The Buccaneers generally do not make it a point to publicize the behind-the-scenes contract work that occasionally takes place with rostered players, such as restructured deals, and they rarely announce specific dollar figures on any contracts. So when both WR Vincent Jackson and G Carl Nicks – the team’s two biggest prizes in last year’s free agency period – received restructured deals last week, the news was picked up by some news sources but it didn’t dominate the discourse surrounding the team.
Make no mistake, however: Those were significant moves for the Buccaneers. That was clear when General Manager Mark Dominik brought them up on Monday, the first day of the team’s 2013 offseason after a season-capping win in Atlanta on Sunday.
“We had something we had happen here in the last couple days that maybe people missed out on or didn’t hear about,” said Dominik. “We restructured a couple deals with Carl Nicks and [Vincent] Jackson, and that was ownership-directed, which I think is fantastic. It continues to show the commitment from the Glazer family as to what they want to do and how they want to build this football team.”
Nicks and Jackson originally received contracts that, while they had plenty of guaranteed money, did not have it in the form of up-front signing bonuses. The result was that each player’s yearly salaries applied directly to each specific season’s salary cap, which was according to plan. However, the new deals for Nicks and Jackson converted some of their guaranteed money to immediate signing bonuses, and that part of a player’s salary is prorated over the life of a contract. As an example, a $10 million signing bonus on a five-year contract counts $2 million against the cap in each of those five years.
As such, turning guaranteed 2013 salary dollars into a signing bonus makes the contract of each player count less against the cap in 2013. And that could prove very useful as the Buccaneers try to maintain and build upon what they think is a very strong core of young talent.
“That has actually opened a lot of cap room for us going into 2013,” confirmed Dominik. “A tremendous amount. By the time we get to March 13th, March 14th, we’ve got a chance to be involved in free agency again but we’ve also got a chance to try to retain this nucleus of players. As more time comes out, I think more of those numbers will become public. But that was a big commitment that our owners made and I think that should be encouraging for all fans about our football team.”
The Buccaneers made an enormous splash in the opening hours of free agency last year, most notably with the additions of Jackson and Nicks. Jackson responded with one of the best seasons ever by a Buccaneer receiver, and while Nicks season was cut short by a foot injury he is still expected to be a huge piece of the puzzle going forward. The Bucs may or may not be able to have such an impactful March this time around – last year’s free agency class was the deepest in league history and this year’s crop may not be nearly as abundant – but that cap space will be very helpful one way or another. Even with last year’s spending spree, the Bucs still consider it a main part of their philosophy to develop and maintain their home-grown talent. At some point, the team’s rising stars will need new contracts in order to remain Buccaneers.
After the 2011 season, the Buccaneers rolled all of their remaining cap space forward into 2012, a move that is allowed but not required. That signaled the team’s willingness to use whatever means necessary, including free agency, to build a winner. The recent contract work with Jackson and Nicks signals the same thing.