Tampa Bay currently has $24 million in salary cap space ahead of the 2021 offseason, unofficially and according to Spotrac.
That won't be nearly enough to hold onto the majority of imminent free agents such as edge rusher Shaq Barrett, linebacker Lavonte David, defensive end Ndamukong Suh, wide receivers Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, tight end Rob Gronkowski, running back Leonard Fournette, and others.
Fortunately, the Buccaneers are in a position where they can move some money around without drastically hurting the roster, in order to fulfill the payday that most if not all of these players desire.
Tampa Bay has zero dead cap charges as things currently stand on the 2022 cap table, and owes less than $1 million in dead cap this upcoming year, so the Bucs can afford to restructure contracts and release players who are still owed some guarantees in moderation.
Below, we'll take a look at numerous moves Tampa Bay can make before free agency in order to create some wiggle room on the salary cap table.
Contract restructure/extension candidates
QB Tom Brady
2021 cap hit: $28.4 million; Contract remaining: One year, $28.4 million
The Buccaneers would like Brady to stick in Tampa Bay until he's ready to retire, and the 43-year-old has suggested that he could play beyond the age of 45. Therefore, extending his contract beyond the one year remaining on it could be beneficial for both sides.
Brady is currently set to account for $28.4 million against the cap next year, matching his final 2020 cap hit after factoring in incentives. Brady is considered unselfish by many due to the fact that he has only earned over $20 million in a season twice in his career, often sacrificing room for his teams to bring in free agents.
It would come of little surprise to see Brady and the Buccaneers reach an agreement on some sort of extension to keep him around Tampa Bay until its time for the cleats to be hung up, providing Brady with some long-ish-term security and a new signing bonus, and the Buccaneers with immediate savings.
LT Donovan Smith
2021 cap hit: $14.25 million; Contract remaining: One year, $14.25 million
Halfway through the 2020 season, Smith was considered a potential cap casualty for his inconsistent play and 2021 cap hit of $14.25 million. Following the Buccaneers' bye week, Smith looked like a different player - an elite left tackle, even - giving up just one sack from that point on and through the playoffs.
There is zero chance of Smith being released this offseason now. That doesn't prevent him from potentially being involved in the action. With one year remaining on his contract, Tampa Bay could look to extend Smith's deal to provide some guaranteed money, but reduce his short-term cap hit to save some cash now.
WR Mike Evans
2021 cap hit: $16.3 million; Contract remaining: Three years, $53.9 million
Evans has already reportedly offered to restructure his contract in order to keep impending free agents around. Evans has already restructured his current five-year, $82.5 million deal twice, which has resulted in $4.3 million in prorated signing bonuses over each of the next three seasons.
Therefore, Tampa Bay will have to be conservative with such a move to avoid damaging the cap table in future years.
C Ryan Jensen
2021 cap hit: $10 million; Contract remaining: One year, $10 million
Turning 30 this offseason, Jensen isn't getting any younger but is playing at a high-level at this point in his career. Tampa Bay protected Brady very well for the majority of the 2020 season, and that started along the interior offensive line thanks to Jensen and left guard Ali Marpet's efforts.
Still, at his age and with just one year left on his deal, it could be beneficial for both the Buccaneers and Jensen to work on an extension. It needn't be long-term, but adding two or three years onto Jensen's contract could set his career up nicely as it inches closer to an eventual end, while simultaneously reducing his cap hit to a more adequate value.
Potential cap casualties or trade options
TE Cameron Brate
2021 cap hit: $6.5 million; Contract remaining: Three years, $20.8 million
After previously restructuring his six-year contract last offseason, it's unlikely that the Bucs will push Brate's cap hits forward any further as he's the clear No. 2 tight end on the depth chart with Rob Gronkowski available. Gronkowski has vocalized that he would like to return to Tampa Bay in 2020 to play with Brady, his previous quarterback in New England.
As such, Brate is one of Tampa Bay's more obvious potential cap casualties or trade pieces. Productive in his role, hauling in 64 catches for 593 yards and six touchdowns over the two seasons, a cap-friendly team could be interested in the soon-to-be 30 year old's services at the right compensation. Otherwise, he is a candidate to be released to save a large chunk of change.
Brate is due a $250,000 roster bonus on March 22 and he would account for $0 in dead cap if he were released.
TE O.J. Howard
2021 cap hit: $6 million; Contract remaining: One year, $6 million
Howard's financial situation aligns similarly to Brate, but if Tampa Bay is to hold onto one of the two, odds are it would be Brate as he was healthy and fruitful as a rotational piece of the offense last season.
A former first round pick, Howard is set to play on the fifth-year option next year after missing all but four games after rupturing his Achilles last season. In those four games, Howard flashed playmaking ability with two touchdowns across 11 receptions, but it's hard to imagine that would be enough to keep him around at his price tag.
Tampa Bay would owe $0 in dead cap by releasing Howard before March`17.
DE William Gholston
2021 cap hit: $5.5 million; Contract remaining: One year, $5.5 million
Although he is one of Tampa Bay's lomgest-tenured veterans, Gholston has never proven to be much more than serviceable as he's failed to top three sacks or nine tackles for loss in a season.
Set to turn 30 this offseason and to take on the second-largest cap hit of his career, Gholston simply isn't worth his contract at this point and could be upgraded from, particularly via the draft. Maybe Gholston too would consider an extension in which his salary is cut, but the Bucs would benefit from attempting to improve at his position from a cost and production perspective.
None of Gholston's remaining cash is guaranteed, making his dead cap hit if cut a total of $0.
P Bradley Pinion
2021 cap hit: $2.8 million; Contract remaining: Two years, $5.7 million
This one might be a bit of a surprise, but as the salary cap is projected to drop between $15-20 million from a year ago due to the coronavirus pandemic, kickers and punters with hefty salaries could be the first players to be replaced just about league-wide.
For reference, Pinion will make more next season on his current deal than any member of the Buccaneers' starting secondary. Although Pinion has proven himself as a very good punter, averaging 45.2 yards per punt in 2020, it's hard to sell paying a punter that much money with other pressing needs and important players at positions of more importance set to hit the market.
Pinion's guarantees were paid in full at signing, making his dead cap equal to $0 if he is released.