By now, we all know about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ free agents. They have a lot of them and they are very important. What we don’t know, however, is how the Buccaneers plan to keep them around.
A popular opinion among many NFL circles is Tampa Bay will use the franchise tag on one of its top free agents this year. Last year, the Buccaneers used it for just the fifth time in franchise history on Shaquil Barrett. So why wouldn’t they use it again this time around?
A lot has changed since March 2020. Tampa Bay (and other NFL teams) had the means to use the tag a year ago, but that doesn’t appear to be the case this year.
It’s hard to get an exact feel for where the Buccaneers are in terms of cap space, but there is enough information publicly available to where we can get a solid idea of where the team stands. Right now, the 2021 salary cap is set at $180 million, per Adam Schefter. That’s an important number to keep in the back of our minds, but also remember that number could increase between now and the start of free agency on March 17. For the sake of this article, let’s stick with the $180 million number.
Spotrac.com says the Buccaneers have a little over $24 million in cap space. The issue with that number is the website has the 2021 cap set at a little over $189.5 million, which is not the case. The extra $9.5 million is a big deal when it comes to figuring out what the Bucs need to do in terms of creating cap space, so it’s imperative to leave that number out for now. Therefore, according to Spotrac, the Bucs have around $14.5 million in cap space.
The NFLPA’s public website currently says the Bucs have close to $18.5 million* in cap space. They have the cap set around $180.5 million, which is much more accurate than Spotrac’s cap. The issue here is the NFLPA doesn’t give out the details on individual contracts. Therefore, we can’t go in and see if the PPE raises for Carlton Davis III, Jordan Whitehead, and Alex Cappa have been figured into the equation.
The most accurate number out there, in my opinion, is Over The Cap’s current number of $13,361,683. When you log on to their website, you can see that the PPE raises have been added in, the cap is set at $180.5 million, and last year’s incentives -primarily Tom Brady’s- are all there.
$13.3 million isn’t a lot of room. Especially if OTC is correct in their assessment that the draft class will cost $6.7 million. Then, you usually want to save around $2-$3 million for injury signings during the season. So, at the end of the day, the Buccaneers likely have around $4-$7 million in cap room that they can use during free agency.
Now, keep in mind all of those numbers can change and will change if the cap floor goes up again. But there’s a reason Spotrac and OTC are well-known. They’re usually pretty accurate and offer very detailed insight into the money side of the NFL.
I say all of this to say that 2021 is not a good year for the Buccaneers to use the franchise tag.
In reality, the only candidate is Chris Godwin. Shaquil Barrett won’t get the tag because of the 120% rule. The tag would increase the value of the other top free agents on the team, so it wouldn’t make sense for the Bucs to overpay in those situations, either.
If the cap stays at $180 million, then the tag for Godwin will cost around $15.76 million. Remember, the tag comes off the books during the year it’s applied. This means $15.76 million will be directly added to the Buccaneers’ tab in 2021.
Therefore, the Bucs would have close to -$1.2 million in cap per Spotrac, close to $3 million per the NFLPA, and around -$2.4 million per OTC after tagging Godwin. And they’d still have seven of the other big-name free agents to sign. Add depth players like Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Kevin Minter, and others to this equation.
That’s not ideal. I mean, Tampa Bay wouldn’t even be able to sign its draft class at this point. All of the other big-name free agents would likely walk, as well.
At the same time, however, you can always tag a player with the hope of signing them to a long-term deal before the July deadline. But what if that doesn’t go as planned? Derrick Henry and the Titans were able to make this happen last year, but it’s never guaranteed and it’s a lot of money/cap room to put on the line.
Now, there are ways to create more room. What will it cost, though? You could extend players like Donovan Smith, Ryan Jensen, Will Gholston, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Tom Brady. You could even restructure the contracts of Mike Evans, Ali Marpet, and Cameron Brate. But those deals will only get you so far.
Cuts are an option, as well, but here’s the key to this scenario: The Buccaneers have just 45 players under contract. If they sign all seven draft picks, that would push the roster to 52. If they tag Godwin, it gives them 53 players on the team. So, if you cut someone, you’re going to have to find a replacement.
No matter how you shape it, the franchise tag just isn’t a good idea for the Bucs this year. Jason Licht recently said the Bucs have the flexibility to get deals done, which is great, but it doesn’t look like the franchise tag will be an option based off what is publicly available.
Unless something drastic happens, of course.