Franchise-tag decisions will affect Bucs' free agency picture
The Bucs have roughly $67 million in salary-cap space to play with and have gone out of their way to suggest they're going to be players in the free-agency marketplace come next month.
If that's the case then, starting today, Bucs fans should pay particular attention to some of the events playing out on other teams before the start of the signing period on March 13.
This is the first day teams may designate franchise or transition players by assessing those respective tags, decisions that will affect the pool of free agents from which the Bucs have to choose. And, with franchise numbers dropping, in some cases sharply, teams will be better able to accommodate the massive one-year salaries that accompany a franchise or transition tag.
The NFL has changed the formula for determining the cost of franchise players under the new collective bargaining agreement. Whereas the number used to be calculated using an average of the top five annual salaries at a given position, the league now uses a complex formula that has brought the numbers down.
That means that, while the Bucs could be eyeing (for argument's sake only) a player like the Ravens' Ray Rice, Baltimore now will be better positioned to franchise him. Running backs designated as franchise players in 2011 would have earned $9.6 million. This year, they will make roughly $7.7 million -- a nearly $2 million reduction.
There result of these changes, as it relates to the Bucs, is that some tempting possibilities could be taken off the market if their teams opt to franchise them. That means the cap-rich Bucs would be shopping from a smaller, less-attractive pool of free agents. That would theoretically increase the competition for what top-tier free agents remain.
Let's take a look at some players who will possibly be tagged and also happen to play positions that might interest the Bucs:
RB Ray Rice, Ravens
RB Matt Forte, Bears
RB Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
WR Vincent Jackson, Chargers (San Diego says it won't franchise him)
WR DeSean Jackson, Eagles
WR Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs
TE Jermichael Finley, Packers
TE Fred Davis, Redskins
CB Brent Grimes, Falcons
DE Calais Campbell, Cardinals
LB Cliff Avril, Lions
LB D'Qwell Jackson, Browns