Multiple reports have addressed rumors that the new CBA (whenever they get
around to agreeing on it) will include a provision that the salary floor will be very close to the salary cap. For most teams this is not a big deal, but for the Bucs, this is a very big deal. John Clayton of ESPN.com estimates that they will have somewhere around $50 million or more of cap room this coming season. This means they have to spend money on players. The question then becomes, “where do they spend it?” Two answers come to mind, but neither is a slam dunk. Should they try and lock up players that are already on the roster to long term deals? Or, do they spend in free agency on proven veterans?
At first glance, signing current players to long term deals seems to be the way to go. The Bucs’ 2010 turnaround has largely been attributed to getting away from signing aging veterans in free agency (see Allen, Bruce), and building a team through the draft. This showed some incredible promise last year and Both Dominik and Morris appeared to be geniuses with their drafts, waiver wire acquisitions, and practice squad pilfering. So why not continue this trend, and sign these guys to lucrative long term contracts? If only it were that easy.
The problem is that most of these players are in their first year or two of their contracts. If the new CBA is like the old one regarding this, they are not allowed to negotiate a new deal with them. See Sander’s article on Bucs Nation for more details on this point. This means players like Mike Williams and Gerald McCoy are off limits to sign to new contracts. Therefore you will need to sign players with more experience, and I don’t see as many of those players having quite the impact that the first and second year players do. Second, this is not without a downside. One player epitomizes this: Michael Clayton. One good year, wasted cap space thereafter. Even Davin Joseph and Barrett Ruud have not had as stellar of years last year as they did in the early part of their contract.
The other alternative is to sign free agents. A couple of the big name free agents would easily fill this cap space, right? I think we are all so scarred by Gruden and Allen that we approach this with great caution. Some of the free agents turned out to be just old and past their productive years. Even when they were a hit, like Joey Galloway, they were so injury prone that they missed as many games as they played. It is just not very productive to have aging players with big contracts ride a stationary bike on the sideline.
There is an upside to free agents, though. They can provide a presence in the locker room to teach the young players how to prepare, how to play, and most importantly, how to act. This is especially valuable with the current lockout situation, where OTAs, training camps, and preparation will be cut prior to the season (whenever it starts). There are some good quality free agents at defensive end and defensive back this year, and both of those units for the Bucs could use a good veteran presence. I think this is especially important along the defensive line as the Bucs are really young and Bowers, Price, McCoy, and others have all had injuries in the last year. A good veteran presence would be beneficial here to fill in if needed and mentor the young talent.
As for what the Bucs should do when free agency does open up, the answer is likely a mix of these two things. I think that they should sign a couple of free agents and resign or extend a couple of players from the 2010 team. I already addressed defensive end above, but I also think they should go after one of the bigger name free agent corners. Good corners are hard to come by, and players like Asomugha or one of the other higher level corners could really help the Bucs. Morris will adjust the defense to accommodate one of these players as Talib is in legal trouble and Barber will retire someday.
Let me know your thoughts on what the Bucs should do.