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Salary Cap Space: Tampa Bay Buccaneers Will Have Around $55 Million In 2012

"We have HOW MUCH cap room?"
"We have HOW MUCH cap room?"

The Bucs have been near the top of the league in terms of salary cap space this season. Back in September, ESPN reported that the Bucs had $27.2 million in cap space, a number that likely hasn't significantly changed. That ranked them second in the league. The Bucs had all of this cap space, but didn't use it on the deepest free agency class in NFL history. They didn't use it to extend their own players, either, although there haven't exactly been many candidates for extension this season.

Keeping all of that in mind, the Bucs will have even more cap space next season. Per Andrew Brandt of the National Football Post, they will work with a salary cap close to $150 million, as the $25 million of 2011 cap space rolls over to next season. With a reported salary cap number of $92.873 million in 2012 (per ESPN), the Bucs will have nearly $55 million in salary cap space.

The question now becomes: will the Bucs spend this money, and who will they spend it on?

The first question is hard to answer: they haven't spent a lot of money in the past couple of seasons, and the salary floor won't force them to spend money either*. On the other hand, the Bucs clearly need talent at a few positions (most notably cornerback, safety and linebacker), and Mark Dominik's plan does include spending money on free agents at some point. Most notably, it includes spending money on positions where drafted players have failed and signing players who will start.

The Bucs have seen their draft picks fail at several positions this season, though the question is to what extent that's going to be a long term problem. Brian Price and Gerald McCoy haven't produced the way the team wants them to produce, but both players' lack of production can be chalked up to injury - so is that a long-term concern? Quincy Black was a solid linebacker before he was re-signed to a new contract, but his play has collapsed this season. Is that a long-term problem? Aqib Talib has been a pretty good player, but his off-field problems bring his long-term prospects with the Buccaneers into question. Tanard Jackson has shown a complete inability to tackle this season - but can he do turn himself into his 2007 version again?

The Bucs will have to find ways to answer these questions this offseason to determine where and if they're going to spend money in free agency. There's also always the possibility that Mark Dominik is replaced after this season, though that seems a little unlikely. If that happens, the Bucs could overhaul their free agency strategy too.

Ultimately, I think the Bucs will spend more in free agency this offseason than they have in years past. Then again, I thought the same thing last season - so who knows.

*:A salary floor accounted for in cash spent was instated in the last CBA, but that won't come into effect until 2013, and even then its effect will be limited. The Bucs will have to spend 90% of the salary cap in cash per year, but they'll have to do that over the four-year period 2013-2016, and then the four-year period 2017-2020. That means they can be below the salary floor for several years, as long as they compensate for that later on. Even if they don't do that, they'll simply be penalized the amount of money they didn't spend - so they won't be forced to spend that money on players, either.