With the initial wave of free agency having concluded over the past few days, the dust has settled for many teams, including the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to figure out how they can proceed and with what money over the next few weeks of the offseason. In the Bucs case, they are currently 32nd (or dead last) in the entire league with cap space remaining.
So, the question now becomes: how do they free up some money to perhaps sign another free agent or get ready to sign their draft class while being creative under the cap?
First, and obviously, the Buccaneers can choose to release another player who doesn’t have guaranteed money coming to them or salary cap repercussions.
They did that with defensive lineman Vinny Curry in February ridding themselves of his $9 million salary. They further freed up money just as free agency began by trading disgruntled veteran receiver DeSean Jackson and his $10 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles for a swap of draft picks.
Still, here are the Bucs realities:
One, quarterback Jameis Winston has the fifth year option of his rookie contract kicking in and is now making $20.9 million in a massive increase over his $3.7 million contract a year ago. The Bucs are only committed to Winston for this season to see how he performs under new coach Bruce Arians, and whether they’re going to give him a much more lucrative long-term contract after this year?
Tampa Bay’s next highest paid player is receiver Mike Evans, who is scheduled to make $20 million in the second year of his new massive deal he signed last off season. It’s unlikely the team would already rework that, as they will still have to pay him at least that much or more in 2019. And, they don’t have it under the cap, right now.
Next, the Buccaneers have several players that are scheduled to make significant money in 2019 that is not guaranteed.
While on the surface it looks like that another player or two could be released, it’s more likely Tampa Bay will try to rework their deal with either a new contract or a creative way to lower their cap number for a couple of players for this season.
Two such players are veteran defensive linemen.
One is Jason Pierre-Paul, who is slated to make $14.9 million, but is coming off a great first year in Tampa Bay where had 11.5 sacks and became a locker room leader. JPP may be willing to rework his deal for more guaranteed money this season, etc.
The Buccaneers could try to do the same thing with six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who is scheduled to make $13 million. Many have speculated that the Bucs would either outright release McCoy or force him to take a massive pay cut and let it be his decision. Neither have happened, yet.
Previously, Rick Stroud, Bucs beat writer for the Tampa Bay Times, reported that the Buccaneers would be doing neither of those things and McCoy would make his full salary this year. We now we’re going to find out whether that reporting is accurate, as it relates to the 10-year veteran and former number 1 pick’s salary.
Another reality, the Bucs have the most expensive offensive line in the NFL. Having re-upped left tackle Donovan Smith last week with a new contract that will now pay him over $13 million this season, the Buccaneers now have 3 offensive lineman including guard Ali Marpet and Center Ryan Jensen who are making over $10 million dollars of season. Marpet just got his large extension late in last season and Jensen signed a four-year $42 million contract last March. His $10 million for this year is fully guaranteed, but the Bucs could opt out of Jensen’s contract after this season, at no cap penalty.
So therefore, there could be some negotiating room to give Jensen a different deal starting this year that lowers his cap number.
One more issue is the Buccaneers are very thin at linebacker after losing Kwon Alexander to the 49ers in free agency and also Adarius Taylor, who started much of last season departed for the Browns in free agency.
That leaves arguably the best linebacker in the NFL who gets almost no recognition league-wide or by the national media, Lavonte David. David (above) previously signed a five-year $50 million dollar contract extension in the 2015 season. David’s 2019 deal is completely guaranteed at $9.75 million.
However, much like the veterans mentioned above, at 29 years old, David would be a prime candidate for a lengthy extension and may be willing to rework his contract depending on more guaranteed money for this year and the next couple of years.
These are the issues facing GM Jason Licht, who has successfully navigated the Bucs cap to this point.
Still, the cap reality is the cap reality.
And the Bucs, have to find some more room, and quickly.
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