TAMPA — The Bucs entered the offseason with more than $80 million of available cap space, but now, following an offseason that included two of the biggest splash acquisitions in franchise history — the signing of Tom Brady and this week’s trade for his favorite receiving target, Rob Gronkowski — cap space is getting tight.
Playing the final year of his existing contract, Gronkowski will earn $9.25 million in 2020, according to OverTheCap.com. That leaves the Bucs with just under $5 million available under the cap going into this week’s NFL draft. Typically, teams like to leave up to $8 million to sign their draft picks, which means the Bucs have some roster re-shuffling to do.
The addition of Gronkowski gives the Bucs five tight ends on the roster. That’s a surplus. It’s no secret that they’re trying to find out what kind of trade value tight end O.J. Howard would fetch. They wanted to get a second-round pick for him in October. Getting that now, when teams tend to value their draft picks more, might be a reach.
Howard makes $3.53 million next season, and the Bucs must decide whether to pick up the fifth-year option on the former first-round pick on May 4.
The Bucs can’t keep all of their tight ends, and Howard both frees up enough cap room and likely has more trade value than any other tight end on the roster. But other teams knowing the Bucs need to free up a tight end spot would seemingly hurt their negotiating power.
The Gronkowski trade puts the Bucs in win-now mode more than ever. Brady is signed for two years, but Gronkowski only has a one-year commitment. If an elite offensive tackle is what they need the most, they could be poised to trade up to get it.
The Bucs currently sit at No. 14 overall. If they stay there, they’re likely to get the one player left of the top four offensive tackles, and there’s a possibility they’d be shut out of all four.
Getting up to the No. 9 spot held by Jacksonville would likely give them the second choice among offensive tackles, ahead of No. 10 Cleveland and the No. 11 Jets, both of whom are seeking offensive line help.
It doesn’t get them, however, ahead of the Cardinals at No. 8. They’re likely to take an offensive lineman to help protect second-year quarterback Kyler Murray, who was sacked more than any player in the league.
To get ahead of the Cardinals, the Bucs would have to barter a deal with the Panthers at No. 7. One mock draft has them making a trade with Carolina. But the Panthers, under new coach Matt Rhule, need to rebuild their defense desperately, so it might be difficult to pry a top-10 pick away from them.
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But those are the two teams the Bucs would want to cozy up to leading into draft day.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieInTheYard.