How much cap room do Bucs really have?

Michael Clayton (Getty Images)

Senior NFL analyst Ed Thompson and BucsBlitz's Matthew Postins answer questions about Tampa Bay free agency.

Right now, how far under the salary cap are the Bucs?

Ed Thompson: With the cap projected to be roughly $123 million, Tampa Bay has plenty of cap room with approximately $85 million in commitments right now.

Matthew Postins: It's not surprising the Bucs have this much cash on hand. They've been frugal ever since they emerged from salary cap purgatory in 2006. Aside from the $37.5 million deal they handed C Jeff Faine last year, the Bucs have held back the big bucks. The Bucs aren't that far away from being a great team, and one or two key signings could put then in position to return to the playoffs. The signing of QB Luke McCown late last week certainly didn't impact that room.

How much money is coming off the books for the 2008 season and which players accounted for the most of that money?

Thompson: Some of the big salary cap hits in 2008 were Jeff Garcia's $5 million, Kevin Carter's $3 million, Phillip Buchanon's $3.1 million, Jermaine Phillip's $2.6 million, Jovan Haye's $2 million.

Postins: Garcia and Phillips won't be back. Carter is very iffy. Buchanon could make a return, since the new head coach, Raheem Morris, like Buchanon and the CB has shown improvement since his arrival. The Bucs should have locked up Haye last year when they had the chance. He'll command a nice fee in free agency.

Are there any players eligible to opt out of their contracts? And will any of those opt out?

Thompson: The only one that I'm aware of is WR Michael Clayton, who will test the market rather than play for his $1 million base salary in 2009. His total cap hit to the team would have been $1.85 million.

Postins: No problem with that. Clayton has been a major disappointment for the Bucs and a change of scenery might do him good. And at last we wouldn't have to keep hearing about how good a blocker Clayton is, when his real job is catching the football.

What are the tender offers for restricted free agents this year?

Thompson: The easy answer for right of first refusal is an offer of the following, or 110% of the player's 2008 salary, whichever is greater:

$1.01 million for compensation equivalent to the player's original draft round (if applicable)

$1.545 million for second-round pick compensation

$2.198 million for first-round pick compensation

$2.792 million for first- and third- round picks as compensation

The one caveat to the above list is that if a team tries to tender a first round pick at the lowest tender, they will only get a second-round pick as compensation unless the player receives a qualifying offer of at least a first-round level ($2.198 million salary). And if a team tries to hold onto a second-round pick at the lowest tender, they only get a third-round pick unless the player receives a qualifying offer of at least a second-round level ($1.545 million salary).

Postins: As mentioned earlier, the Bucs didn't offer Haye a long-term deal, instead opting to offer him a first-round tender to keep him for 2008. If they lose Haye this offseason, they have no one to blame but themselves.

Which Bucs are restricted free agents and which are most likely to get a tender offer?

Thompson: If the Bucs don't hold onto starting OT Donald Penn, that would be a huge mistake. They have plenty of cap room to make him virtually untouchable to other teams, so they have no excuse not to put a high tender on him. He's the only Bucs player who is a restricted free agent.

Postins: It's a wonderful feeling to know that you control most of your roster. Penn has proved to be a capable left tackle in the NFL and this group – all young – are emerging as one of the league's best lines. Losing Penn would disrupt that. This will be a good test of new GM Mark Dominik's philosophy as a GM. Will he pay to keep his talent? We'll see.

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