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Tough Salary cap decisions loom for Tampa Bay

Looking into the possible new contracts for four Buccaneers.

NFL: Pro Bowl-NFC vs AFC Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been very busy this offseason. The team has re-signed some of their own players to long term deals including Mike Evans and Cameron Brate, and also brought back veteran Cornerback Brent Grimes on a one year deal. Tampa Bay was also very active in both the free agency market as well as the trade market this offseason. According to “Over the Cap”, the Bucs currently have about $13 million remaining in cap space. The team still has to sign their draft picks, so don’t expect many more signings besides maybe a depth corner or safety depending on the results of the draft.

While Tampa Bay has had a very successful off season, the team still has four key players they have to re-sign within the next year. Those names are Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet, Kwon Alexander and Jameis Winston. With the average salary of nearly every NFL position rising within the last few seasons, we will take a look at what their contracts may look like and if the Buccaneers will be able to afford them all.

First we start with Jameis Winston. Sorry to those who still don’t believe he is a franchise quarterback, but Winston will be one of the highest paid Quarterbacks come next offseason. The top 5 QB contracts in the NFL belong to Kirk Cousins ($28 M per), Jimmy Garoppolo ($27.5 M per), Matt Stafford ($27 M per), Derek Carr ($25 M per) and Drew Brees who also sits at $25 M per year. I believe that Jameis Winston’s contract will be in the range of what Derek Carr signed after his rookie deal. I anticipate a 5 year deal between $25 and $26 million per year, with about $45 million in guarantees. This doesn’t necessarily have to happen next offseason as the team has a fifth-year option for Winston, but expect this to be the deal Winston gets.

UPDATE: The Bucs have picked up Winston’s fifth-year option.

Next we turn our attention to left tackle Donovan Smith. He has had his fair share of hatred from the Buccaneer faithful, but there is no question that he has gotten better since being drafted, and will only continue to get better. Left tackle is arguably the second most important position in the NFL and protecting Jameis Winston’s blindside is priority #1 for general manager Jason Licht.

There are 12 left tackles in the NFL who make more than $10 million on average a year, with the top contract being $15.5 million by Nate Solder. While I don’t think Donovan Smith is a top 10 left tackle at this stage in his career, I expect him to be paid like one. Left Tackles are extremely hard to find and I believe he will end up signing a 5 year deal worth $52 million with about $26 million in guarantees. Fans may not like this, but Smith isn’t going anywhere because there simply isn’t a better option out there.

We stay along the offensive line and look at Ali Marpet next. Marpet is the Buccaneers best offensive lineman, and has played right guard as well as center in his first three seasons with the team. Head coach Dirk Koetter, has recently said that Marpet will be moving to left guard this season, meaning he will have played every interior offensive line position. You can bet Marpet’s agent will point to his versatility during contract negotiations. With the exception of Andrew Norwell, who is paid on average $13.3 million dollars a year, top guards in the NFL are paid anywhere between $8.5 and $11 million. I think Ali Marpet is a top 10 interior offensive lineman when he is healthy, which is why I expect him to get a huge contract from Tampa Bay. I would say a 6 year deal at $11.5 million per year with $28 million in guaranteed money.

The final player due for a big extension is Kwon Alexander, who is the heart and soul of the Buccaneers defense. Alexander is heading into his fourth season, and is coming off of his first pro bowl selection. Kwon, or Li-Ti-Rilla as he calls himself, is arguably the most important piece week in and week out for the Tampa defense because it starts with him in stopping the run. He can get overzealous at times and miss tackles, but he is a playmaker when healthy and I don’t believe he was really healthy at all last season.

Luke Kuechly is the top paid middle linebacker at $12.3 million a year. I don’t expect Kwon to become the highest paid middle linebacker, but I do think he will become a top five paid middle linebacker. I look at a contract like Alec Ogletree and believe that is the type of deal Kwon will get. Ogletree signed a 4 year $42 million dollar deal back in 2017 with $31.4 million guaranteed. Expect similar numbers for Kwon with maybe an added fifth year.

Between those four contract extensions, the Buccaneers are looking at about $57 million towards the cap next year, but the team only has a projected $42 million in cap space for next summer, and that is not including the draft picks from this season. Of course the Winston contract can wait another year, but the more records he breaks and the more consistent he becomes, that price tag is only going to go higher.

Some names to keep an eye on for possible cuts to free up cap space with little to no dead money are Desean Jackson ($10 M in savings), Vinny Curry ($8 M in savings), William Gholston (3.75 M in savings) and dare I say Gerald McCoy ($13 M in savings). Some other possible names are Demar Dotson and J.R. Sweezy. It won’t be the easiest task for Jason Licht, but tough decisions will have to be made if they plan on bringing back all four of these guys to long term deals.