When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers end their preseason schedule and days before they start the regular season, they'll have to make a whole lot of decisions on who to cut and who not to cut. Most of those cuts have already been decided -- despite the hype of training camp competition, realistically that's only true for the bottom of the roster, and even there many of them will still be replaced during the season.
But one factor is always a wild card: money. Teams love their cap space and hate paying too much for players, and that will come back in a big way at the end of training camp: people will be cut not because they're not good enough to play, but because they're too expensive. So let's take a look at some of those likely cuts.
Evan Smith - $3,750,000
Smith is exceedingly unlikely to be released, given that the Bucs don't really have any capable backup center and their offensive line is iffy enough as it is, even after drafting two linemen in the second round. But it's not entirely unthinkable: Smith was lackluster last year, arguably even a liability and if the Bucs somehow feel they need the cap space and find a serviceable replacement (Ali Marpet, maybe), they could move on from him.
Michael Koenen - $3,250,000
So, he'll almost certainly be cut. We've gone over this over and over again this offseason, but the argument is very easy: he's been a bottom-of-the-league punter for years while his salary is at the top of his position group. That's in part because of his skills as a kickoff specialist, but that skill is not as valuable as it used to be as kick returns have virtually been eliminated by the move up of the kickoff tee. The Bucs have given him competition in the form of Spencer Lanning, and Koenen's going to have to have a ridiculous training camp to hold him off.
Clinton McDonald - $3,250,000
McDonald actually played well last year and was a consistently disruptive nose tackle, with a respectable five sacks in thirteen games. McDonald is set to start at nose tackle, but the Bucs have a deep group of defensive tackles with the addition of Henry Melton and the possible continued development of Akeem Spence. McDonald isn't likely to be cut given the quality of his play last year, but the Bucs could save some cash here.
Bobby Rainey - $1,542,000
Rainey may end up the starting running back, but he could turn into a cap casualty as well. Rainey's been the only running back to consistently produce over the past two years, but he's not exactly a terrific player. Mostly, he's just a guy. If Doug Martin has a good training camp and some of the other running backs stand out, Rainey could be cut simply because he's the most expensive one at his position.
Leonard Johnson - $1,000,000
Leonard Johnson is bad. This is not surprising. The Bucs still re-signed him, but he has competition. If Sterling Moore is actually moved to slot cornerback, which does seem likely in the long term, Johnson's basically expendable. And they can go with cheaper, younger players instead.
Other expensive players who won't be released
Vincent Jackson ($7,345,777). Logan Mankins ($7,000,000). Demar Dotson ($2,500,000).