with before as the franchise has never signed a quarterback it has drafted to a contract extension. Not first-rounder Vinny Testaverde from the 1998 draft. Not Trent Dilfer from the 1994 draft. And not first-rounder Josh Freeman from the 2009 draft.

According to OverTheCap.com, the Bucs still have $29,849,768 in salary cap room and they will need to preserve some of that cap room for the next two years when the contracts for starting offensive linemen Kevin Pamphile (2018), Donovan Smith (2019) and Ali Marpet (2019) are up, in addition to the contract for starting middle linebacker Kwon Alexander (2019) – in addition to Winston and Evans.

The cap charges of Pamphile ($1,797,000), Smith ($886,714), Alexander ($727,546) and Marpet ($703,054) this year total just over $4.1 million. By 2019, each of those Buccaneers could be making double that amount by themselves. Winston will make around five times that amount by himself.

In order to maintain a roster with so many large salaries from contract extensions hitting at once, it’s crucial that Licht hit on as many draft picks as he can over the next two years. The more starting-caliber players on cheap, rookie deals the better in Tampa Bay.

Bucs QB Jameis Winston and GM Jason Licht – Photo by: Bucs

Teams that fare well with franchise quarterbacks with contracts in excess of $20 million draft well. That’s why teams like New England, Baltimore, Green Bay, Seattle and Pittsburgh routinely make the playoffs, while teams like New Orleans, Indianapolis, Washington that are inconsistent in their drafting are more hit and miss.

Expect Licht and Greenberg to already have a salary cap plan in place to absorb the big salary spikes that are coming down the road from extensions for Winston, Evans, Alexander and others. And expect Winston to improve each year and earn every dollar he has coming to him thanks to some lesser quarterbacks like Glennon, Osweiler and Cousins, who is set to make nearly $24 million with the exclusive franchise tag this year.

“Obviously we can’t discuss or comment directly on Jameis’ situation,” Gaske said. “It’s just not the appropriate time, but certainly, as you would expect, we are going to keep a very close eye on the market. We expect the market to continue to escalate in favor of impact quarterbacks such as Jameis.”

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

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: sr@pewterreport.com
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FLBoyInDallas
4 years ago

Much appreciated Scott. Fab Five is an institution among Bucs fans “in the know”. The other more gossipy, less content-driven, sites are for the bottom dwellers (generally speaking) that focus on their feelings instead of the facts and who can’t read more than a hundred words at one time without their eyes glazing over and drool coming out of the corner of their mouths. I have to admit, though, that I wish we were still getting that magazine in the mail like we used to. Ah…the good ol’ days! ;) Back on topic, I’m excited about Sweezy being healthy and… Read more »

toofamiliar17
4 years ago

re: Fab 2 It’s definitely noteworthy that centers are cheaper than guards, all things being equal, but I’m also not sure it would actually save us money, unless we ultimately franchise Marpet once his deal is up. If the money is important to him, he could easily leave us for a team that’s offering him the opportunity to play guard, where he’ll make more money both in the short and long term for the remainder of his career. He’s already flashed All Pro potential there. Even if he plays center for us for the next two years, that doesn’t mean… Read more »