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Here are five things that caught my interest this week:
FAB 1. So where the heck do the Buccaneers actually stand with the salary cap as of March 3, 2006? That’s a question that many a Buccaneers fans have been asking lately, and a question that was posed to Tampa Bay general manager Bruce Allen on Thursday night in a gaggle with the media after word broke that the NFL would delay the start of free agency by 72 hours.
Not surprisingly, Allen was a bit coy with his answer, which was, “Really in no different position than we have been, although we made a lot of progress. Our guys have responded well. As the contracts get signed, we will talk about it. I know there’s been speculation, the Chris Simms and Juran Bolden [contracts], were in our numbers that I have told you about.”
Those “numbers” Allen is referring to are the $19 million in cap overage he gave to the local media a few weeks ago. However, Allen did disclose the fact that the $94.5 million salary cap for the 2006 season came in about $2.5 million higher than the Buccaneers were planning for, so essentially, the team “gained” some cap room and the $19 million figure that Allen talked about a few weeks ago is really more like $17 million.
So are the Bucs really $17 million over the cap or are they much closer to the $8-9 million figure that ESPN.com put out on Thursday? Technically, the team is closer to that $17 million right now, but there are some caveats.
Based upon salary cap information PewterReport.com recently obtained, the Bucs are officially $15.7 million over the cap as of March 1 and that includes cornerback Juran Bolden’s 2006 salary cap figure ($752,500) from the contract extension he just signed last week. However, this figure does not include the approximate $2.1 million, one-year deal that Chris Simms signed on Wednesday. Taking that into account, Tampa Bay is approximately $17.8 million over the cap according to PewterReport.com’s calculations.
However, the current salary cap information that we came across still had the cap values of Mike Alstott and Kenyatta Walker on the team’s payroll. The contracts of Alstott and Walker are set to void on the first day of the league year due to contract clauses, so the instant that happens another $5.168 million (Alstott) and $1.73 million will come off the $17.8 million automatically.
Team sources have told PewterReport.com that Walker will not be re-signed, and Alstott’s return is anything but a certainty given the lack of a Collective Bargaining Agreement extension. The Bucs want Alstott back, but at the right price. Alstott wants to return for one last season, but the price has to be right for him to play an 11th year with the team.
With Walker and Alstott days away from being shaved off the payroll, the Buccaneers salary cap is really $10.9 million over the $94.5 million league salary cap before any more cuts or any contracts are restructured. A Buccaneers official confirmed our math early this morning and gave us no indication that our approximate $10.9 million figure was inaccurate.
As it turns out, Allen was truthful in his assessment of the team’s salary cap situation with the media, but he was perhaps being a little too technical by including Alstott and Walker’s 2006 cap values in his $19 million proclamation. Technically, he was correct, but many of us had assumed that the contracts of Walker and Alstott were going to be history anyways because they voided at the start of free agency. Hopefully, this clears up any confusion about where the Buccaneers really stand cap-wise.
Although our Pewter Insider rules prohibit the sharing of premium content with non-subscribers, PewterReport.com WILL allow you to inform fellow Bucs fans about where the Buccaneers actually stand cap-wise. All we ask is that you paraphrase the information from Fab 1 (only) and credit PewterReport.com and not copy and paste our copyrighted material. This could lead to other Bucs fans coming to PewterReport.com and wanting to sign up for the Pewter Insider, which certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing.
I can say with great certainty that the cap information we received last night is about as rock solid as you can get, and the confirmation on our cap figure from a Bucs official early this morning only validates the $10.9 million cap overage. Now this number will certainly change (if it hasn’t already) whenever a Buccaneer is released or restructures his contract between now and Sunday, March 5 at 6:00 p.m. ET.
FAB 2. Expect Tampa Bay to be a moderate player in the free agent market despite the fact that it has to clear almost $11 million in salary cap space just to get into compliance with the NFL-mandated $94.5 million salary cap. No, the Bucs won’t have tens of millions to spend in free agency like the Vikings, Packers and Cardinals will, but they won’t have to relegate themselves to being idle like they were last year when the team signed cornerback Juran Bolden, nose tackle Chris Hovan, wide receiver Ike Hilliard and kicker Matt Bryant to one-year, league-minimum-type deals. Anthony Becht also signed a very cap-friendly multi-year deal that included a $25,000 signing bonus, which was below market value for a tight end with his abilities.
But the fact that the Buccaneers were able to attract so much talent without having much money to offer was encouraging, so expect Tampa Bay to take a similar approach in 2006. After general manager Bruce Allen and Co. made some high-priced free agent mistakes in 2004 with offensive tackles Derrick Deeese and Todd Steussie, along with running back Charlie Garner, the Bucs’ free agency motto should be “the cheaper the better.”
If the Collective Bargaining Agreement is not extended by the start of free agency on March 6, an awful lot of Pro Bowl players who are in their prime will be salary cap casualties and will be available. But without a CBA extension that could bring as much as an extra $10 million to the 2006 salary cap for all franchises, most teams won’t have the money to sign even those Pro Bowl players to anything but below-market value deals.
One agent told me that if Atlanta is forced to part ways with running back Warrick Dunn due to salary cap reasons, that Dunn had better get used to making close to league minimum – especially in an overcrowded running back market. Believe it or not, that would be music to the Buccaneers’ ears, because the team is getting quite good at using its front office, its premier coaching staff and offensive and defensive systems to recruit free agents to come to Tampa for below-market contracts.
Allen didn’t seem to be phased at all last night about the prospects of the CBA not being extended. In fact, he and the Buccaneers might relish it. Allen is a forward-thinker who has been planning for two different futures – one with the CBA extended and one without it – since the day he stepped foot in Tampa Bay. He’s been ready for either outcome to take place from a salary cap perspective, and both he and the Buccaneers organization may even prefer the prospects of an uncapped year in 2007.
It has been rumored on websites such as ProFootballTalk.com that the Buccaneers are one of the teams along with Dallas, Washington, New England, and others that could be standing in the way of a revenue sharing agreement with other NFL teams, which in turn, is stalling negotiations for an extended CBA. However, PewterReport.com cannot confirm this.
Still, with the way the Glazers have spent money on this franchise in the past by making – at one point in time – Warren Sapp the highest paid defensive tackle in the league, Keyshawn Johnson the highest-paid wide receiver in the NFL and defensive end Simeon Rice the league’s highest-paid defensive player, you can see how they wouldn’t be a wallflower if there was no more salary cap.
It certainly would make Allen’s job easier with regards to not having to restructure contracts and cut players like safety John Lynch for salary cap reasons. And head coach Jon Gruden would finally be a happy camper in the offseason because he could actually go out and compete with other teams for the NFL’s top-notch talent in free agency. That would basically make everyone at One Buccaneer Place happy because then they wouldn’t have to deal with Gruden’s rants about not having any salary cap room year after year. Of course, Rich McKay’s name would probably no longer be mentioned anymore in the halls of One Buccaneer Place, especially with the words “Damn you” in front of it.
A quick glimpse at the NFC South shows that the Buccaneers could easily outspend New Orleans and Carolina for top talent on the free agent market, and probably Atlanta, although Falcons owner Arthur Blank has shown the propensity to overpay some players (see Michael Vick, Warrick Dunn, Todd Weiner, Jason Webster, etc.). From Tampa Bay’s perspective, it could be the top dog in the South. Perhaps not having a salary cap could actually be a good thing in the future for the Bucs – that is if the league and the players don’t create a work stoppage in 2008 with either a lockout or a strike.
Nevertheless, the Bucs will still try to use the perks of playing for a great coaching staff on a championship contender, a new team facility and no state income tax this year to lure bargain basement talent – whether there is a CBA extension or not. The Bucs may target players like tight end Jeb Putzier, left tackle Brad Hopkins, defensive tackle La’ Roi Glover, center Kevin Mawae and guard Will Shields, who are players who have either been released in a salary cap move or who will likely be released due to the cap. Some of these players will undoubtedly land more lucrative deals elsewhere, but the Bucs may hook one or two. For a complete list of free agents the Bucs could target in free agency, such as kicker Ryan Longwell, check out the Pewter Report Bucs Free Agency Preview.
FAB 3. Don’t be surprised if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers come away with at least one draft pick from the University of Southern California – and I’m not talking about 2004 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Matt Leinhart or 2005 Heisman Trophy-winning running back Reggie Bush.
The Trojans, which lost a grand total of two games over the past three seasons, and won national titles in 2003 and 2004 while playing in the 2005 national championship, are expected to have as many as a dozen players get drafted on the weekend of April 29-30. Expect the Buccaneers to get an enhanced evaluation of those USC players with a little help from their friends – namely new defensive coaches Greg Burns (defensive backs) and Jethro Franklin (defensive line), who came from the USC program; Trojans offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who is Monte’s son; and USC head coach Pete Carroll, who is a close friend of Monte Kiffin’s from their days together at North Carolina State when Kiffin was the Wolfpack’s head coach and Carroll was his defensive coordinator.
While Leinhart, Bush and fellow USC running back LenDale White will likely be long gone before the Buccaneers are on the clock with the 23rd overall pick, about 10 other Trojans will be there for the picking. Perhaps Tampa Bay wants to upgrade its offensive line with offensive tackle Winston Justice or guards Deuce Lutui and Fred Matua.
Justice is a fine athlete who had an up-and-down 2005 season after missing the 2004 campaign due to being suspended from the team for an off-the-field incident. He grades out as a first-rounder for some teams, but the Bucs have him as a borderline player between the first and the second round. At this time, Auburn’s Marcus McNeill might rate higher on Tampa Bay’s draft board than Justice.
The Bucs have been fond of Lutui for some time now, and really like the fact that his weight has stabilized at around 335 pounds. He was as heavy as 370 pounds earlier in 2005. Lutui, who is a second-rounder, has surprising quickness for a big man and has the power to push the pile in the running game.
At 6-foot-2, 305 pounds, Matua is two inches shorter than Lutui and may be too undersized to be a starter at the next level. While he is strong and has some athleticism, Matua may be a second-day draft pick.
Tight end Dominque Byrd opened everyone’s eyes at the Senior Bowl by displaying outstanding hands, surprising speed and good moves in the open field. But at 6-foot-2, 255 pounds, Byrd doesn’t have the particular stature and body type that Jon Gruden is specifically looking for. Consider that current and former Bucs tight ends under Gruden, such as Ken Dilger (6-foot-5), Rickey Dudley (6-foot-6), Will Heller (6-foot-5), Nate Lawrie (6-foot-6), Anthony Becht (6-foot-5) and Alex Smith (6-foot-4) are all at least 6-foot-4.
Despite being a solid prospect, Byrd is undersized by those standards and has a body type similar to Jermaine Wiggins. Gruden and the Bucs may be more inclined to look at Georgia’s first-rounder Leonard Pope or UCLA’s second-rounder Marcedes Lewis, who are both at least 6-foot-6.
The last remaining player on offense the Bucs may take a stab at is USC fullback David Kirtman. Kirtman did a good job as a lead blocker for both Bush and White, and was a solid outlet receiver for Leinhart with 22 catches for 281 yards and a touchdown in 2005, including a seven-catch, 97-yard performance against Arizona State. He also rushed eight times for 29 yards and one touchdown as a senior. If he gets selected at all, Kirtman will likely be taken in the seventh round of the draft.
On the defensive side of the ball, safety Darnell Bing expects to be drafted in the first round, but it’s hard to imagine that Tampa Bay would select him with its first pick as safety is not a pressing need, nor is it a priority position. But Tampa Bay has had its eye on defensive end Frostee Rucker for some time now, and having Franklin on the coaching staff could increase the chances of the 6-foot-3, 267-pounder becoming a Buccaneer. Rucker is not a premier defensive end, but has the traits Tampa Bay is looking for.
Rucker had his best season in 2005 with 56 tackles, which was second-best at USC, a career-high 14 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one interception. Rucker is expected to be drafted between rounds 4-6.
Other USC defensive players who could interest Tampa Bay late on day two of the draft include cornerbacks Justin Wyatt and John Walker, and safety Scott Ware.
The Bucs have drafted their fair share of players who have played for championships before in Ohio State safety Will Allen, LSU wide receiver Michael Clayton and Auburn running back Cadillac Williams, who helped the Tigers to a perfect, 13-0 season in 2004. Looking to USC for talent this April and getting some detailed scouting reports from the likes of Carroll, Kiffin, Franklin and Burns will be a part of Tampa Bay’s draft plans.
Of the USC players who figure to get drafted, Lutui, Rucker and Kirtman seem to be the most logical options for the Buccaneers in rounds two, five and seven, respectively.
FAB 4. The Bucs were surprised to see All-American Alabama linebacker DeMeco Ryans run in the 4.6 range at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Tampa Bay thought the Crimson Tide’s top defender would run somewhere between 4.7 and 4.8 in the 40-yard dash and definitely be there at number 23 in the first round when the Bucs are on the clock.
Some early mock drafts by supposed draft gurus had Ryans slated as a top 10 pick. The Bucs didn’t see it that way and expected Ryans to be a late first-rounder, but his 40-yard dash time may have changed that. No, Ryans won’t be a top-10 pick, but he may go in the top 20 – just out of Tampa Bay’s reach.
However, it’s a safe bet that at least one of the following three linebackers – Iowa’s Chad Greenway, Florida State’s Ernie Sims or perhaps Ryans – will be there at number 23. With the Buccaneers forced to flirt with the idea of making Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks a salary cap casualty due to the fact that the NFL and the NFL Players Association have not reached the common ground necessary to extend the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, Tampa Bay may be interested in selecting Brooks’ successor this year due to the presence of several quality linebackers in the 2006 NFL Draft.
I wrote about Ryans and Sims a few weeks ago in a previous SR’s Fab Five, so I won’t rehash my evaluation on both players. But what I will say is that the Bucs have Sims over Ryans on their draft board right now. Where Greenway fits into the mix is currently unknown because he was expected to be a top-15 lock until he ran a 4.7 in the 40-yard dash, which was slower than both Ryans and Sims, who ran a 4.5 at the Combine.
How big a difference do 40-yard times make with the Buccaneers? When asked that question in his first pre-draft press conference in Tampa Bay in 2004, general manager Bruce Allen said that speed can be a tie-breaker in player evaluation. That is believed to have happened last year when Nebraska middle linebacker Barrett Ruud edged out USC middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu on the Bucs’ draft board. Both Ruud and Tatupu had extremely productive collegiate careers, and are incredibly instinctive, but Ruud’s 40-time of 4.6 was better than Tatupu’s time, which was north of 4.7.
Conventional wisdom says that Tampa Bay will address its offensive line in the first round, but don’t be surprised if the Bucs address the defensive side of the ball – if not in the first round then in the second round. In 2005, the Bucs drafted running back Carnell Williams with their first-round pick, then drafted Ruud in the second round to help shore up their defense in the future. Expect a similar strategy in 2006.
FAB 5. Here are a few things to hold you over until next week:
• Another player Tampa Bay is really fond off that “screwed up” by running a fantastic 40-yard dash time was LSU running back Joseph Addai. The Bucs were scouting the versatile halfback hard at the Senior Bowl and admired his ability to pass protect and catch the ball just as much as his running ability. Tampa Bay was hoping he could be around in the third or fourth round, but there’s virtually no way that happens now that Addai turned in a 4.37 in the 40-yard dash. That time elevates his stock into the second round, and with Michael Pittman likely restructuring his contract to stick around and join Derek Watson as Cadillac Williams’ backup, there is virtually no way Tampa Bay would elect to spend its second-round pick on a running back a year after they spent a first-round pick on Williams.
• If the NFL and the NFL Players Association cannot reach an extension of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, this scenario could give the Buccaneers plenty of cover if fullback Mike Alstott doesn’t come back. Tampa Bay genuinely wants Alstott back, but at the cheapest price possible. Alstott has indicated that he would play an 11th – and likely final season – but only in Tampa Bay and only if the price is right. The price Alstott is believed to be seeking is between $1.5 million and $2 million. The Buccaneers likely don’t want to offer more than $1 million for Alstott to return. Without a CBA extension, the 2006 salary cap will be tighter and Alstott will almost certainly be near the end of the Bucs’ priorty list in terms of signing free agents. If the team has the cap room to sign Alstott and Alstott agrees to those terms, then the A-Train will get one last ride in Tampa Bay. But a more likely scenario is that the Bucs could take advantage of this situation and avoid a public relations hit (see John Lynch) by simply blaming the lack of the CBA extension. With plenty of Pro Bowl players likely to be released over this weekend if the CBA isn’t extended and the salary cap isn’t raised another $10 million or so, the Bucs’ convenient story will have some truth to it. Let’s face it, Tampa Bay has tried to replace Alstott over the past two years with the drafting of fullbacks Casey Cramer and Rick Razzano. Expect the Bucs to consider drafting another fullback this year, perhaps USC’s David Kirtman, to shore up the position in case Alstott does not return in 2006 or makes ’06 the last year of his career.
• The two things that really stood out at the Combine from the Buccaneers’ perspective is that this year’s crop of tight ends are extremely talented and deep, and that the group of defensive backs in this year’s draft are better than Tampa Bay expected. The fact that the tight ends timed well and performed well didn’t surprise the Bucs, but the impressive speed of the defensive backs did catch the team off guard. Expect Tampa Bay to go back and watch more tape of some defensive backs that timed better than they were expected to.
• While the one-year deal that restricted free agent quarterback Chris Simms signed on Wednesday keeps him off the open market, it certainly does not proclude the Buccaneers from shopping him. It is doubtful that Tampa Bay would pull the trigger on a trade, but don’t be surprised if they put some feelers out there to gauge his market value. It would likely take a high first-round pick (from say, Detroit or the New York Jets) for the Bucs to be interested in dealing him. While the Bucs are very interested in keeping Simms around and further developing him, they are still in the evaluation process with him and won’t hesitate to part ways with him if the right deal comes along. Simms has yet to start in 16 games in his career, let alone a full season. As I tried to state many times in articles and on the PewterReport.com message boards, it was clear early on that the Bucs were really pushing for a one-year deal with Simms instead of committing a rich, long-term contract to a guy that they didn’t have a full grasp on. In the end, a low-risk one-year deal makes sense for both Simms and the Buccaneers. A long-term deal may be coming later in 2006 after the Bucs have a better sense of where he is in his development and how good he can become.
• There are some rumors going around the NFL that the Broncos, the Redskins and as many as three other teams are interested in trading for New York Jets defensive end John Abraham. Abraham is probably only worth a second-round pick, but with the auction-like intensity of trade talk in the NFL, the price could get driven up to first-round level. If Tampa Bay has any inclination of shopping 32-year old defensive end Simeon Rice, whose cap value eats up about 10 percent of the Bucs’ 2006 salary cap, now might be the best time. With that many teams in the market for a proven pass rusher, the teams who just miss out on Abraham might want to “rebound” with Rice and cough up a first-round pick for him. With the Bucs trying to get under the $94.5 million salary cap by Sunday at 6:00 p.m. ET, PewterReport.com has learned that the names of both Rice and outside linebacker Derrick Brooks are still on the table as possible salary cap casualties. Trading or cutting Rice would free up $2.8 million, and parting ways with the 33-year old Brooks, whose salary cap value is $11.657 million in 2006, clears over $5 million in cap room.
• One last item. I caught some grief over what I wrote in the Point-Counterpoint of the January issue of Pewter Report when I suggested that Tampa Bay should make re-signing Juran Bolden the priority in free agency instead of nose tackle Chris Hovan, which was the choice of my PR counterpart, Jim Flynn. Actually, a few Pewter Report readers even laughed at me for picking Bolden. While I’ll agree that in the grand scheme of things, Hovan has more value on the defensive side of the ball – in terms of impact – than Bolden has. But in the end, Bolden got signed first because of the argument that I laid out in that Point-Counterpoint – his deal could get done quickly and rather cheaply. Now who’s laughing, I jestfully say?
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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@example.com