After two consecutive offseasons of making big-time splashes in free agency, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won't have quite the same surplus of cap room in 2014. That being said, the Bucs' new regime won't exactly have to pinch their pennies, either.
Let's take a look at the Bucs' salary-cap situation from a few different angles.
According to the salary cap information hub Over The Cap, the Bucs are estimated to have just shy of $19 million in cap space to spend this offseason. With few key free agents of their own to lock up, Jason Licht and Company will be able to devote a good chunk of that space toward bringing in new talent from around the league.
Impending Free Agents
The key position the Bucs have to look at regarding their own free agents is the Sam linebacker spot. Dekoda Watson, Jonathan Casillas and Adam Hayward are all free agents, which means the new personnel staff in Tampa Bay will have some decisions to make based on last year's film of these three guys.
Casillas was enjoying a fairly successful year before ending his season on injured reserve thanks to a knee injury. Watson is the best pass-rusher of the bunch, while Hayward has been a stalwart on special teams throughout his entire Buccaneer career.
FB Erik Lorig is another key cog the Bucs will be looking to bring back in 2014. The converted defensive end from Stanford has made a successful transition to his new position on offense and has proved he can be effective both as a blocker and receiver. It shouldn't take too much money to keep Lorig in town.
Other names to keep an eye on are WR Tiquan Underwood, G Jamon Meredith and RB Bobby Rainey (restricted).
After swinging for the fences over the past two years with signings like Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks and Dashon Goldson, expect the Bucs to just try to get a few base hits this year instead of hitting a home run. There are a number of quality options that make sense for Tampa Bay at some of their biggest need areas, and they shouldn't have to break the bank for any of them.
At defensive end, it's not hard to connect the dots between the Bucs and Jared Allen (Vikings). The 31-year-old veteran has tallied no less than 11 sacks every season since 2006 and played under Tampa Bay's new defensive coordinator, Leslie Frazier.
Despite his gaudy stats, Allen's age might prevent him from commanding a huge payday, though he might be more inclined to sign with a team that is closer to being a Super Bowl contender.
Another veteran who has been linked to the Bucs' new regime through past ties is Bears CB Charles Tillman. Tillman was a dynamic playmaker during Lovie Smith's head coaching tenure in Chicago, and he's already insinuated that he wouldn't mind playing for Smith again in Tampa.
At 33, Tillman might not have too much left in the tank, but he'd be a perfect fit in the defensive scheme and would provide veteran leadership in the locker room.
Other targets that could make sense for the Bucs to pursue are Rams OT Rodger Saffold, Lions TE Brandon Pettigrew, Giants DE Justin Tuck, Chiefs G Jon Asamoah and Panthers CB Captain Munnerlyn.
The big extension the Bucs should start looking towards is Pro Bowl DT Gerald McCoy. McCoy carries Tampa Bay's second-highest cap number for 2014, and 2015 will be the final season on his current contract.
McCoy has slimmed down and gotten quicker over the past two seasons, becoming the disruptive force the team hoped he'd become when they drafted him third overall in 2010. McCoy is expecting big things from himself in Lovie Smith's defense, and it might be wise for the Bucs to start negotiations and get McCoy locked up for the long-term.
DE Adrian Clayborn is in the final year of his contract, but he'll likely have to put together the best season of his career to get a substantial extension from the Bucs. During the NFL combine, head coach Lovie Smith made it clear that they need more out of guys like Clayborn, saying, "Clayborn has been a good, solid player. But solid gets us 4-12. We have to be better at those positions. We've got to get more guys that can run and hit."
The Revis Factor
Much ado has been made about Darrelle Revis and how much cap relief the Bucs could enjoy if they were to jettison his $16 million salary this season. However, as Roy Cummings of The Tampa Tribune reminds us, trading or cutting Revis isn't the only way to reduce his impact on this year's salary cap:
Their contract with Revis gives them unilateral power to change Revis’s $13 million base salary into a guaranteed bonus. That means they could shave another $9 million or so off their cap with the stroke of a pen, and depending on what they want to do in free agency, they may decide to do that.
The Bottom Line
The Bucs look to be in a good position to address key areas of need via free agency without spending top dollar. Keeping a few key free agents of their own and spending wisely on the right fits in free agency should put them in position to draft for overall talent instead of being forced to reach for need.
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