The Salary Cap Excuse

March 21st, 2022

This was a topic on an Ira Kaufman Podcast episode last week and it needs its own written space.

Regular readers know Joe is addicted to the NFL. One of these years, Joe will watch every game in a given season on NFL Game Pass (about 45 minutes each in condensed form plus rewinding). Last season, Joe just missed watching every NFC South game.

Joe follows the NFL in similar fashion. So it’s been extra interesting this week hearing Patriots fans and media crying and crowing about how they were misled over the years when they were told things like, “Hey, we can’t keep all these players and compete in free agency and still pay Tom Brady.”

They’re unhappy up in New England about the Patriots letting Shaq Mason go to the Bucs while they have a young and inexpensive quarterback and aren’t doing a ton yet to improve their playoff team. And they also see what Bucs general manager Jason Licht has done to turn his roster into a wrecking ball with Brady.

Before listening to the chatter in New England, Joe was ranting about how Licht’s spectacular work manipulating the salary cap makes Joe look to the past and wonder why the Bucs didn’t do some of this earlier.

Look at the 2017 season. Entering the year with a young, inexpensive quarterback on the rise and a 9-7 team, Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter openly said the team didn’t have the money laying around to sign defensive lineman Calais Campbell, who went on to quickly dominate in Jacksonville.

Doesn’t that seem like a steam pile of BS in retrospect?

It was. And there are several other examples through the years. The main point is that the Bucs organization has revolutionized its mindset and approach.

It feels like it took Tom Brady to give the organization the push to attack winning with a heightened urgency, vigor and passion.

Maybe it started with Team Glazer giving an unprecedented green light to throw around fat signing bonuses that, for salary cap purposes, can be prorated over several years. That requires dishing out wads of cash upfront, and that wasn’t the Bucs’ way for many years.

Fans have heard a lot about the Tom Brady Effect and the legacy he’ll leave on the roster. Joe hopes some of that runs up the chain at One Buc Palace.

21 Responses to “The Salary Cap Excuse”

  1. Derrick Says:

    I think it is wise business. Licht kept the cap sheet incredibly clean while building the team up. When it became apparent we were Super Bowl ready – we weren’t really with Winston with his TO habits – they changed course to amplify the effect. Can’t do that if you are in cap hell when you finally are Super Bowl ready. I think they played it brilliantly to be honest.

  2. PassingThru Says:

    Bill Belichick is a great coach, but as a GM he’s rigid. During the Brady days, everyone loved to say the Belichick was playing chess while everyone else was playing checkers, but now Belichick is being laid bare as a GM. He hasn’t had a good draft in years (again, Mac Jones was a no-brainer gift), his free agent acquisitions have as a whole been meh, he lets quality vets leave by not giving them attractive offers, but most of all his ongoing attempts to keep payroll and dead money low were the result of Tom Brady. Brady attracted cheap vets, took team-friendly deals, and played with some rather average and well below-average receivers.

    In the end, the argument is settled: it was mostly Brady, not Belichick during their championship run. I’d go as far to say it was 80% Brady, 20% Belichick, and I’m being generous to the latter.

  3. Tampabaybucfan Says:

    Other than creative restructuring with cooperative players, the draft is the key to cap management….

    If you are able to produce 4 or so starters and key backups via the draft…you can succeed….

    All you have to do is look at our roster to see that it’s our draft picks that dominate…

    And, if you can find some UDFAs and very cheap vet-minimum players… stay ahead of the game.

  4. tampabuscsbro Says:

    I mean didn’t we throw the money we could have thrown at Campbell at Djax to give up on routes and Baker to be fat and hump trees?

  5. Defense Rules Says:

    Joe … ‘And they also see what Bucs general manager Jason Licht has done to turn his roster into a wrecking ball with Brady.’

    Reverse that and I could agree with you Joe: ‘And they also see what Tom Brady has done to turn his roster into a wrecking ball with Bucs general manager Jason Licht’.

    How soon folks forget the conversations that were circulating just a month ago BEFORE Tom Brady un-retired. Most fans were talking about the coming struggles just to win the NFC South against terrible competition. NOW it’s Super Bowl or bust.

    Who deserves the credit? Tom Brady. Do you think ex-Patriot Shaq Mason would’ve signed on without Brady? Or ex-Patriot Logan Ryan? Or Russell Gage? Do you think Chris Godwin would’ve signed on for another 3-years? Or Carlton Davis even? Brady is the drawing card, and without his INFLUENCE in those signings, the Bucs would be sucking hind teet.

    And why are we throwing future years to the wind right now? BRADY. He may or may not go for another year, so throw caution to the wind and WIN NOW. But the Bucs’ ownership, GM & coaches know that he can’t do it alone. Yup, damn the torpedoes, full-speed ahead!

  6. Defense Rules Says:

    Marine Buc … Joe reminds me of those in our society who truly believe that they’re ENTITLED to at least one stimulus check every year from the Federal government, that there are no consequences to printing your own money, and that running up the deficit to over $30 trillion is irrelevant. Most would probably be perfectly happy to change our national song to ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ or maybe ‘Kumbaya’.

    Sorry Joe, couldn’t resist. But there really are consequences to ‘kicking the can down the street’. Ask the Saints & Falcons. We just haven’t felt them yet because we’ve had the capability for the past couple years to restructure some BIG contracts. But we both know that eventually that bill comes due. But that’s tomorrow’s concern; today we have Tom Brady & need to capitalize on that by surrounding him with a TEAM that can win it all.

  7. Pewter Power Says:

    No it just says they knew Winston wasn’t the guy and there were no other options to replace him until Brady unexpectedly became a free agent. If patriots had kept him what quarterback out there would have allowed to go all out?

  8. Ash Says:

    There is time to kick the can and back when dirk was hc wasn’t the time. Having an elite QB who doesn’t want to get paid a king’s ransom gives you the opportunity to start kicking.

  9. gotbbucs Says:

    If you don’t have the QB in place in today’s NFL, no amount of money will buy a championship.

  10. zzbucs Says:

    @Defense Rules

    I agree with you here Defense…..
    When you make a party sooner or later you will have to pay it, nothing is for free!!

    You can´t pay for years the mimimum on your credit card, there will be consequences, and for sure that´s called rebuild, something that NFL fans can´t stomach it……

    some weeks ago everybody were showing anger because rebuilding was inevitable, TB12 was out, and nobody was inetrested to come here unless you overpay…..Well that was the consequences of the SB and expensive contracts, or superbowl or bust.

    I am, not saying is not nice winning a SB and having great players and kicking money forwards doesn´t work, because it does, just look at TB and LA…..the thing is that sooner or later after the party you will have to rebuild, you like it or not…..I have the stomach for rebiuild, but most fan do not.

  11. SOEbuc Says:

    Tom is the all American boy (man) and all the QB and coaches that had us in the dumpster for over a decade were turds.

  12. sasquatch Says:

    Joe and others want to dismiss cap issues and limitations.

    Until you have your QB in place, you keep fiscal discipline and don’t take on contracts that kill your future cap.

    Once you have your QB and you can see the window open, you can afford to push some of the cap consequences forward.

    If you start out by trying to build a team with a bunch of expensive free agents, without a QB and other key guys in place, you’ll never get there, you’ll just have an expensive team and you’ll end up closing your window before it opens because you’ll be cap-crippled by the time you do find your QB.

    Fiscal discipline means knowing when the time is right to stretch the cap.

    The Bucs have done that. So, when they said they didn’t have money to sign Campbell, they didn’t. Spending big for him did not fit their cap planning at the time. It wasn’t the right time for that move.

  13. Buc Unto Death Says:

    Fact: Licht needs a QB who commands respect and inspires players to not seek top dollar, but play for their value and attract their own revenue from sponsorships and promotions. Very few QBs offer that, so very few teams can play the salary cap game the way a team does when they have Brady under center.

  14. Jay Molina Says:

    The Bucs were cautious in building this team making sure to not mortgage the future. They did a great job assembling a dream team. Even getting Brady did not break the bank as his contract is miles away from other top quarterbacks which are handcuffing their team’s ability to sign good players around them.

    However, when you get a once in a generation talent like Brady you do everything in your power to put the best team around him in order to win a championship.

    While Light is doing a great job pushing the bulk of money to years down the line, that could come back to hurt them like it did the post 2002 Bucs. Voidable years are great, but the Bucs will be carrying a lot of dead cap money in a couple of years.

    Still, with Brady coming back you do what you have to and you worry about the future later. The Bucs are betting on huge TV contracts in the future, but the future is never guaranteed. Look at COVID and declining ratings on many major sports.

    This is not magic. There is still a limited number of dollars to go around with the salary cap. You are just pushing the debt down the road. Hopefully, it doesn’t hurt them too bad.

  15. BA4President Says:

    Joe, Could previous years of saying “we don’t have the money”, like 2017, be due to too many bad contracts rather than them actually not having money to spend? I don’t remember thinking that we had a bunch of cap space.

  16. Defense Rules Says:

    Ash … ‘Having an elite QB who doesn’t want to get paid a king’s ransom gives you the opportunity to start kicking.’

    That’s a great point about having an elite QB who doesn’t demand a fortune to lead your team. And I’m convinced that was a huge factor in the Patriots winning SIX Super Bowls with Brady, and another with us. He’s probably the best quasi-GM that’s ever been. He allowed the Patriots … and now the Bucs … to build a TEAM that they couldn’t have ever built if he demanded a king’s ransom for playing like some do.

  17. Allbuccedup Says:

    Hopefully they have a plan in place when Brady retires again

  18. Bucsfanman Says:

    TBBF nailed it. There’s no “one way” in navigating this salary cap minefield. In Brady we have a classic “chicken or the egg” conundrum. There’s no arguing “the Brady effect” but ask yourself this: Does Brady come here without the team and coaches that Licht built?

  19. BucsFanSince1976 Says:

    What all the mensahs are missing in the CAP equation is the fact that the CAP will increase by a much larger than normal number in 2023 due to the new TV deal kicking in that almost doubled revenues to about 110 billion. Ergo the players share percentage will increase also , CAP should be around 233 mil next year compared to 208 this year , so BUCS will be ok.
    I love the idea of a monthly incentive of about 1000.00 per person living below the poverty line(about 42 million) which would cost about 500 billion per year , because complete elimination of welfare and SNAP programs and those massive agencies would save about 1.5 Trillion a year-NET SAVINGS 1 TRILLION-so I guess much like the salary CAP-it just depends on your point of view.

  20. Joseph C Simmons Says:

    The difference 2017 and now is simple: Money

    The Bucs sold out the entire 2021 season because of Tom Brady. They’ll certainly sell out 2022 and 2023 because of him as well. That puts a lot of cash in the Glazer coffers, and since they know Brady is the reason, they know they need to keep him happy. And keeping him happy makes the Glazers more money.

    Contrast that with 2017. The Bucs never sold out. Their games were mostly 1PM affairs, and they weren’t a national brand. I imagine merchandise moved MUCH slower than it does right now. The Glazers were certainly of the opinion that, hey, does giving Calais Campbell $40M make the Buccaneers $40 more million? No? Then tell Koetter to fly a kite.

    Brady may have changed the culture to “attack winning”, but make no mistake, he’s also VERY profitable to the Glazers as well.

  21. Jeff Says:

    It was and always will be complete BS. Teams can effectively spend more than other teams by using every nuance of the cap to effectively generate more payroll. Like suping up a hot rod.