After the initial splash of a player signing and the years and total money come out, most people lose interest in NFL contracts. But you can learn an awful lot about the foresight and general direction of an organization by looking at some of the details of the deals that they’re inking. The Bucs and Panthers both opened the 2011 offseason with considerable cap-space, but have elected to utilize it much differently. As Pat Yasinkas writes, the Bucs have opted front load their contracts, while the Panthers have not.
What that means is that while both teams have spent considerable money re-signing their own players (and some others in the Panthers case), the Bucs are opting to put the brunt of the guaranteed money, bonuses and big-salary years on the front side of the contract. That means most players’ cap hits will be higher this year and next when the Bucs have plenty of cap space, but then down the road when the Bucs need to re-sign guys like Josh Freeman, Mike Williams, LeGarrette Blount and the rest of the their talented young core, they will have more flexibility and won’t be bound to anyone who didn’t work out.
It all ties into what Mark Dominik said last week when he mentioned, ‘it’s not about what we can get now it’s about who we can keep later.’ Right now the Bucs are setting themselves up to be in a cap-friendly situation, long-term. More impressive considering they’ve done all this just days after the new CBA was completed and they actually had to learn parts of it on the fly. You never see the great teams having to gut their rosters to free up a ton of cap space. A player or two may get cut to make a move, yes, but you don’t see a purge or a bad trade just to clear space all that often. When was the last time the Patriots or Steelers were in cap peril? It doesn’t happen, and the Bucs are smart to build around that ideal.
The Panthers on the other hand are really just demonstrating more of the same. I’m not trying to belittle the Bucs divisional rivals, just merely point out their work with regard to the cap has not always been stellar. Carolina didn’t frontload their contracts they pro-rated them. That means bonus money counts across a number of years, salaries don’t decline over the course of the deal and in two or three years when the Panthers could use some cap-space they may be tied down by players in cumbersome long-term deals. That’s all hypothetical of course but it’s nice to know that a players cap figure at the end of the deal won’t be so bloated that they can’t be moved without a massive cap penalty. Cap penalties equal dead money. The Cowboys for instance made a bunch of cuts that will leave them with nearly 20 million dollars of dead money, cap space they can’t spend this season because it’s going to guys who don’t play for them.
Credit Mark Dominik and the Bucs front office for making smart moves with the the long-term picture in mind as well. The Bucs are really building something and they’re doing it the right way.