What happened to all the Bucs' cap space?
You probably read (even on this blog) or heard in recent weeks that the Bucs had more than $60 million in salary-cap space to play with as the free-agent signing period begins on Tuesday.
And, for a while, that was correct. But now comes news that the Bucs have roughly $43 million in cap space one day before the signing period opens, according to Profootballtalk.com. So, what happened?
Here's a quick crash course in salary-cap accounting, which is not as fun as talking about free agent rumors but important nonetheless. For starters, the Bucs made some moves in the past week that you probably didn't realize impacted the salary cap. First, they signed guard/center Jeremy Zuttah to a contract extension, eating up nearly $4 million in 2012 cap space. They also designated kicker Connor Barth a franchise player and tendered restricted free agent deals to defensive end Michael Bennett and offensive tackle Demar Dotson. Those three moves, combined with Zuttah's extension, account for more than $10 million in cap space because the tenders are counted against the cap even before they are signed.
Then there's the more complicated matters. The Bucs had several of their higher-paid players hit marks in 2010 that will cause various contract escalators to kick in this year. Among them are quarterback Josh Freeman and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, whose escalators account for another $10 million-plus toward the salary cap.
So, as you see, it doesn't take long for a dream-like salary-cap situation to get a bit tighter. That said, the Bucs are still in great position and have enough flexibility to make some big things happen this week.
And, don't forget, if the Bucs release center Jeff Faine, which we expect to happen soon, that frees up at least $5.9 million in cap space that can be spent immediately.