The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are really good at managing their salary cap. They have been for years, so that’s no surprise, but it’s reinforced year after year. So when CBS Sports’ tabulated every team’s dead money against the cap, the Bucs came in 29th with just $865,000 in dead money.
Dead money happens when a player is cut while some of his previous compensation hasn’t counted against the salary cap yet. Usually that happens with big signing bonuses, which are paid out in the first year of a player’s contract, but pro-rated for salary cap purposes over the length of his contract.
In short: if you give a player a $10 million signing bonus on a five-year contract, that bonus will count for $2 million against the salary cap in each of his seasons. If that player then gets cut in year three, the final two years of his salary hit the team’s cap that year—making for a $6 million dead money cap hit.
The Bucs always avoid those because they pretty much don’t do signing bonuses. Instead, they hand out roster bonuses (which aren’t pro-rated) and high salaries, keeping a player’s salary and his cap hits equal at every stage of his contract.
This makes it really easy to manage the salary cap: the Bucs can cut the vast majority of their players without any negative cap effects. They only need to account for guaranteed salaries and bonuses, which are generally year-to-year affairs these days anyway.
Meanwhile, the Bucs have some $25.5 million in free cap space, per Over The Cap. It’s the first time in years that they have significant amounts of cap space this late in the season, and there’s not much to spend it on right now--except for a potential Mike Evans extension.
More likely the Bucs will carry over that money into next season, which will give them more purchasing power in free agency next year—or the ability to spend all of it on a Jameis WInston extension. Whatever they do, the Bucs have plenty of cap space and flexibility—and that’s a good thing.