As the labor negotiations near an end, details about the next CBA are beginning to leak. The most relevant detail pertained to the salary cap and salary floor. The cap will be set at $123 million per team, although extra credits will give teams some leeway to go over that maximum. That won't be a problem for the Bucs, though, as they'd have to start signing free agents at a record pace to get anywhere near the cap.
What matters for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is the salary floor. In previous years that salary floor was based on cap economics and not on actual spending, which allowed teams to spend less than the salary floor through accounting tricks. The major concession the owners have made is to make the salary floor a cash floor. The owners will have to actually spend to the floor every single year. The salary floor itself will be set at 90% of the salary cap for each team, which would make it $110.7 million next season. The Bucs have currently committed $64.4 million in cash spending to 2011, so they would be forced to spend about $46.3 million to meet the salary floor. Hit the jump to see how I think this plays out.First, the Buccaneers will re-sign Davin Joseph. There is little doubt in my mind that we will see Joseph back with the Bucs this season, and he will get a very good contract. Two benchmark contracts for interior linemen were signed these past two season: the New York Jets signed C Nick Mangold to an eight-year, $57.4 million contract with $25 million in guarantees last season. One team also spent big on an offensive guard: the New Orleans Saints gave Jahri Evans a seven-year, $56.7 million contract, worth $19 million in the first year.
If Joseph gets a similar contract, which seems likely, then the Bucs could meet nearly half of their cash spending requirement by moving money into his first year. Taking Evans' contract as a benchmark, the Bucs would give Joseph $19 million in his first year, leaving them with $27.3 million they have to spend.
The Bucs also have a number of free agents they could offer second-tier contracts, including Quincy Black, Adam Hayward, Barrett Ruud and Cadillac Williams. For Cadillac, the closest comparison is probably Chester Taylor, who signed a four-year, $12.5 million contract with $7 million guaranteed in the first year. With those $7 million on the books, the Bucs have to spend just $20.3 million more.
I don't see the Bucs signing all three of their free agent linebackers, but they are likely to retain two of them. One relatively young, solid but not top-of-the-market linebacker who recently signed a new contract is A.J. Hawk. If the Bucs want to retain either Black or Ruud, they will likely have to sign them to a contract similar to A.J. Hawk's five-year, $33.75 million contract. Hawk got an $8 million signing bonus and an average annual salary of about $4 million . Signing either Ruud or Black to a contract like that would get the Bucs down to $8.3 million in 2011.
That $8.3 million is not a lot of money. With rookie signing contracts, training camp salaries and tenders for restricted free agents the Bucs would likely make the cash salary floor without having to jump through any hoops. The Bucs are likely to add a few second-tier free agents as well, like they did with Sean Jones last season. In addition, the Bucs could decide to sign some of their restricted free agents like Michael Bennett and James Lee to long-term contracts instead of offering them tenders. There is no need to bring in an expensive free agent, although the Bucs certainly have the cap room to do so.
There is one important note here, though: all of these contracts are front-loaded, and the Bucs would have to spend again in 2012. But at that point they would be able to re-sign a number of their own players to new contracts. CBA rules currently prevent the team from extending players until they have been in the league for 2 years, while the new CBA is expected to increase the required number of years to 3 for drafted players. This would exclude Mike Williams from being extended until after the 2012 season, although Legarrette Blount could be offered a contract extension at that point. More importantly, Josh Freeman, Roy Miller, Aqib Talib and Tanard Jackson and Geno Hayes could all be offered new contracts at that point.
While the Bucs will have to spend to meet the salary floor this offseason, there is no need for the team to go nuts in free agency. They can stick to their plan of building through the draft and re-signing their own players to meet the salary floor.