With the CBA expiring this year, the 2010 season was the first uncapped season since 1993. Going into the uncapped offseason, there were some expectations that the free agency market would explode and a couple of teams were going to be spending a lot of money. Interestingly enough, that never happened as owners were wary of digging themselves into a hole with a possible future salary cap. Instead, there were no extravagant signings during the offseasons - with perhaps Chicago's acquisition of Julius Peppers being the exception.
For a lot of teams, 2010 was used as a year to cut costs, cut expensive players and adopt a 'wait-and-see' attitude. Due to requirements for unrestricted free agency being tightened, there were very few free agents on the market. And because of a loaded draft class, teams were reluctant to trade away draft picks for players. The result was little move on the free agency market, and few contract extensions throughout the season. The only splash the Bucs made, outside of signing their own draft picks, was giving Donald Penn a big contract.
It should thus not come as a surprise that the Bucs were one of the teams that spent the smallest amount of money in 2010. At the beginning of the season they had only $80.8 Million committed to the salary cap, at the time the lowest number in the league. It should be noted that this is a cap number and not an actual salary number, but it is a reasonable indication of the amount of money the team spent this year.
Of course, several player contracts end this offseason and this will decrease the cap number even further. How much further? All the way down to $58.7 Million, according to ESPN's Pat Yasinskas. That's the lowest number in the league by some $8 Million.
Cutting costs drastically has now put the Bucs in position to have great success in the near future. A salary cap will most likely return in the next CBA, and the Bucs can now spend more or less at will without being in danger of hitting that cap. The salary cap stood at $127 Million in 2009, and with a deal with ESPN worth approximately $2 Billion per year in the works this number will probably jump up significantly whenever the new CBA is agreed upon.
Of course, there are people who say the Glazers are cheap and won't spend a lot of money and use that salary cap to its fullest extent. After all, they've been well below the salary cap for years now, haven't been lavish spenders in free agency, did not buy out the blackouts for the 2010 season and used the uncapped year to reduce the payroll by a staggering amount. None of this means the Glazers are cheap, as all of these actions have now set up the Bucs for long-term success, but it's easy to see why people would think that.
Here's the thing though: the NFL will force the Bucs to spend a lot of money. Because a key part of the salary cap is the salary floor, which was last set at 87.6% of the salary cap or about $112.1 Million in 2009. The Bucs will need to spend $53.4 Million to reach that salary floor, and it is likely $10-$20 Million below the actual salary floor that will be in place whenever football returns. Whether they do it through extensions for young players or free agent acquisitions, the Bucs will spend a lot of hard cash before they next play football.