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Will the Buccaneers’ front office go off-script in order to keep their championship roster intact?

Tampa Bay isn’t a team that’s known for backloading contracts, but that could change this year.

NFL: Super Bowl LV-Champion Tampa Bay Buccanners Boat Parade
This offseason will be the most important offseason of Jason Licht’s career.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest questions entering the offseason was how much would the salary cap drop based off of lost revenue during the 2020 season.

For the most part, the NFL was able to squelch speculation on Thursday after Adam Schefter reported that the 2021 salary cap will be a minimum of $180 million. If the cap does increase over the next few weeks, then that means each team’s budget will, too.

The Buccaneers currently have a 45-man roster. After adding PPE pay raises and the player incentives that were earned throughout the 2020 season, the Bucs have a little over $13.4 million in projected cap room, per Over The Cap. That number is set to decrease when you add in the 2021 draft class, which will likely cost Tampa Bay a tad over $6.7 million. It helps that the roster will add seven players to offset the costs, but that still leaves the Bucs with around $6.7 million to spend in free agency — and that doesn’t include injury money, which could take an additional $2-$3 million out of the equation.

That’s not a lot of money, obviously. At all. And when you include the big names that are up for new deals, it’s easy to see why many in the Tampa Bay area have concerns about this offseason.

Lavonte David, Shaquil Barrett, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown, Leonard Fournette, Ndamukong Suh, and Ryan Succop highlight Tampa Bay’s list of free agents. All eight were heavily involved in Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl run. I mean, the trio of Gronk, Brown, and Fournette were responsible for all four touchdowns in Super Bowl LV. Losing these guys would be a major blow in regard to Tampa Bay’s desire to win consecutive Lombardis.

None of these guys are going to be cheap. OTC has Godwin’s market value at $17.7 million per year and Spotrac has him at $17.1 million. Per Spotrac, David is worth $12.7 million per year, while OTC says his market will command around $11.6 million. Spotrac has Barret at a whopping $19.7 million per year. Hell, even Fournette is expected to have a big payday with an $8.1 million per year market value, per Spotrac.

Granted, these numbers aren’t exact and a lot could change between now and March 17. There are a lot of nuances and other factors that could come into play, but the point stands: Tampa Bay is going to have be very, very judicious in how it navigates this offseason.

That’s a good thing, though, because the Bucs have some of the NFL’s best cap gurus in Mike Greenberg and Jacqueline Davidson. With Greenberg at the helm, the Bucs have not only been able to give their own draft picks big paydays, but they’ve also been able to lure in big-name free agents. The cool part is that Greenberg has been able to accomplish both of those tasks while simultaneously limiting the dead money aspect of big contracts. The Bucs, on average, rank 28th in terms of dead money since 2016 and led the league with the fewest amount of wasted dollars in 2020.

This is important because it helps the Bucs from reaching Saints- and Eagles-type levels of cap mismanagement. Both of the aforementioned teams are millions and millions of dollars in NFL debt and are going to suffer from it in 2021. Greenberg and the Bucs have made it clear over the past five or six years that deals involving huge signing bonuses or any other measure that prorates money/puts the Bucs in a bind later on down the road is not the modus operandi (or MO if you’re fancy).

NFL: Super Bowl LV-Kansas City Chiefs vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Shaquil Barrett is set up for a major payday.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

“I think we’re set up beautifully thanks to Mike Greenberg [and] Jackie Davidson making those decisions and giving me their input on how to set up contracts and things like that,” Jason Licht told reporters a few weeks ago. “We’re still looking long-term and we still have to plan long-term [with] the way we set things up. Because of the job that Mike Greenberg and Jackie Davison have done, we’re in that position to do that.”

But that may have to change this year. The Bucs simply don’t have the cash flow to keep the band together without making adjustments elsewhere. There is always the option of extending/restructuring contracts to clear room for this year, but that’s going to take voluntary participation among quite a few players just to get the Bucs to the level of re-signing two or three of the above guys. You can also insert roster bonuses into contracts that can be restructured and moved around later on, but the players and their agents will always have final say as to whether or not that is feasible.

And of course, there is always the option of cutting a player, but you still have to sign someone to replace said player, so that number doesn’t completely vacate the books, either.

It’s going to be a tough offseason in terms of roster decisions, no matter how you slice it. But hey, when has defending a Super Bowl ever been easy?