Although they had until 10:00 p.m. ET to do so, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did not announce any salary cap casuatlies Thursday.

Instead, the National Football League delayed the inevitable and offered a glimmer of hope to the possibility of extending the Collective Bargaining Agreement Thursday by delaying the start of free agency by three days.

While they didn’t have to release any players Thursday, the Buccaneers will still have to make some roster maneuvers in order to be in compliance with the NFL-mandated salary cap of $94.5 million.

The Bucs went from $19 million down to $16.5 million over the cap when it was set $2.5 million more than the team had originally anticipated. The Bucs and the other 31 NFL teams now have until 6:00 p.m. ET on Sunday to make whatever moves are necessary to be in compliance.

“We’re in no different position right now other than the cap went up $2.5 million since we last talked,” said Bucs general manager Bruce Allen. “So that’s obviously helpful to us and every other team. But until we start making transactions, whether it’s restructures or cuts, we’re in the same spot.”

The free agent signing period, which was originally set to begin at 12:01 a.m. ET on Friday, is now scheduled to start at 12:01 a.m. ET on Monday.

“I’m aware of what’s taking place,” said Allen. “What we’re planning on right now is how to get the Buccaneers ready for 12:01 Monday morning so we can make sure we’re ready to call some of the free agents that are available.”

Allen went on to point out the fact that Tampa Bay’s two most recent signings – quarterback Chris Simms’ one-year, $2 million tender and cornerback Juran Bolden’s five-year deal – had already been figured into the $19 million deficit he had alluded to back in January.

Allen has been working closely with several agents in an effort to rework several players’ contracts, which would in turn help reduce Tampa Bay’s $16.5 million cap overage. According to Allen, the Bucs have made progress on that front.

“I’ve had conversations with all of the players that are necessary to negotiate us under the salary cap, and people were really working with us because they really wanted to be a Buccaneer,” said Allen. “They really want to stay if possible and we’re trying to make it so we can keep all of our guys.

“You don’t get relief until you turn in a contract, so we don’t have relief. But we do feel good about several situations we’re in right now. I don’t know if this delay is going to change whether people want to sign the contract or not, but we feel good about where we’re at.”

While several players, including linebackers Derrick Brooks, Jeff Gooch and Shelton Quarles, quarterback Brian Griese, defensive end Simeon Rice, running back Michael Pittman, center John Wade and guard Matt Stinchcomb, are considered candidates to restructure their contracts or be released, Allen wouldn’t comment specifically on the progress made with any particular player.

“I think it’s unfair to talk about specific players,” said Allen. “All of our players have come forward with the idea of helping in order to keep all of them with this organization.”

One player that expects to be released by the Bucs within the next 72 hours is Gooch, who has a $2.050 million cap charge in 2006.

“I spoke with Bruce briefly yesterday and I anticipate the Bucs releasing Jeff,” said Gooch’s agent, Richard De Luca. “But I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Jeff returning at some point.”

By releasing Gooch, the Bucs will create approximately $1.85 million in cap space.

As of Thursday night, Tampa Bay and several other teams around the league were moving forward under the assumption that the CBA would not be extended past the 2007 season. That’s because NFL owners rejected the NFL Players Association’s latest proposal on Thursday morning, which led many to believe that most teams would be forced to jettison several big-name players in cap-related moves.

Although he remains hopeful that both sides will come to an agreement on an extended CBA, Allen suggested Thursday that the 72-hour extended window, which was agreed upon by both sides, would help teams better prepare for life without an extended CBA.

“I think the positive part is that it gives the players and the teams more time to digest the rules that are in place for the last capped season,” said Allen. “There has been a lot of dialogue in getting people up to speed and understanding what is taking place because many people thought for sure an extension would be done and they didn’t want to talk about it. Clearly those are the rules we are dealing with right now and everyone’s preparing to go forward on that basis.”

Failure to extend the CBA past the 2007 season will have serious implications. For example, teams would not be able to reap the benefits of releasing players after June 1, annual raises could not exceed 30 percent, and the 2007 season would go uncapped. Incentives reached by players would immediately hit teams’ salary caps instead of getting pushed back to the following league year. And instead of becoming an unrestricted free agent after four years, players would not be eligible for such a status until the end of their sixth season in the NFL. Should the 2007 season go uncapped, there is speculation that suggests it could lead to a lockout in 2008.

Several teams are scrambling to adjust to the reality of playing without an extended CBA, but Allen said the Bucs are prepared to move forward with or without an extended labor agreement in place.

“I don’t think everybody is in the same situation. I think we’ll see that in 72 hours,” said Allen.

“It doesn’t matter to me which way it goes. We just want to know what the rules are, and we’ll live by them because we’re capable of operating under both scenarios because we started working on it two years ago to be in the position we’re in today. However it works out, we’re ready to go.”


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