With all of the activity coming out of One Buccaneer Place and with Pewter Report finishing up its 2007 Season Wrap-up Issue, I don’t have time to publish a full-fledged SR’s Fab Five. I’ll have one out next week in advance of the Senior Bowl, however.

Instead, I’m going to hit on some hot button issues this week and dish out the inside scoop straight from Pewter Report’s multitude of sources.

• So do the Buccaneers have about $30 million worth of salary cap room, as Pewter Report has been reporting and as head coach Jon Gruden alluded to in his press conference, or is it $23 million, as general manager Bruce Allen suggested in his press conference? Technically, right now, the Bucs are $23 million under the salary cap. However, on March 1, which is the start of the new football “year” in terms of player contracts, Tampa Bay will magically have another $7 million or so.

How will that happen? Well, the Bucs were able to rollover about $13.6 million worth of cap room from 2007 to 2008 by stashing that money in the contracts of wide receiver Chad Lucas and running backs Lionel Gates and Kenneth Darby in the form of LTBE (likely to be earned) incentives. When those players, who were signed in December, did not hit those LTBEs, the team is rebated that salary cap amount the following season. Alas, if each of them had only blocked six punts in the Carolina game.

So because of this loophole, Tampa Bay has millions worth of extra cap room. About half the league takes advantage of this loophole in the CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement). The only caveat is that as your salary cap increases you are obligated by the league to spend a certain percentage within that year – the number is around 80 percent –which the Bucs will do in 2008.

Well, if $23 million plus $13.6 million equals $36.6 million, why don’t the Buccaneers have that much to spend in 2008? That’s because certain players, namely quarterback Jeff Garcia, hit some of their LTBEs in 2007 and that bonus money is paid out of the 2008 cap. Tampa Bay’s bonus payout is roughly $6 million this year, so $36.6 million minus $6 million leaves the Buccaneers with $30.6 million.

And that’s before cutting any players, such as defensive ends Greg Spires or Kevin Carter, which would free up just under $10 million additionally. I’m not saying that is going to happen, but the Bucs could end up with over $40 million with a few roster cuts.

• The St. Petersburg Times reported earlier this week that Tampa Bay assistant coaches met with Gruden for only five minutes before he told them to make an appointment to see Allen to discuss their futures with the team. This caused a bit of an uproar on talk radio, on Internet message boards and at the water cooler this week because of the way it was portrayed in print. Folks, this is the biggest non-story of the week.

I spoke to three Bucs assistant coaches this week who told me this is nothing knew and that there was nothing cold-hearted about the length of the meeting or Gruden telling the assistants to go meet with Allen. In fact, one coach, who has been on the staff since 2002, said that it was almost the exact same thing Gruden said after winning the Super Bowl only it was “go meet with Rich McKay."

Gruden spends over 80 hours per week with these coaches, so there really isn’t much to say when the season comes to an abrupt ending. Sources tell Pewter Report that Gruden thanked them for what they did and spent a moment reflecting on the team’s accomplishments. Because Gruden has nothing to do with negotiating the coaches’ contracts, it is only natural for him to say “go see Bruce Allen.” What else is Gruden supposed to say?

By this time, Gruden and Allen have already determined which coaches will probably leave and will probably come back, so Allen already knows what to expect and what to say when each assistant walks in his office.

With the re-signing of wide receivers coach Richard Mann, offensive coordinator-offensive line coach Bill Muir and special teams coach Rich Bisaccia, so far the “big changes” in Tampa Bay have amounted to running backs coach Art Valero leaving. That’s it.

• Pewter Insider subscribers will remember our discussions about Valero dating back to last year’s Senior Bowl. Valero was surprised and a bit miffed to find out that the Buccaneers had given the assistant head coach title to new defensive line coach Larry Coyer when they signed him last January. Do you know how he found out? By driving in his car listening to the Steve Duemig Show WDAE on the Friday before the start of Senior Bowl week.

I called Valero as soon as Pewter Report had heard of Coyer’s signing, wondering if Valero’s assistant head coach title had been stripped. Valero said that he had heard nothing from Gruden or Allen. That was truly a shameful way of handling that situation. Valero is a good guy and a good coach and I’ve enjoyed working with him since 2002. Valero deserved better than to find out that his assistant head coach title had been watered down from the Steve Duemig Show. He deserved a phone call from Gruden or Allen to explain the situation.

Instead, when we got to the Senior Bowl, Valero came up to me and asked me to ask Gruden what was up with his assistant head coach title. The weird thing is that if you remember, the Bucs coached the Senior Bowl last year. Valero was around Gruden all the time, yet he had me ask the head coach what was up with his title. Maybe Valero didn’t want to interrupt the Bucs’ work week and get into a squabble with Gruden in Mobile, Ala., but I felt like I was back in junior high trying to help Paul find out if Rachel liked him or not.

I complied with Valero’s wishes and Gruden said that he wanted even more leadership from the coaches and wanted an assistant head coach from the defensive side of the football, too. My guess is that the Bucs had to throw that title to Coyer to either help lure him to Tampa Bay or justify paying him whatever the team is paying him.

That caused some hard feelings, but what really made Valero want to leave the Bucs is that he wants to elevate. Valero started off in Tampa Bay coaching tight ends, which is kind of on the lower end of the NFL totem pole because most teams only have three or four tight ends on the roster. He was promoted to coaching running backs after the Super Bowl, replacing Kirby Wilson.

But Valero really wanted to coach the offensive line, which is typically the launching pad to become an offensive coordinator in pro football. Instead, Muir got a contract extension a few years back and Valero was still stuck with the running backs where he did a great job, according to his players and fellow coaches.

Valero coached with St. Louis Rams head coach Scott Linehan back at the University of Idaho in the 1990s and Linehan has been trying to get Valero for the past three years. The Bucs have denied him the opportunity to interview with the Rams for the past two years. Now that Valero’s contract will expire at the end of the January, Allen granted permission for Valero to interview with St. Louis where it is expected that he will be named offensive line coach and perhaps offensive coordinator.

• If you heard Allen’s press conference yesterday he didn’t come out and say that the Buccaneers won’t be hiring former Nebraska head coach Bill Callahan. League sources tell Pewter Report that Callahan, who worked under Gruden in Philadelphia and also in Oakland where he replaced Gruden as head coach in 2002, is interviewing for a couple of offensive coordinator positions around the NFL.

While the Buccaneers have an opening at the running back spot due to Valero leaving, and Callahan could surely tackle that even though his specialty is along the offensive line, the educated guess here is that Allen didn’t want to say that Callahan was a candidate for a lesser job like running backs coach because that might harm his chances of landing a coordinator gig. Perception is everything in the NFL and Callahan needs NFL teams to think of him as a coordinator candidate – not a position coach.

If Callahan does not land a coordinator job elsewhere, don’t be surprised to see him land in Tampa Bay with Gruden and Allen. Callahan has not proven to be a great head coach, having been fired from Oakland and Nebraska since 2004, but he has made his mark as an assistant coach.

• Buccaneers quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett is in the same boat that Callahan is in. He is trying to land an offensive coordinator job in the NFL, a post he has held in Kansas City and in New York with the Jets over the past decade and a half. Hackett has been rumored to be in the mix in Kansas City for the Chiefs offensive coordinator post, but when I inquired about any possible interest in the vacancy, Hackett ended the interview immediately by saying, “Beat the Giants.”

Hackett’s contract was up after the 2006 season, but he wasn’t hired as an offensive coordinator in the NFL and signed a one-year deal with Tampa Bay. He could do the same thing later this month if he doesn’t find a play-calling opportunity elsewhere.

• Finally, Buccaneers running back Michael Pittman has hired a new agent. Who, you might ask? Drew Rosenhaus. So what does this mean for Pittman, the last remaining member of Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl offense (aside from fullback Mike Alstott, who will likely retire in the next month or so)? Well, considering the fact that both Pittman and running back Earnest Graham share the same agent – Rosenhaus – it’s a pretty safe bet that Pittman has played his last game as a Buccaneer.

Rosenhaus will be pushing hard for a raise for Graham, who nearly rushed for 898 yards on 222 carries (4.0 avg.) this season and scored 11 rushing touchdowns, including one in the playoffs. With Cadillac Williams’ rookie salary cap value of $4.137 million already on the books for 2008, and Graham wanting more money, that might mean that Rosenhaus will steer Pittman away from the Buccaneers. With Valero, Pittman’s running backs coach for so many years, heading to St. Louis, perhaps Pittman will follow him to be Steven Jackson’s backup?

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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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