Salary cap rules ensure Bucs' increased spending
The Bucs are sitting on more than $30 million in salary-cap space and have said they might be players in the upcoming free-agent signing period (beginning March 12).
If it feels like you hear this every year about this time, you’re right. The Bucs for several years have typically entered free agency with a boatload of cap space, which they ultimately did little or nothing with. That changed last year, when the Bucs made a sizable splash, signing Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks and others in an unprecedented free-agent frenzy.
But for much of the past decade, the Bucs haven’t been big spenders. Actually, they’ve been one of the lower-spending teams in the NFL in terms of cash spending (as opposed to salary-cap spending, which involves creative accounting).
But this will no longer be the case. I say this not because last year’s spending was so convincing but, rather, because the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement now prohibits it.
You might recall buzz about a per-team spending minimum when the CBA was being negotiated in 2011, however, the mandate did not take effect until 2013. Now that it’s finally being employed, the CBA requires that teams spend at least 90 percent of the salary cap in cash.
In other words, if the salary cap is $120 million per team (we don’t know the final number yet), the Bucs would be required to spend at least $108 million in real dollars on this year’s payroll. For perspective, compare that to some recent years when the Bucs were in the $80 million range.
Do not assume this means the Bucs will recklessly sign free agents just to reach the minimum spending level. There are ways to meet the threshold without going overboard, such as front-loading contracts (which the Bucs rarely do). Another example: By guaranteeing Jackson and Nicks their 2013 salaries during the 2012 league calendar, the Bucs laid out more than $23 million in real cash, significantly increasing their actual 2012 spending without so much as a roster move.
But the new spending minimums are significant. If nothing else, it appears they will prevent the kind of unwillingness to spend that left Bucs fans infuriated for years. The rules also increase the likelihood there could be a repeat of 2012, when the Bucs went all in on free agency.
Ultimately, the Bucs will again be a team to watch entering free agency.