The Tampa Bay Buccaneers gave Revis a very, very expensive contract yesterday. The first thing on the minds of many, many Buccaneers fans? How does this affect Tampa Bay's cap situation? Will they be able to hand out extensions in the future? Who will they have to cut to create cap room?
The answer is complicated.
2013 Cap Space
Let's start with the basics: the cap room available to the team in 2013 and 2014. Right now the Buccaneers are sitting on some $17.75 million in cap space after signing Revis. That's the nominal available capable room, but they have to reserve some of that for future expenses. They'll need to reserve room for rookies, which should come to around $1 million: $3.76 million in cap space for the draft picks, per Over The Cap, offset by the seven minimum contracts that come off the books once those draft picks are signed.
There's also a need to reserve money for a Mike Williams extension, something the team wants to get done after the draft. I'll estimate that extension at around $6 million per year. Add in some $5 million in operating cap space during the season, and the Buccaneers have around $6 million available to spend on free agents at this point. That means they can basically afford to re-sign Ronde Barber, and that's about it.
Effective 2013 cap space: $6 million
2014 Cap Space
Of course, the Buccaneers aren't actually going to spend a lot of money this season, nor are they likely to hand out extension beyond Mike Williams. The relevant question then becomes how much room the Buccaneers will have in 2014 -- and that's a little difficult to estimate.
Right now the Buccaneers have around $111 million committed in 2014 cap space to some 40 players by my numbers. Over The Cap has the Bucs at a commitment of $114 in cap space to 44 players. The details don't matter much, as long as the ballpark estimate is comparable. If the leaguewide salary cap rises slightly and we add in the $6 million per year contract for Mike Williams, the Bucs would have somewhere between $5 and $8 million in cap space.
But that's before they add however much cap space they can roll over after this season. That's likely to be at least $3 million and more probably closer to $6 to $8 million, depending on how much of that cap space has to be spent during the season on replacement players.
Summing that up, the Bucs would get to $11 and $16 million in 2014 cap space. That's before those adjustments I mentioned above, however, and taking into account likely rookie contracts and operating cash during the season, the Bucs would have between $3 and $8 million in cap space they could actually spend in 2014
Estimated effective 2014 cap space: $3-8 million
Where to find savings?
If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers want to give Josh Freeman a new contract after the season, they won't have enough cap space to get a deal done. Freeman could force the Bucs to use the franchise tag, which would cost the Bucs $20 million in cap space. That means they have to create somewhere between $12 and $17 million in cap space.
The Bucs are in luck, though, as Freeman's the only player who really requires an extension that offseason that would actually push up his cap number. The Bucs will want to extend Gerald McCoy's contract too, but he already counts for $13 million against the 2014 cap and a new contract won't require more cap room in 2014, just in later years.
Creating some $12 to $17 million in cap space sounds difficult, but it is doable. The Bucs could get there very quickly by just cutting Darrelle Revis. Hey, problem solved! But cutting their best defensive player should not be the team's preferred course of action. So let's figure out a few places where they could find cap relief.
Restructuring expensive contracts
The Buccaneers did that late last season with Vincent Jackson's and Carl Nicks' contracts, converting 2013 salaries into signing bonuses and pushing cap hits into the future. They could try that tactic again, and get significant cap relief from a number of players. Carl Nicks and Vincent Jackson have combined 2014 base salaries of $17 million, while Revis has a $16 million cap number as he does in every season.
Converting some of Revis' salary into a signing bonus may be the most attractive option, as it would give Revis a little more security while providing cap relief for the Buccaneers. Another option would be to restructure Gerald McCoy's contract, which counts for $13.2 million against the cap in 2014, and then roll that into a larger contract extension. The Bucs would get some cap relief by once again pushing cap hits into the future.
And that's the issue with this strategy: you're pushing cap hits into the future and creating a lot of dead money. That's not a sustainable strategy as you can't remove cap hits, only delay them. The Bucs have made it a point to keep cash and cap payments more or less in line and prevent dead money from piling up. All of these strategies would be short-term solutions creating larger long-term problems.
But these solutions are available, and the Buccaneers could use them if they have no other options.
Forcing players to accept pay cuts
The Buccaneers tend to shy away from signing bonuses, which gives them the ability to force players to accept straight up pay cuts once their deals run out of guarantees. That's what happened with Eric Wright this offseason, and Jeremy Trueblood last year. Where could the Bucs turn to find this cap relief next season?
Unfortunately, they won't find it with any of their big contract. Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks both saw large portions of their 2013 salaries converted to signing bonuses, and that gives them plenty of leverage in any push for them to take pay cuts. Coming to two star players who are in just the third year of their contracts and have played well is bad form, too, so don't expect that to happen. Similarly, the Bucs won't go to Revis and ask him to accept less money.
So who could they look to? Donald Penn, Davin Joseph, Jeremy Zuttah, Michael Koenen and Connor Barth are all candidates for strong pay cuts. None of these players has any guaranteed salary left at that point, and the only player who counts for some dead money is Donald Penn - and he counts for just $666,668 in dead money if cut that season per Over The Cap.
It may not be nice but forcing those players to take pay cuts or be cut is very realistic. They represent a combined cap hit of over $24 million, and getting a few lowered salaries out of those players could go a very long way towards freeing up a lot of cash.
If all that fails, the Buccaneers can still create money the old-fashioned way: simply removing players from the roster. The aforementioned five players would all be strong candidates to be released to create cap room, but a few other players are making decent money, too. Derek Landri and Kevin Ogletree will both count for more than $1 million against the 2014 salary cap, for instance, while Tom Crabtree is scheduled to earn $750,000.
The Bucs could also cut some of their real star players, although that's unlikely. Releasing Gerald McCoy would give them around $8 million in salary cap relief, for instance, and Revis accounts for $16 million. Carl Nicks' release would free up $2.2 million, with Jackson giving them $5 million in cap relief.
None of that is likely or necessary, though. But Donald Penn, Davin Joseph and Jeremy Zuttah may be in serious danger of becoming cap casualties next season. And Connor Barth and Michael Koenen are all but guaranteed to find themselves looking for new jobs if they don't accept pay cuts.
The Bucs will face tough decisions in 2014
The Buccaneers won't have a lot of cap space in 2014, unless the league salary cap sees some sudden inflation. Those cap problems could force the Bucs to say goodbye to a few of their good players nearing the end of their contracts, with offensive line and special teams being in danger of seeing some massive cuts to create room for extensions elsewhere.
That, however, is just the NFL at work. Every year teams release good players because of cap issues, or let them walk in free agency because they can't afford to extend them. The Buccaneers have done a good job of managing their salary cap in recent in years, in part by not spending much, but they too will start feeling these problems starting next season.