Just like Miles Austin, the Buccaneers will likely leave Eric Wright behind this offseason. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

A Cautionary Tale: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Baltimore Ravens, and the Salary Cap

Maybe Joe Flacco could sell the car he won by being Super Bowl MVP to help fund the Ravens’ salaries? Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Most Tampa Bay Buccaneer fans watched the Baltimore Ravens take home a Super Bowl title, and it brought back strong memories from early 2003, but also made us realize the similarities between the 2012-2013 Ravens and Buccaneers. Fans began to see the big play quarterback, short and nimble yet durable and strong running back, and duo of star receivers as a blueprint for a playoff run. A few additions to the defense and another year to try and stay healthy could mean the Buccaneers could contend for playoff success, if the Ravens’ blueprint has told us anything about the current state of the NFL.

But the Ravens might have come home from the Super Dome with a trophy and a problem. Ray Lewis is riding off into the sunset as a two-time champion, leaving a hole in the middle of the defense. No big deal, just reload and sign someone new, right? That’s where the problem lies. The Ravens are in salary cap hell at the moment. Albert Breer of NFL.com and the NFL Network posted a fantastic piece outlining the Ravens’ circumstances, and had this to say about the Ravens once they sign or apply the franchise tag to Joe Flacco:

The final computations on the exclusive franchise tender for quarterbacks won’t be done until April, but it’s expected to run over $20 million, markedly exceeding the $14.6 million on the non-exclusive tender. So if the Ravens have to use the exclusive tag on Flacco, that means Baltimore would have $90 million tied up in 11 guys (adding the quarterback to the 10 players listed above), and just about $30 million to spend on the other 40 on the roster (the top 51 count against the cap in the offseason).

Check out the article to see the players he’s referencing, and you quickly realize that the cupboard is going to be quite bare in 2013 for the Ravens unless drastic changes are made. There is some great top-end talent, but much like what we saw with the 2012 Buccaneers, a hole in a defense or offense can sink a team quickly. So what can the Buccaneers, and Buccaneers fans, learn from the Ravens to ensure that we follow their blueprint on the field, but not on the books?

The Buccaneers will likely not use all of their salary cap space, and this is a good first step. There will be plenty of funds available to them, but some of it is fools’ gold. With escalating contracts and carried over salary cap space running out in the future, pressing up against the cap one year could mean being clearly over it the next. The Bucs will have room to work with, especially with the likely departures of Quincy Black and Eric Wright. Those dollars can be turned into two or three new players without touching any of the cap space available as a result of expiring contracts and leftover space from years past.

But for those Buccaneers fans wanting to sign Jake Long, Sean Smith, Derek Cox, Paul Kruger, Martellus Bennett, Michael Bennett, and all our draft picks, realize that each of those deals will add up against the cap this year, and likely skyrocket over the cap 3-4 years from now. A more reasonable approach is to pick one or two top tier free agents and sign them to deals similar to the ones given to Black and Wright, and use the rest of the money to sign promising players who may have been in tough situations at previous teams and simply need a chance to change scenery. Besides Mike Jenkins, who I profiled this week, some options for second tier players who could give solid production are tight end Anthony Fasano, offensive tackle Winston Justice, defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill, or cornerback Kyle Arrington. All five of the players I just mentioned could likely fit in the combined salary of Jake Long and Sean Smith alone, and would give the Buccaneers more depth, something they proved to lack in 2012.

So before you get into Madden franchise mode and start throwing around the Buccaneers money in your head, temper your expectations a little bit. The Buccaneers biggest problems in 2012 were pass defense and depth, and while pass defense may require a big name signing or a high round draftee, depth must be solved by spending wisely and allowing salary cap flexibility. Mark Dominik has his work cut out for him yet again, and all we can do now is patiently wait for free agency and the draft to reveal the plans the front office has for our beloved Buccaneers.

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