Keeping together a Super Bowl winning team isn’t easy work. That’s the task presented to Buccaneers’ general manager Jason licht this off-season. The Buccaneers have over 30 players scheduled to hit free agency. Included on that list are high profile players. Players like, Chris Godwin, Shaq Barrett and Lavonte David the Buccaneers have many tough decisions ahead of them. Head coach Bruce Arians and Licht have publicly said they want to bring back everyone for another super bowl run. But doing so will be difficult with limited salary cap space available.
Current Cap State
With 4.6 million in carry over cap from last season the Buccaneers projected cap is around 185 million this season. That currently sits them with about 24 million in space to work with in 2021. Keeping in mind the team will need at least 5 million to set aside for draft picks.
That would leave them with about 14 to 16 million to re-sign the “big 3”. This would also include players like Rob Gronkowski, Ndamukong Suh, Antonio Brown, Ryan Succop and many more. And that’s before looking at outside free agents. So how can they afford to bring all these guys back into the fold?
One way to open up space is to restructure and in some cases also extend their contracts to open up the necessary room. With the third most projected cap space in the league in 2022, the Buccaneers could extend players pushing money into the upcoming years while maintaining flexibility in 2021. Another way to open up room is to convert salaries into bonuses. This stretches the cap hit over the next few seasons. Lastly they could cut or trade players who are due no guaranteed money this season. This will avoid putting dead money on this years cap. So who are the players most likely to get restructured, extended, traded or cut?
Tom Brady has made a habit of re-working his contract to help with his team’s salary cap. Reports are he may be doing the same for the Buccaneers this offseason. With the New England Patriots, he consistently took less money than he could’ve gotten on the open market. Brady has frequently said he plans to at least play until the age of 45. He’s shown no signs of slowing down. As previously reported, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Brady is once again in talks to extend his current contract and restructure to reduce his 2021 cap hit. Opening up much needed money and cap space to bring back some of the core free agents and make yet another Super Bowl run.
OJ Howard and Cam Brate
Howard and Brate are set to make 6 and 6.5 million dollars respectively for the upcoming season. That’s a luxury that the Buccaneers won’t be able to afford. You still have to pay Godwin and try to bring back Gronkowski and Brown on offense. Brate took a size able pay cut last year and will most likely be asked to again this year as well to remain on the team. If that’s not something Brate is willing to do they could look to either trade him or release him outright. Howard on the other hand is set to play on his fifth year option. While he has been a solid player the production hasn’t matched his first round status. As such he is another player the Buccaneers could ask to take a pay cut or possibly extend with the uncertainty of the position after the 2021 season.
Donovan Smith and Ryan Jensen
Both Donovan Smith and Ryan Jensen head into the final years of their contracts. With no guaranteed money on the books. While it’s unlikely either player are cut or traded from the team. The Buccaneers would save about 24 million in cap space in doing so. Smith who is set to make 14.25 million this season, really came on late in the year and had one of his best seasons as a pro.
He would be a prime target as a guy the team could look to extend and restructure his cap hit for the upcoming season. Jensen, on the books for 10 million, could see the same scenario happen with him. Adding years and pushing their 2021 cap numbers into future years with restructures seems like a very logical route for the team to take. In a year where the focus is returning to the Super Bowl it would seem unlikely that the Buccaneers would shake up their offensive line that had success protecting Brady.
Mike Evans and Ali Marpet
Mike Evans and Ali Marpet are two players we’ve seen take restructures in the past. We could possibly see them do it again. Both are ultimate team players and the chance to return a team that just won the Super Bowl will be on every players mind. That being said Evans, set to make 16.6 million, has already publicly said he would be willing to take a pay cut to try and bring back free agents such as Godwin.
Marpet is due to make 12 million and recently restructured his contract in October to free up around 4 million for the 2020 season. With both players team first mentally it would be easy to see them either take less money or convert salary into bonuses that would be able to be pushed into future years.
Jason Pierre-Paul and William Gholston
Both Pierre-Paul and Gholston are heading into the last season of their contracts with the team. The salary gap between both players though is quite significant. With JPP on the books for 12.5 million and Gholston only 5.5 million. Pierre-Paul however carries 5 million in dead cap should he be traded or cut which is a very unlikely scenario.
At age 33 it might not be prudent to extend the teams only pro bowler. But it would be a way to open more space if they were able to do so. Gholston on the other hand has no guarantees or dead money and could be approached to take a pay cut. It is unlikely that he’s extended. If he refuses to take a reduction in salary he could see himself traded or cut.
There are several avenues the Buccaneers can take to open the necessary cap space to bring a majority of their free agents back into the fold and possibly make a small splash in free agency. It will take some craftsmanship from Licht to pull it off but if he can do it this team could be well on its way to another Super Bowl appearance.