2012 NFL Free Agency: Mass of salary cap casualties hit the market

Even though the salary cap number still isn't clear, a lot of teams are cutting players to free up room under the cap. The Oakland Raiders started that process last month when they released cornerback Stanford Routt, who promptly signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. The Raiders had to cut a lot of dead weight to get under the cap, and they continued to do that by releasing cornerback Chris Johnson today. In addition, they're likely to cut linebacker Kamerion Wimbley, barring a last-minute restructuring of his contract.

The release of Peyton Manning was salary (cap)-driven, too, but the Indianapolis Colts did not stop there. Today the Indianapolis Colts released linebacker Gary Brackett, running back Joseph Addai, tight end Dallas Clark, safety Melvin Bullit and quarterback Curtis Painter. The common denominator here: they're all old. Except for Melvin Bullitt, who is just 27 years old, but who has played just six games in the past two years. These massive cuts allowed the Colts to cut a lot of cap room in 2012 and 2013, and according to cap analyst J.I. Halsell the team has just $35 million committed to the 2013 salary cap. Compare that to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who by my reckoning have around $75 million committed to the 2013 salary cap.

In that sense, what the Colts are doing is very similar to what the Bucs did in 2009, when they replaced their general manager, head coach, most of their coaching staff, released several veteran players (including franchise legend Derrick Brooks), and drafted a brand new quarterback. The Bucs blew up their team, and they're still feeling those aftershocks today. The Indianapolis Colts are trying to do the same thing, and we'll see over the next few seasons how they will do.

In the mean time, though, the Bucs could stand to benefit from some of these salary cap cuts. While none of the released players are likely to be of interest to Tampa Bay, a team that hates players over 30 not named Ronde, these cap casualties do indicate two crucial things. First, a lot of teams are cap-strapped and will not be able to make a splash in free agency, which is good news for the Bucs. Second, as these cap casualties flood the market, other teams are likely to pursue them - leaving fewer contestants for the players the Bucs are interested in.

Look for more salary cap casualties in the next few days, as teams will need to be below the salary cap by 4 PM on Tuesday, when free agency starts. One likely salary cap casualty the Bucs might be interested in is offensive tackle Levi Brown, who carries an incredibly $17 million cap number. The left tackle is one of the worst left tackles in the NFL, but he might be able to make the transition to right tackle. The Bucs should be looking for a replacement for right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, and Levi Brown - if released - might fit the bill. Then again, maybe he's terrible as a right tackle, too.

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