The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are heading into the offseason with a lot of big decisions to make. Two of those big decisions will have to come before March 12. That's the third day of the league year, when large portions of both Michael Johnson's and Anthony Collins' salaries become guaranteed.
Collins' fate with the Bucs appears to be sealed already. The left tackle signed a five-year, $30 million contract last year and the team paid him $9 million to be one of the worst starting tackles in the NFL last season. As a reward for his stellar play, he found himself not just benched but deactivated for the final three games of the 2014 season. Methinks he's a goner. Cutting him before March 12 will save the Bucs $3 million in 2015 salary, as that's the date when his full $6 million 2015 salary becomes guaranteed, rather than just half of it. The Bucs will still have to pay him $3 million for the privilege of not playing this year, regardless.
Michael Johnson's case is more complicated. Johnson was largely a non-factor throughout the year, but he was also hampered by injuries. And part of his being a non-factor seemed to come down to correctable technique issues that became resolved toward the end of the season. Johnson never came close to earning his $9 million pay in 2014, but he may be more likely to earn that money this year. He's not irredeemable, like Collins, and the Bucs don't exactly have the depth at defensive end nor the need for cap space to cut him.
Besides that, cutting Johnson would save the Bucs just $2 million -- they'll have to pay him a whopping $7 million regardless of whether or not they cut him. And on March 12, those extra $2 million will become fully guaranteed. Meaning that if they're going to cut him, they'd better do it before that date or there's no point at all. Given the meager rewards for letting Johnson go and the potential reward, the Bucs are likely to hang on to him for at least one more year.